Kariba Recreational Park is based around the Zambezi River, which was initially dammed so as to build a hydroelectricity generation utility for the benefit of both Zimbabwe and Zambia. The dam wall with 6 flood gates was built between 1955 and 1959 and is 128 metres high and 617 metres wide. The lake is 282 kilometres long at full level and 32 kilometres across at it’s widest point, 116 metres deep and covers an area of 5 180 square kilometres of what once was the Gwembe trough. The weight of the water totals 177 million tons and were all 6 flood gates opened, over 91 500 cubic metres (300 000 cubic feet) of water would surge into the river below each second! 86 men perished during construction of the dam and a church has since been constructed as a memorial to them. The dam wall was designed by Andre Coyne, a Frenchman, and built by a constructor called Impresit from Italy.
There are many stories that are put forward to explain the name Kariba. Some elders in the area note that close to the dam wall lies a rock that resembles a traditional stone trap, riva, hence Kariva, later mispronounced by the Europeans as Kariba. The other version is that the rock was named “Kariva” due to the fact that when the river flooded, the Rock trapped water thereby making it difficult for the locals who often crossed the river to return to either side of the Zambezi.
This is one of the great acts of mankind giving back to nature. When the 2 sluice gates that were used to dam the Zambezi River were closed, the water started rising. Within 24 hours the level had gone up by 6 metres and by September 1959 it had risen by 60 metres. Alarm bells started ringing when it was realised that the dam was creating numerous islands and even submerging some pieces of land thereby threatening the resident animal population that had largely been left behind in the Gwembe Trough even as the local tribes were being forcibly resettled.
A concerted drive was made by the National Parks and Government to rescue the animals from the fast submerging islands. By the end of the operation the Zimbabwean team (then Southern Rhodesia) had rescued nearly 5 000 animals while the Zambian team (then Northern Rhodesia) had rescued about 2 000.
The operation attracted a lot of international attention and it received international publicity and significant material aid from as far afield as the USA and the UK.
The Nyaminyami River God is a major force in the society around the Zambezi Valley. The River God is believed to have supernatural powers. The Nyaminyami is believed to be a dragon-like amphibious being with the head of a fish and a snake’s torso. It was believed that the Nyaminyami would occasionally offer charitable appearances and pause for the local villagers to slice pieces of meat from its back before returning to the water.
Folklore has it that the Nyaminyami used to live upstream with his wife but when the dam wall was constructed it separated the two. This infuriated the River God, and as he forced his way back upstream, he was responsible for the collapse of part of the dam wall that killed 86 workmen midway through the project.
The locals and tourists of Kariba look forward to September each year as the Nyaminyami Festivals are held to venerate the River God.
Flora and Fauna
Adapting to the initial flooding and annual fluctuation has caused several changes in the local animal population around the shores of the lake. The shoreline is a rich grazing area for many species, which has in turn attracted the predatory animals that hunt these species.The lake is renowned for its tigerfish but it is also home to over 40 fish species that include nkupe, chessa, bottlenose, vundu, barbell and several types of bream.
The area generally has hot summers averaging 38 degrees Celsius and an average rainfall of 660 millimetres. The winters are usually warm with an average temperature of 25 degrees Celsius.
Why Visit Lake Kariba
The Park is rich in wildlife
Beautiful well maintained accommodation
The lake is the largest water body in Zimbabwe
Wide variety of fish
The history and folklore attached to the Lake