Stage Three: Chalala to Kariba , Lake Kariba Flat water Rafting

 Saturday 20th Dec : Mike Bradford, Mark Kilbourne , Jenny Smith and I drove up to Zim through the day; about an hour-and-a-half to get through the border  Customs" for SA passport-holders a farce, though a welcome one after the stifling Customs House - two officials seated at a table outside in the cool outside  air stamping declaration forms they couldn't possibly have been able to read in the darkness. Drove on up to Bulawayo, stopping at the Halfway Hotel for our first Zim Lion and Castle and Zambezi lagers. In Bulawayo, unable to find the right suburb and eventually walked into jorl at posh Byo Country Club (midnight, just ending), from where people led us there. All cars safely parked at appointed house, but house itself locked up and empty. Slept on driveway and lawn in best Explorer fashion.


'sun 21 Dec: First disaster: unable to find money in any of the cars as arranged - only detailed instructions from owners on how to drive cars. Mike B. borrowed private funds to get us to Kariba. Helped him change money at banks: being businesslike young man, Mike almost cracked on first encounter with "Africa Time" at foreign exchange counters. Quick look at Byo's Natural History Museum, very impressive. Got away in mid-afternoon, four of us driving one car each; up through Shangani (passed monument to ill-fated Shangani Patrol), Gweru (picnic of fried chicken takeaways at grassy area outside town), Kadoma, Kwekwe, Chegutu, to Chinhoyi. Slept in deserted caravan park, though sounds of reggae-type jorl nearby till all hours.


Mon 22 Dec: Explored Chinhoyi, town with very pleasant feel of moist tropical lushness, and country club suggesting past colonial glories. Golf course gave Mike B. a dedicated birdwatcher, first interesting sightings. Then to Chinhoyi Caves: amazing sight, pool amid steep rocky sides has water of deep royal blue, but also clear and translucent. On towards Kariba: at turn-off outside Makuti, saw three dishevelled backpackers hiking other way looking like real Trans-Africa types, so offered them beer (very gratefully accepted in heat) and chatted for while. Aussie guy, Brit guy, Canadian girl, linked up on way from Nairobi or points south - green with envy at us driving one vehicle each! Aussie real character: told him that Keating now PM in place of Hawke, news to him which had him saying "hate the bastard!" for rest ofconversation. last leg to Kariba, spectacular scenery of Zambezi Valleystarts; expected to see animals but only a mongoose. First sight of massive Lake Kariba in distance a thrill. Reached town: Kariba odd sort of multi-level place, buildings scattered higgledypiggledy amid raw bush up from lake level to "business centre" on Heights; spectacular views, though weather overcast. Found DDF (District Development Fund) harbour where public ferry leaves from, and established ferry indeed leaving next day; wanted to camp there but guard wouldn’t allow. Went to very posh Kariba Breezes Hotel for sundowners on

verandah, swim ("residents only" be damned), walk down path to lake shore, more birdwatching. Then to K. Country Club, unpretentious but convivial, for supper, which had to be fish: Bream Caprice and Bream Cecilia quite delicious. Eventually just parked cars in bush next to road heading back down to DDF harbour and settled down to sleep. Two vehicles came past during night, but neither anyone in authority who might give hassles. Poured with rain later on, everyone ended up sleeping inside cars.


Tues 23 Dec (Kariba-Chalala): Went to Breezes hotel again early for wake-up swim. Bought supplies for trip, visited Dam Wall - allowed past border post after surrendering passports. Chart with info about dam. Very impressive when you're on wall, though seems dwarfed by vast dam: sense of man harnessing, rather than conquering, Nature. Three large crocs basking below wall on rocks where Zambezi begins again. In town, I visited chapel erected in memory of 86 people who died in construction of dam.


