FOR some reason, I have never kept even a fairly accurate track of the number of times I’ve visited Lake Kariba: either the eastern basin, around Kariba town where I go frequently; Mlibizi and Msuna at the western reaches, where we used to visit for weekends almost 40 years ago, when based in Bulawayo or Siavonga (“a town called ‘Thank You’”), on the Zambian side.
Travel with Dusty Miller
I say this because my last trip to Victoria Falls was definitely the 51st occasion I had visited there. All duly recorded in diaries; chronicled in newspaper and magazine stories and dated photographs.
But Kariba over the recent tiger tournament was almost certainly the coolest week I’ve spent there, or maybe anywhere, in the Zambezi Valley in October which, by rights should have been shimmering with energy-sapping pre-rainy season heat.
The annual Kariba Invitation Tiger Fish Tournament (KITFT) has for many years been held in October and on the most moonless Wednesday-Thursday and Friday of what is often called Suicide Month in Central Africa.
This year, unseasonably early rains hit eastern and northern Zimbabwe on the night of Sunday/Monday September 29/30. Green leaves and grass sprang out of the bundu, heavy air thick with the smoke and haze of hundreds of veldt fires cleared to sparkling freshness almost instantly.
But the lake became choppy and hard to navigate; winds which were light breezes high on a cliff at Mica Point made steering speedboats muscle-challenging. Journeys which usually take 10 or 12 minutes became 50-minute, hour-long tense voyages.
Water temperature was 10C-12C lower than it was last year during the feast of fishing; one team reported it dropping seven degrees Celsius in under an hour.
So catches were much lighter than normal. Whereas teams normally spend much time selecting their 20 heaviest fish to weigh in, this year on Day One, many boats reported not a single catch, some not even a bite.
On Days 2 and 3 even top-scoring teams for many years felt lucky to have killed 10 or 12 fish. And several teams entered “nil” returns for the whole three day event.
A tiger fish with a mass of less than a kilo doesn’t score; above 5kgs the specimen is regarded as a trophy fish. Catch one above 10kg and weigh it in at the Nissan-sponsored weigh bay and the lucky angler may win a Nissan NP 200 bakkie worth about US$25 000.
This year (the 52nd edition of the competition) only one monster tipped the scales above that magic figure. Ian Wheeler (56) a farmer from Featherstone in Mashonaland East landed a hog of a fish weighing 10,4kg. He won the bakkie and his team came second overall out of 121 competing sides in around 200 speedboats.
I like to kill two birds with a single stone and left Charara Harbour campsite owned by the National Anglers’ Union of Zimbabwe and drove to Mica Point (above Andorra Harbour) to visit Jackie Millar and check out her spectacular Hornbill Lodge.
Jackie had kindly invited me to stay there, but I took a rain-check as we had a perfectly good fishermen’s chalet at Charara and transport was a problem. But I’d love to take her up on that offer sometime soon.
Because the architecturally pleasing thatched lodge has the most wonderful views over Lake Kariba, towards neighbouring Zambia. If I’d gone 24 hours earlier, I wouldn’t have seen much, said an Australian guest from Perth.
That was due to hundreds of veldt fires burning on both sides of the imaginary frontier, many lit by heartless poachers, polluting what should have been a cerulean sky with blue-grey smoke and haze.
These were dowsed by the storm which had hit the lake overnight, sinking a kapenta rig. The effects were still felt days later with massively reduced fishing catches at KITFT.
You can’t help liking Jackie, a no-nonsense Aussie Sheila who was brought up in Alice Springs. Husband, Tommy, manages to wrest a living from the just 16 hectares of the 627 ha he used to own at Dunluce Farm, in Harare South, doing dairy, tobacco, Dorper sheep, cattle and a bit of maize and the Missus runs Hornbill Lodge almost single-handedly. Their daughter has a safari company.
Guests had just checked out for a houseboat cruise from Marineland Harbour and the lodge was quiet: just Jackie, the Western Australian visitor (hooked on Zambezi Valley birdlife), myself and a pack of friendly dogs, mainly Australian heelers (sheep dogs.)
The various thatched outbuildings on this property which is only about a hectare have been built on terraces by Tommy and are open-plan with comfortable beds and ethnic decor. It sleeps about 12 guests, depending on family permutations, at US$150 a night per person, all inclusive. That means three square farmer’s meals a day from an acclaimed menu, plus snacks, drinks and transfers.
We sat in the cool pub at mid-day and had a brace of refreshingly chilled articles of a moderately intoxicating nature and munched great beef biltong from Dunluce.
The Millars bought the site in 2002, it was just a couple of ragged rundown rondavels, but they set out to re-build and extend and eventually bought the plot next door and are putting the final touches on an (eventual) retirement home.
Many guests, including Germans, are now returning annual visitors and you can see why. From open-fronted chalets you can lie back and watch one of the most stunning sunrises in Africa from the comfort of your own bed! Birdlife is truly magnificent; zebra often graze the verdant lawns and views over the lake are priceless.
Peace and tranquility are the words I underscored in my notebook. Well peace, tranquility, good grub a well-stocked bar and mini-library, Jackie’s humorous tales over a “jug” of white wine and the heelers’ tails thumping a warm welcome to the latest arrival.
Hornbill Lodge, 797, Mica Point, Kariba. Tel 0772-240923. firstname.lastname@example.org; www.hornbilllodge.com