Cahora & Tete

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The Zambezi’s final triumph

The Zambezi’s final triumph

 The mouth of the Zambezi River
The mouth of the Zambezi River
Meg Coates Palgrave

During the course of its 2,700km voyage the Zambezi River starts off as a trickle and builds in size and momentum as tributary after tributary feeds and swells it. This great river crashes and tumbles over internationally famous waterfalls, races down gorges, forms the biggest dam by volume in the world, then winds its way more leisurely to another man-made obstruction in Mozambique, before it escapes and, increasingly languid, wends its way to the Indian Ocean. But in keeping with its nature it does not simply disgorge itself into the sea.   

The Zambezi reaches one last time for renown by fanning out to create a delta that starts at the Shire River confluence and then spreads out over the next 120km to cover 12,000km2.  This stunning area has been inscribed as Mozambique’s only Ramsar Site along with the Marromeu Game Reserve, where efforts are being made to restore the buffalo population to the 30,000 head that it once sheltered.

The site includes a marine section and four surrounding hunting concessions in its 688,000 ha and protects a wide variety of habitats ranging from flooded savanna and grasslands to freshwater swamps, seagrass beds, miombo forest, dambos and coastal dunes.

The delta splits into four major rivers but silting has rendered the southern three branches non-navigable while the northern river can only guarantee a two metre depth. The dams upriver have reduced the incidence of flooding although they have not removed it altogether, and heavy local rains combined with good runoff upstream still causes massive flooding. This helps to control human expansion.

Birding is prolific with water birds circling in large flocks. Both species of pelicans use the Zambezi Delta as a breeding ground.

It is a part of Africa that is barely touched by tourism, with hunting as the dominant activity. If you want to explore raw Africa, this is the place to go, but ensure that you are fully self-contained as facilities are minimal or non-existent. Ideally travel in convoy as help is not readily at hand should you get stuck or break down.

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 13, June 2013)

Read more about the region in our destination guide:
Cahora Bassa & Tete

Other articles in this series:
Paradise unveiled
A short history of the Falls
The sacred hills of the Matopos
The smoke that thunders
Valley of abundance
Superlative and unexplored
The great enigmas
Africa’s grand anomaly
The Middle Zambezi
The Zambezi’s final triumph