The other day I stayed in Kariba Town, Zimbabwe, on the way home from Harare to Livingstone. I wanted to see what was available on both sides of the dam wall. Kariba Town is on the Zimbabwe side; Siavonga is on the Zambian side.
A bit of history first. When the dam was built in 1957-59, Kariba Town was built to house the workers for the construction. The whole town seemed to spring up overnight as houses, clinics, schools, shops, and all the town infrastructure was built at amazing speed for the thousands of workers required.
Access to the site was over rough and difficult terrain, so roads were built through the Zambezi Escarpment and around the hills of Kariba Town. Roads in those days were usually placed using old game trails, probably that of elephants, as the game knew the terrain better than the people.
At this time, Zambia (Northern Rhodesia), Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia), and Nyasaland (Malawi) were part of what was known as the federation. The three British colonies were joined into one administrative area between 1953 and 1963. The capital of the federation was Salisbury (Harare).
It was decided that this area of Central Africa needed power, and lots of it, mostly for the mining area of the Copperbelt in Zambia. Various sites for the construction of a dam were proposed and discussed but finally Kariba won out. Most of the materials and expertise arrived from Harare, so, I assume, that was the reason why the southern bank in Zimbabwe was chosen as the town site.
Siavonga, on the other hand, was built for the housing of the Tonga people who were displaced when the dam was complete and the water drowned their original villages.
The drive from Harare to Kariba is about 350 km. The first stretch is along horrid main roads with trucks and bad drivers. At Makuti the road, of about 80 km, down to Kariba, is quiet, tortuous, and stunningly beautiful.
I arrived at Kariba Town and set about investigating. The first thing I noticed were zebra wandering around the streets, looking quite at home. There was a lot of ele poo on the roads, but I didn’t see any eles. Later, when I was chatting, I was told that buffalo also roam the streets; there used to be impala and warthogs, too, but they have long gone to the African pot.
I went to lodge after lodge and began to get a bit despondent. Most of them looked very tired and uninviting. Zim, of course, has the problem now that domestic tourism has dwindled to a minimum and internationals just don’t go anymore because of the political situation. Kariba Town used to be a hub of activity where Zimbos had holiday homes; the hotels did a roaring tourist trade; the harbors were full of private and commercial speedboats, small and large houseboats, and ferries. It thrived. Everybody from Harare, it seemed, wanted to spend their weekends on the lake fishing or just mucking about in boats.
I don’t want to tell you about the bad bits; I will concentrate on the good. The first lodge that I found, which I felt was worth staying at, was Hornbill Lodge on Mica Point. It is a small private lodge where the owner only opens up on prior bookings. Contact: [email protected] . I went to Caribbea Bay Hotel, which is a large hotel and took a look around. This hotel is part of the African Sun Group and was very pink and lumpy. I then trundled round to Cutty Sark Hotel and hoped that it was better – I had been told that the food was good, so that would do, as long as I had a clean room to stay in and the place was safe. It was fine, so I booked in.
Both Caribbea Bay and Cutty Sark rely on the conference market now. We all know that governments and the thousands of NGOs these days love conferences – they like to talk about things ad nauseam and get an out-of-town allowance. Unfortunately for me, a hotel which caters for the conference market is not my kind of hotel… it is just a place to sleep.
Having booked in to Cutty Sark, I went off to look for more disasters but was pleasantly surprised. I found Tamarind Lodges, which was very basic but had a chat with the owner, and she said that they were trying to make it better – it was just a case of money, of which there was little of these days. Tamarind Lodges is very cheap and they hoped to offer camping, too. It seemed secure, which is the main concern these days with such poverty lurking around every corner.
I then headed to Lomagundi Lakeside. This place looked more to my liking. It had a thatched bar by the water’s edge, chalets and camping facilities. This, I reckon, should be recommended. It was safe, which many of the town campsites definitely are not.
Having checked out Lomagundi, I went to Warthogs. It was in a state of disrepair, the owners having decided to rebuild. So I can’t say too much about it except that the bar was in good condition; the kitchens functioned with a basic menu. The good thing about Warthogs was that they had Internet connection – a very rare commodity in Zim these days. Warthogs really caters to the overland market, so the owner was hoping that the trade would resume with the quiet situation, which now prevails in Zim.