At DDF harbour in good time for ferry - but as per "Africa Time", didn’t leave at nine or eleven in morning as advertised, but at half-past two. Ferry real African  experience, packed with goods and people until no more could be taken ~ Water equivalent of typical Transkeian (say) bus with chicken coops on roof, except that a Land Rover and a Sierra also squeezed on board with great difficulty. After first excitement of being on lake, churning wake, etc, journey grew monotonous: Kariba not at best with weather overcast and rainy. Sat or lay for long periods on top of wheel house to escape crowded interior, though driven inside when really heavy rainstorn started. Water birds, mainly terns, floating on top of waves not at all worried by buffeting. Dropped people and supplies at one stop after another as night fell. Arrival of ferry clearly major event at some settlements: great excitement as locals came down to shore with lights to welcome friends and carry supplies ashore. Finally reached Chalala about midnight: small harbour in inlet with several kapenta fishing-boats. Still much rain about and very dark. At a loss what to do to keep katundu and selves safe, dry and away from crocs. Tried sleeping on fishing-boats. Protests from two guards clearly worried about what owners would say, though they took pity when rain started (every point discussed at length in Shona before decision coveyed to us). Then owners arrived after late-night fishing cruise (main entertainment in Chalala, we found): youngish, mixture of friendliness and bluntness as we found in many White "Zimboons" living by Kariba. Main guy told us, though, he’d just built A-frame huts up from the harbour; said we could sleep in them and leave katundu on boats - great relief!


Wed 24 Dec: Chalala much better by daylight. More than "fishing camp", little village. Whites' houses numbered l to 9 ranged along inlet and beyond, each with large property on which rows and rows of kapenta drying-racks under black cloths. Hill further back with radio mast, and below hill. Black village, mainly huts with few Western buildings. Went to house of "hosts" early on for shower: greeted civilly, but no offer of breakfast, tea or drinks. Lounged most of day in A-frame huts area (to be developed into holiday resort later). Chatted to locals, some very fluent in English and surprisingly well-versed in political and social issues (including Peter, guard of last night, who was from Malawi,_He produced 100-USS note given by tourist, worth about 1000 Zim$ on black market, but we couldn't tell him how to change it even legallyl) To assuage hunger, bought tigerfish from locals and cooked with their help: very bony, but flesh between quite tasty. Watched hippo come ashore to grassy meadow and graze. Walked up to radio mast to see view: village bigger than expected, and beyond it lake stretching away in one direction, sea of trees in another.


Just when wondering when main party on Stage Two would arrive (locals tended to disbelieve); Graham Battersby’s Land Cruiser with back-up crew arrived. Later, Etienne came running up to tell us to show lights at harbour. Two surviving boats came chugging up inlet in darkness - quite a feat of navigation! Joyous reunion, much drinking of beer. "Hosts" came to negotiate, rather friendlier now - settled on 200 SA rands for whole party to stay in A-frames. Invited us to join them on Christmas eve motorboat cruise to "Sandy Bay" on nearby island. Only four of us went, including me. Stars out by now, and water and beach in pale light ‘ memorable. Got to know hosts: Mike Pitzer, Jeff Otto and rather dishy blonde with cross Zim-Brit accent named Gail (had been barmaid in England for past three years) - but attached to Jeff. Back to camp to sleep: plenty of A-frames for all. 


Thurs 25 Dec: Christmas Day, leisurely day at Chalala. Etienne led birdwatching expedition in morning amid grassy valleys, woods, sandbanks and creeks on other side of inlet: 54 species in two-and-a-half hours. Some very beautiful, like kingfishers, sunbirds and plum-coloured starling ~ enough to please even lukewarm birdwatchers! (much revving of dedicated birders as trip went on, mainly by Mike Slater - "I went birding once, and all I saw were 'lifers', so I gave up"). Lazy afternoon at camp: I paddled canoe up shore a few kays and went for game walk with local, but saw only impala. Big slap-up dinner at camp in evening, in best Explorer tradition of feasts in unlikely places: no formal dress, but paper party hats worn; lentil soup followed by bully-beef hodgepodge - main chef Chris Kirchoff, but everyone helped - washed down with amazing variety of liquor Explorers always seem to come up with. Memorable Christmas dinner. 


