Visiting Lake Kariba wasn’t in our original plans. But because we spent less time than expected in South Luangwa National Park, we were able to tack it on last minute. I am so glad we did!
From Lusaka we crossed into Zimbabwe at the Lake Kariba border post. Several people had advised against using this border post, saying that it was more difficult. However it saved us over 5 hours of driving compared to the Chirindu post so we ignored the advice. I actually really liked this border post because you get to enter Zimbabwe by driving across the Kariba dam which was felt like a pretty grand way to enter the country. The border was slow and there were some unnecessary paperwork hassles – but much less than I expected based on other’s experiences.
Since we had not planned to visit Kariba, we hadn’t done much research. We just knew we wanted to stay on the lake and go fishing. I had made friends with a couple of Zimbabewean farmers on a trip to Mozambique last year who were able to connect me with a local fishing guide in Kariba. He told us to meet him at his home at the Lomagundi Lakeside Association. We hesitantly drove up to his house, not knowing what to expect and still not sure where we were going to stay that night. He was incredibly friendly! He asked us what we were interested in and then proceeded to make it all happen. He got us set up with a campsite right on the lakeshore in his neighborhood. He set up the boat and all the kit needed so we could head out fishing the next morning.
We met at the dock next to our campsite at 6am. We headed straight across the lake to an area called Sanyati Gorge which is where you can find a unique type of fish called a Vundu. The water is muddy like chocolate in this area and the vundu like it because it is easier for them to sneak up on their prey. Gavin showed us how to bait them with chicken hearts which leave a trail of blood that attracts the vundu. It didn’t take long to get a bite. Garrett got the first one, which was a horrifying 9.6 kg monster sized catfish-like creature! They make a horrible sucking sound when they writhe at the surface. Garrett had quite a rough time trying to reel him in because the monster was really running. We kept him just long enough to get some pictures and a weigh in and then tossed him back to his muddy home.
Next I got a bite, and guess what – I caught an even bigger vundu! 16.4kg!!! Gavin taught me some tricks for reeling him in so I made quick work of it. I could not, however, come even close to being able to lift this thing!! It looked like a small shark! When vundu get this big the locals call them Super Pong! Gavin said the guy who films the show “River Monsters” came out to Kariba to try to get a Super Pong. But my vundu was way bigger than any of the ones he caught! Hah!
We then moved on through a series of spots so we could try to catch as many different species of fish as possible. Gavin fishes Kariba everyday and knows every inch of the shoreline. He also baits most of his favorite fishing spots so he knew exactly where to go and how to make the best catches. I have never experienced someone who knows as much about fishing as Gavin. It was fascinating to learn about the tricks of the trade. I had no idea people baited their sites! Gavin makes his own bait out of mealie meal and left over mash from traditional beer. When we first got on the boat it smelled really rancid and I was concerned! Then I realized there were 3 buckets of this homemade bait taking up half of the boat and really smelling up everything! He also buys large bait blocks for $12 each which can get expensive if you are doing it all the time.
Gavin told us about the local fishing competitions and how people come up with all sorts of ways to try to cheat by pre-baiting sites and using fish finders. I had no clue people used underwater cameras to figure out how many and what kind of fish there are at a site.
During our trip, we mainly caught bream which come in many different shapes and sizes and all have great names like nylas, milllies, happys and squeakers. We also got a small tiger fish which was awesome because we weren’t in the right area or using the right method to catch tigers. We missed catching a few of the species because another boat took over one of our sites!
I’ve seen lots of lakes before and really didn’t expect Kariba to be anything special. But I was really taken with its beauty. The lake is surrounded by a national park so there are elephants, hippos and other game browsing along the shore as you fish. The water is clear blue and the surrounding shoreline is made up of lush green hills.
The most popular thing to do on Kariba is getting a house boat to stay out on the water for a few days. They were really expensive so it was not feasible for just two people. It would be really fun to come back with a group of friends to rent a houseboat. Hopefully someday!
It was an awesome day – particularly because it was a change of pace from the back to back marathon game drives we had been doing over the prior weeks. In the evening, Gavin invited us to have dinner with his family at their home. Such a treat to have a home cooked meal. And even better they let us use their wifi which is worth its weight in gold in Zim! We are continually shocked at the generosity and hospitality of people we have met during our time in Africa. People in the US are friendly, but there is just not the same type of hospitality. People don’t go out of their way to be kind to strangers, so we have felt very privileged to be treated to this kindness in our travels.
We also enjoyed camping at the Lomagundi Lakeside Association. They have a main cluster of campsites and then a single campsite right near the boat dock which we chose so that we could be close to the water. The ablutions were pretty outdated but functional. We also liked being right next to “The Dome” which is a popular restaurant and bar where we could socialize with some colorful locals.
At night hippos would walk up through our campsite. Then for breakfast one morning, we got quite a surprise! I looked up to see that we were surrounded by a pack of zebras! They are normally incredibly skittish so I was shocked that they were actively approaching me. Shock quickly turned to fear when they continued to march towards me with a very demanding expressions. We had our breakfast and all our electronics out on the table which made me panic. These zebras could easily destroy everything. We managed to shoo them away from the campsite and they headed up toward the condos.
Then of the tenants came by and told us they were very friendly and we should feed them some bread. He said they have been coming by for years and they are basically like neighborhood pets. It is pretty ingrained in me that you are NOT supposed to feed wildlife. But…. was I going to pass up the chance to feed a zebra? Especially when the neighborhood guy gave me permission? Nope! I grabbed a moldy loaf of bread and a semi-rotten bag of carrots that had been bound for the trash and made a B-line for the zebras.
It is very intimidating to be standing in the middle of a pushy group of zebras. You just don’t know what they are going to do. Will they kick you, bite you or trample you if you don’t have enough food for everyone? I quickly found some stairs that offered me a better sense of security for feeding. The zebras basically acted just like donkeys. But I am also scared of pushy donkeys so that didn’t help much! After I got comfortable with feeding them, I built up the courage to try petting them. It has always been a dream of mine to feel their mohawks and it was incredible! How every animal can be put together in such a unique way is just so beautiful and inspiring.
When we originally looked into Kariba, we had found a few lodges that are in secluded areas on the lake. These accommodations were super pricey and if you wanted to add fishing it was ridiculously expensive. I am so glad we found Gavin and were able to just camp next to the lake. We paid 100$ for the boat and paid a portion of the gas. For anyone looking to fish on Kariba, I would recommend finding a local guide instead of going through the lodges. I absolutely recommend Gavin Ferguson. Message me if you want to get in touch with him!