Houseboat trip on Lake Kariba

By Ashleigh Whaley

Heading off to Lake Kariba for a houseboat trip is always a worthy cause for huge excitement, and this year it was no different for our household. Loads of preparation was required, as we would need to account for all our food, fishing tackle and fuel for our week long trip. Our great friends, the Hovercraft’s, were joining us for the trip, which added to the excitement stemming from my husband, Douglas and my two young kids, Paula Joy and Murray John. 

As we loaded up our double cab the first morning of our trip, the first rains arrived on the farm which put us all in a remarkably good mood for 5am. The early start is almost mandatory on a trip to Kariba to avoid the trucks heading for Zimbabwe’s northern border and hit the lake with enough time to spare.  With all the rain around, our car kept a cool temperature and made our 5 hour trip extremely comfortable.  As we arrived at the harbour, the excitement in the car was palpable- we couldn’t wait to get out onto the lake and start what is always a magical holiday.  A few trips in the speedboat to load the houseboat and we were quickly away, setting out across the expanse of Lake Kariba.  Finally, we were able to relax and take in the stunning views of the lake. 

Kariba sunsets are a marvel to see and as we were anchoring up for our first night, we were rewarded with the beautiful orange and yellow skyline. The houseboat was being moored against the shore at Elephant Point, and immediately the fishing rods were dropped in. The kids had spent the whole afternoon practicing setting up the fishing rods and had become quite proficient at it.A full moon followed soon after and we couldn’t resist sleeping under the stars on the top deck of the houseboat; one of Kariba’s indescribable moments (thankfully there was a lovely breeze to keep the mosquitoes away).

Dawn arrives around 4.30 am at Kariba, which meant an early start for everyone.  The children were not worried as the early morning meant it was time to start fishing again.The speed boats headed out around 6 am to try to catch some bream, but returned with a few squeakers and one small tiger fish instead – oops, not a great start!

After a late breakfast we headed off to the Ume River; a three hour trip. The houseboat is always a lively place, especially when filled with children.  Board games, books and handstands kept the children busy, but the excitement of the day was a quick noisy swim in the deep waters of the lake to cool off*. These are indeed special bonding times for everyone.   

The peace and tranquillity of the Ume River always amazes me. Such a beautiful place, away from Wi-Fi and other boats. The Gubu River is a tributary which runs into the Ume River and is always one of the first places we go to. The river has dried up a great deal so we had to moor closer to the main river.    The fishing continued to be poor, due to the muddy waters. However, on day three, Murray John managed to catch two bream fish for his supper; a wonderful reward for hours of hopeful fishing.  

Each day we moved the houseboat to another scenic spot and this time we went closer to the main lake, where the water was clearer. Fishing is a real test of patience and this year was the first in many to provide a real challenge. Nevertheless, our fishermen were determined to find some bream which had eluded us so far.  Day four proved to be just as disappointing in the fishing department as the earlier days, as we only managed to catch a few squeaker fish.  Thankfully, Kariba never lets you down, there is always a sight to be seen and today it was some magical bird life. We finished our day watching two pairs of fish eagles scour the lake at sundown;their magical calls almost as beautiful as the giant bird itself.  

Following a late breakfast the next day, the children went scorpion hunting with Tony, a professional guide. There is always an adventure to be found when surrounded by unspoiled nature! Once the hunt was over, the children dipped their rods in the river as we began to set off for our next mooring spot and caught some lovely small bream for our pre-dinner snacks.

The Shenga River is another tributary which runs into the Ume River.  One of the most scenic parts of Kariba, there are always herds of elephant roaming this area. The Shenga location also provides an outstanding view across the bay and flood plains. Moving the houseboat to the Shenga caused great excitement for the children. Each day they prepared the fishing boat by organising the cold box, the snacks, the rods, worms and tackle.  This day, we allowed them to take turns driving the speedboat ahead to look for the obstacles in front of our houseboat.  Not an easy task, submerged tree stumps and pods of hippos were at every corner.  The children took the challenge head on and thrived, resulting in them not being entirely sure whether they enjoyed the fishing or speedboat driving the most! 

Shenga bay is beautiful; such an idyllic spot full of hippos, birdlife, crocodiles and the occasional elephant.  But most importantly, we had found the elusive bream! A huge rush of excitement meant both speed boats remained out until late morning.  A quick bite of breakfast and the men and the children immediately headed back out to fish through the heat of the day. We certainly got to see who the avid fishermen were!  Luckily, the rainy season was upon us and there were plenty of clouds around, preventing the excessive heat Lake Kariba is known for.

By lunch-time, Kariba decided to give us another one of its classic moments; a storm arose in the distance, behind the Matusadona hills. A Kariba storm is always a spectacle; the lightning crashed in the distance, and a lovely cool breeze brought the smell of the impending rain.   The rain left as quickly as it came, and we were soon itching to get back out on the river but to our dismay, one of the speed boats would not start. The boys were ‘all hands on deck’ trying to solve the problem.  After an hour they decided that it was best to tow the speed boat out to the fishing spot, as they felt that they were losing valuable fishing time.

Paula Joy was especially excited when she caught a Cornish jack fish to add to her collection of squeakers, bream and baby tigers, which she had already landed.   Finally, after days of fishing, we had finally caught plenty of fish and the children were so proud of their achievements.As everyone was hauling in the fish, I decided to give it a go.  Fishing is not my strongest suit, and by the time I had caught my bream and the real fisherman had taken it off my hook, I was happy enough to return to my book. The problem with the boat was finally resolved whilst fishing and a fun time of jesting and comparing one another’s boats erupted on the way back!  

We had to move closer to harbour for our last night, so we decided to move to Gordon’s Bay, well known to often have game on the foreshore.  With the rains having arrived inland, the animals retreated from the lake and there were few to be found apart from a couple elephant and impala.The wind picked up during our last night, giving us all a lovely reprieve from the heat. However, in the early hours of the morning, a large crocodile decided to eat one of the houseboat fenders, resulting in a great deal of banging against the boat and a fender full or holes once dawn came.

The houseboat guys were up at first light, untying the houseboat ropes and firing up the boat engines, ready for the four hour trip across the lake to the harbour.  The sunrise was a spectacular sight to behold and a memory which we will never forget. What a wonderful way to end an awesome houseboat trip. One can only marvel at God’s perfect creation and I always feel closer to God, having spent quality time in His presence. I find it sad to leave the houseboat and return to normal life, however, we were now well rested and ready to take on the real world and its many challenges. Lake Kariba and all its spectacular sights will be there waiting for us to return and enjoy another adventure.- © NZiRA Travel Zimbabwe, Issue 15 http://www.nzira.co.zw

*- Nzira does not recommend swimming in Lake Kariba

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