Fri 26 Dec: (Chalala-Tashinga) Babelaases not serious in healthy surroundings. Packed rafts: starting to get that "Boat People" feeling. Those not doing Stage Three went off in Land Cruiser. Deciding not to tackle open lake in my canoe, got lift for it to Kariba on yacht with rich (White) local that Louise Brugman and Belinda were going off with. Stage Three under way. Newcomers bit wary, with only a little flimsy rubber between butts and water, and thoughts of marauding hippo and crocs everywhere. Passed Bumi Hills - luxury lodges on stilts clearly meant for those "doing" Kariba in comfort and style. Out of Chalala bay/inlet and into open lake under still-greyish sky: hugeness of lake a bit intimidating. Whole forests of sunken trees which we had to thread our way between, brought home how profoundly man had altered Zambezi Valley. Bush going by on shore green and lush; large herds of game in places, mainly impala and buffalo with a few warthog, and first elephant or two spotted. Graham had fishing-rod secured over side: seemed hysterically funny when he actually got a bite: tigerfish which was foul-hooked, so threw back in. Mike Ginter - "ze Austrian" - sailing Steve’s Laser yacht "Little Freedom" - lived up to name as sail soon just speck in distance. Reached Tashinga: tourist camp on small cape, main value access to Matusadona National Park. First taste of effect we had on more orthodox holidaymakers as we beached rafts andcame ashore in relays clutching katundu - they goggled at these "Boat People". Set up camp in trees on edge of resort,away from these "buff-puff" types. No sign of Mike Ginter or yacht; must have missed Tashinga. Later, sat down near shore at end of plain stretching westward from camp to watch sunset. Bonusphantasmagoricalfullonski, as Mike S. would say: rainbow layers of fading colour above silhouetted hills in background, and in foreground, silvery water with starkly protruding trunks and branches of sunken trees, fish eagles perched on them here and there, and along shore, impala and waterbuck grazing. Silence broken only (apart from intrusive motor-boat or two) by chuckling of hippos and cry of fish eagles, the haunting sound of Africa above all others. Paul Marais returned from office with news of Mike G.: by sheer good fortune, he had been there when radio message came through: sounded hilarious as Paul imitated German accent: "I am looking for fourteen people in two red rafts, ja!" to which Paul reached over the counter, grabbed the radio and replied "Howzit Mike!" Mikes safe with rich couple on motor yacht well beyond Tashinga at Elephant Point, enjoying luxury living.


Sat 27 Dec: Day at leisure at Tashinga for exploring Matusadona. Rescue expedition went out to fetch Mike; Mariner engine on raft gave trouble not for first or last time, and had to return for repairs. Paul and Graham went off fishing for day; birders did their thing. Rest of us went on long game walks, hoping Matusadona would produce its big cats - but only impala and waterbuck for most part, plus hippo in water. Pete van Melis and I found kudu family (young one, cow and bull in that order) skulking in thick bush near airstrip; also huge iguana. Back at camp, four of us played bridge for a while under the trees ° genteelpastime in rough surroundings. Paul and Graham returned with fair catch and inevitable stories of "one that got away"

graham & Paul


Rescue expedition returned with Mike G.: came in for much abuse (especially from Paul) which he took well - name invented for him "Viennese Boat Person". Another bonus sunset, watched from same place.


