"The enormous Lake Kariba was created during the 1950s by the damming of the Zambezi river where it flows east through Kariba gorge. Local communities were displaced in the process and animals had to be rescued from the rising waters. The swamp-grass floodplains that subsequently formed have helped boost wildlife numbers. Matusadona National Park, on the southern shore, protects good elephant and buffalo herds, alongside a few black rhinos and a decent predator population. You can also spy hippos, crocodiles and abundant birdlife from boats that ply the shoreline and islands.”

- Mike Unwin

Lake Kariba & Matusadona National Park

The damming of the central Zambezi for hydro-electric power during the 1950s dramatically altered the wild landscape of northern Zimbabwe. Upstream from the dam, which was built in the narrow Kariba Gorge, a huge lake formed, drowning much of the valley while creating new islands and floodplains. Local communities had to move out, and the famous Operation Noah relocated many marooned animals.

Today, Lake Kariba is one of world’s largest manmade water bodies, some 220km in length and 5,500 square kilometres in area. An important fishing industry flourishes in its waters, which are Zambia’s to the north and Zimbabwe’s to the south, and a ferry service runs from east to west. The region has always been rich in big game, and grazing mammals have benefitted from the extensive swamp-grass floodplains created by the lake. Today, wildlife includes abundant elephant and buffalo, plus huge numbers of hippos and crocodiles along the shore.

Lake Kariba’s richest wildlife experience is at Matusadona National Park, on the south-eastern shore, best reached by boat from Kariba town. Here, a handful of private safari lodges, some on lake islands, offer shoreline game-viewing by boat or vehicle, or head inland on walking safaris through the denser bush towards the escarpment. Visitors may encounter numerous elephant and large herds of buffalo, along with zebra and various antelope, including impala, waterbuck, greater kudu and sable. With walking guides, you may also track down the small population of black rhinos, some relocated from elsewhere in the Zambezi valley. Predators are harder work. The park was once famed for its dense lion population, which exploded when buffalo fell sick during the 1990s, but numbers have since declined. Recent sightings of wild dog have excited conservationists, however, while hyena and spotted leopard are widespread.

Outside Matusadona, the region as a whole remains very wild, with plentiful game in the adjoining Bumi Hills and Charara safari areas, and wildlife of all kinds liable to turn up anywhere. Without even entering the park, I have met elephants in the centre of Kariba town, hippos wandering through my lakeshore campsite and sable crossing the main road to Harare. Birdlife is abundant, especially along the lakeshore, with crowned eagle and pennant-winged nightjar among my own top sightings.

When to go

Find out when is best to visit

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  • Poor
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WET SEASON

This is the wettest period of the year. Temperatures are hot during the day, averaging a maximum of 29°C/84°F, mornings are much more pleasant averaging 19°C/66°F.

Lodges generally close during this period, therefore it is not a time we could recommend.

Like the rest of Zimbabwe, Matusadona has very distinct wet and dry seasons; rain is common, usually in the form of sharp thunderstorms from November through to early May, the rest of the year clear skies dominate. We would generally recommend visiting Hwange during the peak of the dry season; as the landscape dries up wildlife becomes more concentrated around the watering holes while at the same time thinner/ drier vegetation improves visibility. Having said this, there is a lot to be said for the ‘emerald season’; beautiful green scenery, fantastic birding and fewer tourists can make for a wonderful and unique experience.

WET SEASON

This is the wettest period of the year. Temperatures are hot during the day, averaging a maximum of 29°C/84°F, mornings are much more pleasant averaging 19°C/66°F.

Lodges generally close during this period, therefore it is not a time we could recommend.

Like the rest of Zimbabwe, Matusadona has very distinct wet and dry seasons; rain is common, usually in the form of sharp thunderstorms from November through to early May, the rest of the year clear skies dominate. We would generally recommend visiting Hwange during the peak of the dry season; as the landscape dries up wildlife becomes more concentrated around the watering holes while at the same time thinner/ drier vegetation improves visibility. Having said this, there is a lot to be said for the ‘emerald season’; beautiful green scenery, fantastic birding and fewer tourists can make for a wonderful and unique experience.

WET SEASON

This is the wettest period of the year. Temperatures are hot during the day, averaging a maximum of 29°C/84°F, mornings are much more pleasant averaging 19°C/66°F.

Lodges generally close during this period, therefore it is not a time we could recommend.

Like the rest of Zimbabwe, Matusadona has very distinct wet and dry seasons; rain is common, usually in the form of sharp thunderstorms from November through to early May, the rest of the year clear skies dominate. We would generally recommend visiting Hwange during the peak of the dry season; as the landscape dries up wildlife becomes more concentrated around the watering holes while at the same time thinner/ drier vegetation improves visibility. Having said this, there is a lot to be said for the ‘emerald season’; beautiful green scenery, fantastic birding and fewer tourists can make for a wonderful and unique experience.

WET SEASON

Whilst technically still the wet season April sees the end of the rains with clear skies dominating towards the end of the month. Temperatures begin to also drop, making for more pleasant afternoon conditions, though mornings can be surprisingly cool, so be sure to pack a warm fleece.

