Zimbabwe, Zambia

Kariba & Middle Zambezi

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The Middle Zambezi

The Middle Zambezi

Elephant at sunset on the Matusadona shoreline
Elephant at sunset on the Matusadona shoreline
Steve Edwards

‘Zambezi’ is Great River in the Tonga language, which is a wonderfully apt name for Africa’s fourth largest river with a catchment of 1.3 million km2, an area larger than the entire SaharaDesert. For convenience, its 2,700km length divides into three sections: the Upper Zambezi runs from the source to Victoria Falls, after which it becomes the Middle Zambezi until it pours into Lake Cahora Bassa, where it becomes known as the Lower Zambezi to the point where it enters the Indian Ocean.

The Middle Zambezi, which acts as the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe for 500km, has a wild ride as it tumbles over the Victoria Falls and then races through the Batoka Gorge where some of the world’s wettest and most thrilling white water rafting and kayaking take centre stage. Past the gorge it soon hits the 226km long LakeKariba, which is the biggest man-made dam in the world by volume, with an immense 185km3capacity that makes it four times the size of the Three Gorges Dam.

LakeKariba, which was completed in 1958, is really an inland sea so vast that it supports its own viable commercial fishing industry. It is also a superb playground for the tourism industry. Lodges and hotels sprinkle the shores and islands on both sides of the border and houseboats, many of them luxurious, ply their trade all over the lake.

MatusadonaNational Park hugs the south-eastern shoreline and the recreational town of Kariba lies on the Zimbabwean side of the river near the dam wall. Before the dam was flooded the vegetation was burned which added nutrients to the rising water. Kapenta (sardine-like fish) were introduced from Lake Tanganyikaand they thrived, in turn providing food for the tigerfish, against which fishermen from around the world come to test their skills. Fishing, birding and game viewing are major draw cards to this huge waterway.

Beyond the dam the river continues its languid path through the prime wilderness areas of Mana Pools National Park, Sapi and Chewore Safari Area on the Zimbabwe side which collectively form a World Heritage Site, as well as being a biosphere reserve declared by UNESCO. This internationally protected area extends from the dam wall right down to the Mozambique border where it flows into Cahora Bassa.

The lower ZambeziNational Park on the Zambian side provides protection for the northern bank for most of its course between the two dams. The most popular attraction here, and often a dispenser of adrenalin caused by the numerous hippo in these waters, is a canoe safari.

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

Read more about the region in our destination guide:
Kariba & Middle Zambezi

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