Sun Dec 28: (Tashinga-Sanyati West) Longest day's rafting began. Now weather perfect for rafting, and the really idyllic days on Kariba began: sun blazing out of an azure Sky (sun-creams of factors up to 24 or more much in demand); creamy wake behind boats; water a crystal-clear green to aquamarine around us. Heat so strong, water so tempting, visibility underwater so good, that we often went for a plunge around and under rafts, threat of crocs and all. (For the record: only crocs in whole stage seen at Chalala and then later right up Sanyati Gorge). Water fine (and delicious) to drink: often dipped cup overside for a draught. Best means of relaxing/tanning to extend paddle from raft’s side and stretch legs along it. Heidi tried to read her "Out of Africa", book very soggy and disintegrating by end of trip. Suggestion that plastic books for small kids in bath should be marketed for adults - but how many peopledo voyages like this? Passed Elephant Point - not disappointed as several jumbos about. Later saw whole herd of buffalo swimming across from an island to mainland. Many islands, of which Fothergill and Spurwing only largest - many not on map. Hard to remember "islands" were actually high ground before dam built. During one stop on shore, Mike S. and I took walk in dead forest below high-water level that really had eerie, bewitched feeling, as though spirits of dead trees still about and sighing for them, waiting for Prince Charming to restore sap and life. Reached Sanyati West after dark; boats got separated as navigated carefully into bay between sunken trees. No sign of camp and initial chaos about where to camp. Ranger arrived and showed us way to the camp, up ahill and very well concealed in bush and trees; found clearing on level between camp and shore, and slept there.

swimming buffalo


Mon Dec 29: Sanyati West camp very rudimentary (ablution block and little else) as well as hidden away: Explorers' sort of place. Below camp, bonus lagoon with marshy area, stream flowing into lagoon, and series of hills beyond. About half of party went on side-trip up Sanyati River for day. Strange to be on dirty, flowing water again. Sanyati Gorge spectacular, looming cliffs on either side, with thick bush and huge rocks. When became rocky and unable to go further on raft, scrambled along side as far as first rapids. "Croc Alley", signs of them everywhere. Set off back. Picnicked at "alcove" on bank with waterfall and pool with bonus "shower" under waterfall and bumfsliding down into pool. Rock we'd climbed up to get there hard to climb down; all just jumped or dived back into river. Came across motor yacht and couple that had befriended Mike G. Back to camp at Sanyati West. I went halfway up hill before dark: sunset westward over lake back where we'd come from, sea of bush around, dark hills to north where I knew Kariba nestled.


Tues Dec 30: (Tashinga-Sampakaruma) Graham, Jenny and I got up early and climbed one of lesser peaks. Bonus views again. On way back, followed stream through mini-gorge. Swam in delicious little rock-pools: Graham swore he’d return there just for gorge and stream. Elephant had been close to camp all night and we almost walked next into grove in which it was standing before seeing it. Arrived back at camp with rafts ready to leave; duly shat upon. Set off. with Mike G. still in semi-disgrace, Pete van M: took yacht: supplied with ProNutro (no-one else wanted) and quite happy to go off on own. Still wrapped in horse-blanket he'd found, beard sprouting by now, strange Oriental eyes: we knew if we’d lost him we’d only have to ask for "Wild Yachtsman of Kariba“. Windy as well as sunny, fine for yachting"; Pete soon out of sight. Rafts set course for Tsetse Island - but before long the Mariner engine again gave trouble. While trying to repair, yacht of Mike G's friends hove into sight again. Offered us "lift", but not in direction we were bound: Sampakaruma island group north of Kariba town, near Zambian shore. But sounded interesting detour, and buff-puff temptations of luxury motor yacht very tempting. Accepted, piled on board while Paul and Mike stayed in raft, still working on Mariner. Some of us went to sit atop: chairs, tables, and tea and cake served by steward - “lookshiree"! (hosts even apologised for not having enough beers). Paul got engine going all too soon, but didn’t intervene, and decadent, schpaftee, unExplorer-like journey continued. Hosts' son Derek came up to chat: interesting guy, employed by Botswana in national parks, intimate knowledge of bush and wildlife. Reached Sampakaruma and were dropped on small island, one ofcluster. Again feeling of enchantment: just small forest in middle of island and stony beaches all about, could walk entire shoreline in an hour. Uninhabited by humans, very few animals: sitting around campfire in evening, had biggest sense of solitude and tranquillity in whole stage - until shattered by another group with ghetto-blaster on a nearby island. Derek and friends arrived to visit, and some of us caroused with them late into night.


