Kariba: Zim’s dormant tourism jewel

Lake Kariba resort

IT’S 6am on a Tuesday morning in the resort town of Kariba.

The sun is already hot as usual and temperatures are on a high at 41 degrees Celsius.

And taking a stroll on the streets of Kariba, it is bright everywhere, all lights outside homes and shops are still on.

The town has not been subjected to any form of electricity blackout for years.

Kariba is probably one of the few towns in southern Africa which has remained lit and shining for years in times of massive load shedding across the region, which should make it a favourite tourist attraction to both local and international visitors.

The town, about 370km north-west of Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city, has, however, often been overlooked by international tourists.

Many assert that Kariba has not received much publicity compared to other tourist resorts, especially, Victoria Falls which is the prime choice and a haven for travel agents.

And overlooking all other such tourist attraction as Kariba has meant that many visitors have missed one of Africa’s unheralded vacationer’s paradise.

Although all Zimbabweans might know about Kariba, only a few have had an excursion or two in the resort known for its gorgeous aphrodisiac sunsets, bright lights in lodges, hotels, business and residential areas.

The town also boasts of exciting fishing expeditions, as well as beautiful scenery, while game viewing trips can be arranged especially to the nearby Matusadona National Park.

The vastness of Lake Kariba allows for multi-day excursions from one end of the gigantic dam to the other in some of the various houseboats or the famous Kariba Ferry.

Kariba also offers a variety of accommodation options including camping and lodges to luxury safari camps as well as the houseboats all catering for different budget groups.

Compared to the northern side of Lake Kariba, in Zambia, the Zimbabwean side is unmatched in its magnificence.

Firstly, the game is fairly non-existent on the northern bank and secondly, it lacks the stunning backdrop of the Matusadona Mountains that the Zimbabwean side has.

In an interview this week, Face of Kariba director, Aloise Chimbangu described Kariba as a paradise on earth.

“I have never seen such a town in Southern Africa where electricity is available 24/7. This is good for tourism because tourists wouldn’t want to visit a destination where blackouts are always the talk of the day.

“I have visited several places in Africa where you spend hours if not days in the darkness but with intermittent power cuts, but this is a different case with Kariba.

“What I have seen here is amazing. Kariba is one of the best tourist destinations not just in Zimbabwe but in Africa according to a Nigerian based tourist, Tom Okonkwo who visited recently,” he said.

The Face of Kariba is a promotional campaign that celebrates the beauty and significance of the Lake Kariba and aims to raise awareness about its importance in providing hydroelectric power, and its role in fostering sustainable development in the region

According to Sunset Safaris director Washington Makhulumo, having no blackouts in Kariba could be a major attraction point for Kariba.

“We do not have a history of blackouts here and tourists love this. Where in the country would you see lights on — for 24 hours — but in Kariba,” he said.

“It is common knowledge that the competitiveness of a tourist destination is underpinned by comparative advantages which relate to inherent resource endowments such as climate, flora, fauna, scenery and other naturally endowed elements in that particular destination.

Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister Mangaliso Ndhlovu said over time, the region and Kariba, in particular, has been a favourable destination for domestic, regional and international tourists.

“It may be recalled that in the early 2000s, visitors would throng Kariba in their thousands to enjoy the heat, game viewing, casino, tiger tournament, fishing, spending nights in house boats as well as experiencing its rich historical and cultural heritage,” he said.

“However, this market segment, literally, has sunk into oblivion due to a number of factors. Tourism in this region is the main economic activity, creating jobs and sustaining livelihoods for many households; we therefore need to support the sector in the region to not only realise its full potential, but to also grow through the diversification of tourism products.”

Among its attributes, just west of Kariba Dam wall is the Matusadona National Park.

It has different ecological zones, which include the area along the shoreline of Lake Kariba, the Zambezi Valley floor, and the escarpment which is a woodland area.

During Operation Noah, much of the rescued wildlife found refuge in this area, and by 1963, Matusadona National Park was declared a game reserve.

The grass along the shoreline is a great source of food for buffalo, kudu, waterbuck, zebra and impala.

The healthy population of these and other game makes it a good home for predators such as lion, cheetah and leopard on the land, and crocodile in the shallows of the lake.

Like Matobo Hills, Matusadona is an Intensive Protection Zone, being home to relocated black rhino.

The easiest way to access the park is by flying to Kariba town or Bumi Hills, then taking a boat into the reserve.

Kariba, which was originally built for the people who worked on the construction of the dam wall, is a small town north-eastern end of the lake, near the dam wall.

Binga is on the south-western side of the lake, closer to the Victoria Falls and Hwange National Park.

Siavonga is on the Zambian shore of Lake Kariba, and this town has grown to be the tourist capital for Kariba on the Zambian side.

Together with Sinazongwe, Siavonga was created for the displaced Tonga people who were made to move for their safety as the waters of the Zambezi were expected to flood their villages.

Sinazongwe was set as the administrative capital, just three and a half hours from Livingstone town, and three and a half hours from Lusaka.

Sinazongwe is to Binga what Siavonga is to Kariba town.

Kariba has several islands both on the Zimbabwean and Zambian side of the border, which make for idyllic getaways, staying at beautiful island lodges or safari camps with vast scenic views of the lake.

The islands include Maaze Island (Zambia), Mashape Island (Zambia), Chete Island (Zambia), Sekula (Zambia), Sampa Karuma (Zimbabwe), Fothergill (Zimbabwe), Spurwing (Zimbabwe), Starvation Island (Zimbabwe), Antelope Island (Zimbabwe), Bed Island (Zimbabwe), and Chikanka (Zambia).

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