June 9, 2014
The shadows were lengthening on the steep sides of the Sanyati Gorge as our guide turned the speedboat away from the waterfall and headed back towards the lake.
By the time we had shot out of the mouth of the gorge we were travelling at fifty miles per hour – and there it was, the vast orange ball of the sun going down on the far horizon, soon to sink into the mirror-like calm of the waters.
The boat sped further west, and it was not long before we again caught sight of the elegant and impressive outline of the Matusadona – the finest house-boat on Lake Kariba which had been our play-thing for a few magical hours that day.
You can enjoy this extremely comfortable, wide-beamed boat for longer; she can accommodate six or more guests and costs around £2,100 per day not per person to hire, fully inclusive.
Matusadona does not sail alone; she has two tenders for angling and close-up game viewing as well as that amazing speedboat.
Elephants come down to drink by the lake, hippos grunt and wallow in the shallows, and at night you can hear the staggering, reverberating roar of lions.
The evocative cry of the fish eagles will be your wake-up call. This boat can be your private haven and is a great addition to the increasingly-happening safari scene in Zimbabwe. I swam in the deeper part of the lake.
When told of the government’s plan to build the hydro-electric Kariba Dam the local Tonga people said the entire project was doomed.
The river has great spiritual significance for them and their river god, Nyaminyami, a serpent-like creature who is said to have scales but a human face.
From 1955 until 1958 when the dam wall was completed the project claimed eighty lives; you can draw your own conclusions.
The cost to the wildlife was also huge: once the dam was completed the Zambezi burst its banks, and an area of land the size of Wales was flooded. A scheme called Operation Noah was launched to rescue the animals which were stranded on higher ground.
After several years of heroic effort and despite a lack of resources, the Southern Rhodesian game department rescued more than six thousand animals and moved them to the safety of what is now a beautiful wilderness area, the Matusadona National Park which borders the lake and is where your game drives will take place. Operation Noah is truly the stuff of legends.
Zimbabwe in the 1990s used to be our top safari destination. It is back on track now and there are some compelling reasons to holiday there:
- the warmth and welcome of the people and the outstanding guiding;
- the diversity of the country which offers not just great safaris but fascinating history and culture: Zimbabwe has the second largest free-standing stone structure south of the pyramids, a relic of an advanced civilisation dating from the Middle Ages;
- by visiting the country, regardless of who is in power, you will become a custodian of the wilderness and the many animals which are increasingly threatened with extinction;
- your supporting the conservation efforts of passionate lodge owners who help prevent poaching just by their very existence and continued operation.
Earlier in my journey I spent a full day cruising up the Zambezi River by banana boat, revisiting various small lodges in the Lower Zambezi National Park. A new one, Anabezi, at the game-rich extreme eastern end of the park is a stylish addition to the safari scene in Zambia and currently has a stay-3 pay-2 offer. I visited old favourites such as Sausage Tree, Old Mondoro, Chiawa and Chongwe.
This is untrammelled, raw Africa. The season is short, from May to early November, and by October the game viewing is intense as the bush is as dry as tinder and the animals are concentrated along the river-line, jostling for position close to the only water supply. And this is exactly where you will be sleeping if you choose to take a safari here on that mighty river.
My day ended with a surprise sundowner on a sandy island in the middle of the river. This time the red ball of the sun was slipping into the water with the majestic frame of the Zambezi escarpment in the background.
As dawn was breaking the next morning I was back in the boat journeying further up river to the confluence of the Kafue River, a river which leads to another of Africa’s wilderness areas: Kafue National Park, way to the north of Victoria Falls. Then down into Zimbabwe, south of Chirundu.
Another day in Africa: a safari on the waterways of Southern Africa is a unique and unforgettable experience.
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