Wed Dec 31: One group went into Kariba early to get supplies. Rest explored island, found only monkeys and few birds. when supply group returned, set off on last leg. Passed close by Siavonga on Zambian side: town of bonus holiday villas for Zambian cabinet ministers. As dam wall came into sight, again sense of how small it seems against lake. Approaching Kariba, bypassed DDF harbour at first to go and do "lap of honour” in Caribbea Bay, where really luxury yachts hang DUE. Particularly humungeous yacht moored near entrance, and expressions on passengers' faces when they saw us made extra distance well worth while. Back to DDF harbour. Cars safe and sound. Packed out all katundu from rafts on grass embankment within DDF enclosure, and then settled down for lunch before deciding on next step. This brought anxious reaction from harbour manager, who came across to find who we were and what we intended. Hilarious conversation between Mike S. and manager (a Black who didn’t quite know how seriously to take Mike and us), something like this:

"We’re setting up a squatter camp here.” _

"No, you can't, 'squatter' is a very bad word in Zimbabwe."

"OK, then we'll have to be refugees. We want asylum from the racist regime."

"What racist regime?"

"South Africa's."

"Then maybe we can help you; you'll have to speak to the right people. But it's much better in South Africa now, you should have come two years ago."



Eventually we got organised and packed - sad to see the rafts, home for so many days, deflated and disappearing into trailers. I recovered my canoe at Andorra Harbour. Civilisation, even this much of it, seemed strange, Kariba like a big metropolis. Drove 15 km out of town, past aerodrome, to Nyamayara camp in National Park area. Found "Wild Man" alias Peter waiting for us: had spent night in servants' quarters at Breezes Hotel after hearing tariff for guests. Another excellent site: amid trees right on edge of mini-plateau, plain below with hordes of impala grazing at sunset, and shore and lake away to west. Chris, Pete and I determined to go to a party for New Year's Eve; hundreds of people at Breezes, including friends from Chalala: Gail's mother there, inhibiting factor. Meanwhile Paul and others met Mr and Mrs Cleminson by arrangement and spent evening with them at Gatshe Gatshe camp in nearby Charara wildlife area: hopefully some balm for first NYE without Wayne.


Thurs Jan 1; Time to go. Messed around Kariba for a while. Read plaque to "Operation Noah”: details of more than 4900 animals rescued: most touching was "one bushbaby'. Had traditional tea and ”scohns" at Most High Hotel, now under very Christian management and run as haven for missionaries, so had to watch language. View over Kariba justified name: spectacular, water all sparkling in the sun. Finally left and headed south .....


Nick Cowley



A few words on the story of the world’s biggest manmade lake. The construction of the dam wall took four years, with work sometimes being done in heat of 55 degrees, and 68 workers were killed in on-site accidents (four bodies that couldn’t be recovered are still embedded in the wall, as what the local Batonka tribe saw as an offering to the offended Zambezi river god). The mighty Zambezi was finally blocked completely in 1961, and it took two more years for the lake to fill to more or less its present vast size of 280 kilometres by 40. The flooding of the Zambezi Valley meant that the Batonkas had to be relocated, and almost 5000 animals were saved in "Operation Noah", which gained such worldwide publicity that even cabaret artists in Thailand donated fishnet stockings to be used for netting to capture animals! As recently as 1987 elephant were known to swim from Spurwing Island to Kariba town, a distance of 60 kilometres - apparently following old game trails by what seemed to be uncanny hereditary instincts, as the elephants had been about five years after the lake filled up.



South Africa
16° 32' 3.084" S, 28° 48' 3.6108" E
South Africa
16° 50' 18.204" S, 28° 16' 48.6552" E


Saturday, December 21, 1991 (All day) to Sunday, January 5, 1992 (All day)




Paul Marais
Graham Deverell
Anthony Bennett
Mike Bradford
Nick Cowley
Mike Ginter
Mark Kilbourn
Chris Kirchhoff
Heidi Klingenberg
Ingrid Nicolaus
Martin Nicolaus
Mike Slater
Jenny Smith
Bronwyn Strong
Peter Van Meelis


zambezi River