Lake Kariba, Zambia & Zimbabwe

Lake Locations:

Zambia - Zimbabwe -

The mighty Zambezi River is the source of Lake Kariba, which spans an impressive 1.38 million acres in the southern African nations of Zimbabwe and Zambia. Hydroelectricity produced by Kariba Dam is used by both countries, while the vastness of the lake provides support for commercial fishing, tourism and wildlife preservation.

The Zambezi River dates back thousands of years and it is believed that even Hiram, Solomon and Queen Sheba benefited from the natural wealth taken from the area. The history of the Zambezi River is clouded in mystery, but it is known that the Tonga tribesmen made their homes along the banks of this mighty river. Construction of the Kariba Dam in 1955 along a narrow point on the Zambezi River known as the “Kariwa” (translated as the “trap”) uprooted the Tonga tribe. The tribesmen cried out to their Zambezi River God, Nyaminyami, to unleash his wrath upon those building the dam. At first it looked like the Tonga people would have their way due to torrential flooding, collapse of the suspension bridge, swamping of the dam’s foundation, and loss of lives. However, despite all of the obstacles, Lake Kariba was officially opened in 1960 by a ceremony hosted by the Queen Mother.

In the midst of Lake Kariba’s construction, national attention was diverted to the biggest wildlife rescue missions since the days of Noah, hence the name Operation Noah. Rupert Fothergill led his team to rescue the animals endangered by the rising waters of Lake Kariba. Due to the extraordinary rescue efforts, Fothergill Island in the national park was named after Operation Noah’s leader. Over 6,000 animals, including rhino, lion, leopard, elephant, zebra, warthog, birds and snakes were relocated to Matusadona National Park and other areas surrounding the lake.

Early planning when the dam was created resulted in a large amount of nature reserve land, particularly along the Zimbabwe south shore. Matusadona National Park encompasses 370,658 acres, with more than 60% accessible only on foot. The park is home to elephants, buffalo, impala, duiker, waterbuck, klispringer, gemsbok, zebra and other unique animals. Crocodiles, cormorants, fish eagles and other water birds enjoy the shallows. Lake Kariba is home to more than 370 bird species. Wildlife viewing is especially rewarding during the dry season from May to October as more animals appear near the most convenient permanent water source. Organized safaris also visit nearby areas such as Chizara, Mana Pools and Siavonga, Zambia where the wealth of animals in their native habitat continues. Many of the safari companies own comfortable camps with private quarters, hot and cold running water, great meals, and a variety of tour options for the convenience of their guests. Another way to see the lake’s rugged beauty is by taking a trip on one of the many houseboats, cruise ships, and sailing ships.

Fish were stocked in the lake soon after it formed, and Lake Kariba now supports over 40 varieties of fish. The most popular to sportsmen is the tiger fish, a native to the Zambezi River. The tiger fish often grows to over eight pounds and puts up a ferocious fight against the best of anglers. The Kariba Invitation Tiger Fish Tournament has been held every October for over 50 years, with hundreds of fishing teams competing for trophies and prizes for the best catch. Besides the formidable tiger fish, the lake supports bream, catfish, tilapia, labeo, vundu, jack and barbel as desirable fishing targets. Kapenta, or Tanganyika sardine, was stocked in the lake early to provide a food source for local people The kapenta have supported a large commercial fishery for many years, with the dried sardines being used locally and shipped to other areas. Recent declines in the catch have been caused by both over-fishing and predation by invasive crayfish. Efforts are underway to develop effective controls to overfishing and to get rid of the invasive species.

One of the most common side trips in the Lake Kariba area is an excursion to a nearby crocodile farm. Chirundu Fossil Forest in Zambia is another. Fossilized remnants of trees around 150,000,000 years old have been exposed by erosion here. Adventure firms offer such exciting fare as whitewater rafting, kayaking, bungee jumping and swimming in spectacular natural pools. The city of Kariba offers plentiful lodgings including resort hotels, fishing lodges, self-catering cottages, camp grounds and ecology camps. Several restaurants serve the tourist trade, and two casinos offer gambling. There are plenty of tourism businesses here seeking to offer customers every type of adventure and sightseeing. The easiest way to reach Lake Kariba is by road from Lusaka, a two-and-a-half-hour trip. An airport at Kariba serves the area. Another small airstrip near Siavonga is sometimes scheduled for use by tour operators. Because this is a rather remote area, first-time travelers may wish to schedule accommodations through a reputable tourism agency.

Lake Kariba is coming into its own as a tourism destination. Several hotels and resort properties have taken hold along the shoreline near the dam. The small city of Kariba near the dam was originally built to house construction workers and now is the largest city in the lake. Here, people who lived along the former river for generations share space with a new influx of tourists and visiting adventurers. Boating on the lake has started to become popular, with several hotels offering rental boats and pontoons for their guests’ convenience. A single car-ferry transports travelers the full length of the lake-a trip of 22 hours-to reach the fishing village of Mlibizi at the west end of the lake. The alternative is an eight-hour drive by car over rough roads. Rental houseboats are a favorite way for visitors to enjoy the lake’s many coves and bays, while canoe safaris along the Zambezi below the dam and guided wildlife tours are extremely popular.

Visitors of Lake Kariba may want to include a trip to Victoria Falls in their itinerary. Located on the mighty Zambezi River, Victoria Falls is considered one of the Natural Wonders of the World. Also included on the trip itinerary may be a stop at one of the local villages where visitors can enjoy the culture that makes the Kariba area so delightful. It is in one of these villages you may hear tales of the Zambezi River God, who still plans to unleash his wrath.

The savage beauty of Lake Kariba will captivate all who take time to see its wonders. Days filled with wildlife viewing, bird watching, fishing and learning about different cultures will keep visitors content with their choice of vacation destination.

Things to do at Lake Kariba

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Whitewater Rafting
  • Camping
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Park
  • Casino Gambling

Fish species found at Lake Kariba

  • Barbel
  • Catfish
  • Tiger Fish
  • Tilapia

Lake Kariba Photo Gallery

Lake Kariba Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

Water Level Control: Zambezi River Authority

Surface Area: 1,378,850 acres

Shoreline Length: 1,345 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,591 feet

Average Depth: 95 feet

Maximum Depth: 318 feet

Water Volume: 149,981,939 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1960

Drainage Area: 314,673 sq. miles

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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