Lake Kariba & Matusadona National Park

Undoubtedly one of the most scenic wilderness areas in Africa, Lake Kariba spans over 5500 square kilometers across the pristine Zambezi Valley between Zimbabwe and Zambia. The largest man-made hydro-electric dam/lake ever built, Kariba runs 225km in length and more than 40km at its widest point, and took over five years to construct between 1955 to 1959.  The portion of Lake Kariba which falls within Zimbabwe was designated a Recreation Park as part of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Estate, and Matusadona National Park on Kariba’s southern banks is surely one of the most picturesque Parks in Zimbabwe. With towering mountains forming the escarpment above, and green flood plains below dotted with grazing herds of elephant, buffalo and much more, it truly is a Garden of Eden. 

The creation of Kariba dam was not without its challenges and hardships, least of all for the Tonga tribes that inhabited the banks of the Zambezi River for centuries before. At this time the Tonga were purely river people, but with the rising waters they were ultimately convinced to move up to the escarpments,  where they had to absorb major lifestyle shifts, and become pastoralists in a  fairly barren landscape with unfertile soils and limited grazing opportunities.  Thankfully the Tonga survived this adaption, and today there are Tonga communities in both Zambia and Zimbabwe that still live alongside wildlife, whilst raising their crops and livestock, and there are various NGO community projects that offer support to ensure their enduring wellbeing.     

Another historically important aspect of the creation of Lake Kariba was Operation Noah, a mammoth undertaking led by Rupert Fothergill. Between 1958 and 1964 over 6000 wild animals were rescued from temporary islands by Fothergill and his intrepid team as the waters rose. These wild animals (including elephants, antelopes, rhinos, lions, leopards, zebras, warthogs, birds and snakes) were captured and transported in a variety of hair-raising and incredibly brave methods and relocated to the southern shores of Kariba. This mission served to set the foundation of Matusadona, which first became a Game Reserve in 1963, and later designated a National Park in 1975. 

In November 2019 management of Matusadona National Park was assumed by the world acclaimed African Parks, in partnership with Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. The Bumi Hills Anti-Poaching Unit (BHAPU) established in July 2009, became the precursor of The Bumi Hills Foundation www.bumihillsfoundation.orgestablished in 2016.  The BHF is a non-profit organization based on the shores of Lake Kariba. Dedicated to the conservation of wildlife through active anti-poaching and the empowerment of the community through conservation-based efforts, BHF is without doubt a conservation success story.   

Over the years the Kariba basin has become a very exciting hot-spot for paleontology as hundreds to dinosaur fossil beds have been discovered, including extremely rare phytosaurs (crocodile-like aquatic animals) – the only such fossils found in sub Saharan Africa. From university experts and natural history museums around the world to your amateur fossil hunter, there is much to explore and paleontology is surely alive and well in Zimbabwe. All the lodges and camps in the Matusadona area include fossil hunting excursions in their tour options if this is something that interests you.  

Lake Kariba and Matusadona Nationalpark offer a safari enthusiast a wealth of superb activities, whether you fancy just relaxing and soaking up the sun, or striking out for that legendary tiger fish, there is something for everyone. Game viewing by vehicle and boat, fishing trips, walking safaris, boat cruises, village trips, night drives and fossil hunting are available and we would recommend spending at least three to five nights in this remote and wonderfully wild area.