Like the rest of Zimbabwe, Matusadona has very distinct wet and dry seasons; rain is common, usually in the form of sharp thunderstorms from November through to early May, the rest of the year clear skies dominate. We would generally recommend visiting Hwange during the peak of the dry season; as the landscape dries up wildlife becomes more concentrated around the watering holes while at the same time thinner/ drier vegetation improves visibility. Having said this, there is a lot to be said for the ‘emerald season’; beautiful green scenery, fantastic birding and fewer tourists can make for a wonderful and unique experience.

DRY SEASON

May is the beginning of the dry season, although the landscape will still be many shades of green following the rains. Midday temperatures are pleasant, but the mornings are surprisingly cool with average temperatures of around 13°C/55°F, so be sure to pack a warm fleece.

Like the rest of Zimbabwe, Matusadona has very distinct wet and dry seasons; rain is common, usually in the form of sharp thunderstorms from November through to early May, the rest of the year clear skies dominate. We would generally recommend visiting Hwange during the peak of the dry season; as the landscape dries up wildlife becomes more concentrated around the watering holes while at the same time thinner/ drier vegetation improves visibility. Having said this, there is a lot to be said for the ‘emerald season’; beautiful green scenery, fantastic birding and fewer tourists can make for a wonderful and unique experience.

DRY SEASON

The landscape continues to dry up, with game sightings becoming more likely. Midday temperatures are pleasant, 27°C/81°F, but the mornings are surprisingly cool with average temperatures of around 11°C/11°F, so be sure to pack a warm fleece.

Like the rest of Zimbabwe, Matusadona has very distinct wet and dry seasons; rain is common, usually in the form of sharp thunderstorms from November through to early May, the rest of the year clear skies dominate. We would generally recommend visiting Hwange during the peak of the dry season; as the landscape dries up wildlife becomes more concentrated around the watering holes while at the same time thinner/ drier vegetation improves visibility. Having said this, there is a lot to be said for the ‘emerald season’; beautiful green scenery, fantastic birding and fewer tourists can make for a wonderful and unique experience.

DRY SEASON

The landscape continues to dry up, with game sightings becoming more likely. Midday temperatures are pleasant, 27°C/81°F, but the mornings are surprisingly cool with average temperatures of around 11°C/11°F, so be sure to pack a warm fleece.

Like the rest of Zimbabwe, Matusadona has very distinct wet and dry seasons; rain is common, usually in the form of sharp thunderstorms from November through to early May, the rest of the year clear skies dominate. We would generally recommend visiting Hwange during the peak of the dry season; as the landscape dries up wildlife becomes more concentrated around the watering holes while at the same time thinner/ drier vegetation improves visibility. Having said this, there is a lot to be said for the ‘emerald season’; beautiful green scenery, fantastic birding and fewer tourists can make for a wonderful and unique experience.

DRY SEASON

The landscape continues to dry up, with game sightings becoming more likely. Midday temperatures are pleasant, 27°C/81°F, but the mornings are surprisingly cool with average temperatures of around 11°C/11°F, so be sure to pack a warm fleece.

Like the rest of Zimbabwe, Matusadona has very distinct wet and dry seasons; rain is common, usually in the form of sharp thunderstorms from November through to early May, the rest of the year clear skies dominate. We would generally recommend visiting Hwange during the peak of the dry season; as the landscape dries up wildlife becomes more concentrated around the watering holes while at the same time thinner/ drier vegetation improves visibility. Having said this, there is a lot to be said for the ‘emerald season’; beautiful green scenery, fantastic birding and fewer tourists can make for a wonderful and unique experience.

DRY SEASON

Clear skies still dominate, the landscape has now become quite parched; ultimately making this the perfect time for game viewing. Midday temperatures are hot, with temperatures of over 40°C/104°F common, especially in October. This is a time to get up early to make the most of the more pleasant temperatures, average temperatures of around 17°C/61°F.

Like the rest of Zimbabwe, Matusadona has very distinct wet and dry seasons; rain is common, usually in the form of sharp thunderstorms from November through to early May, the rest of the year clear skies dominate. We would generally recommend visiting Hwange during the peak of the dry season; as the landscape dries up wildlife becomes more concentrated around the watering holes while at the same time thinner/ drier vegetation improves visibility. Having said this, there is a lot to be said for the ‘emerald season’; beautiful green scenery, fantastic birding and fewer tourists can make for a wonderful and unique experience.

DRY SEASON

Clear skies still dominate, the landscape has now become quite parched; ultimately making this the perfect time for game viewing. Midday temperatures are hot, with temperatures of over 40°C/104°F common, especially in October. This is a time to get up early to make the most of the more pleasant temperatures, average temperatures of around 17°C/61°F.

Like the rest of Zimbabwe, Matusadona has very distinct wet and dry seasons; rain is common, usually in the form of sharp thunderstorms from November through to early May, the rest of the year clear skies dominate. We would generally recommend visiting Hwange during the peak of the dry season; as the landscape dries up wildlife becomes more concentrated around the watering holes while at the same time thinner/ drier vegetation improves visibility. Having said this, there is a lot to be said for the ‘emerald season’; beautiful green scenery, fantastic birding and fewer tourists can make for a wonderful and unique experience.

WET SEASON

Technically the start of the wet season, although rain is infrequent, usually in the form of afternoon showers. The arrival of the first rains rapidly transforms the parched landscape. Midday temperatures remain hot, average around 32°C/90°F and the humidity can also be high.

Like the rest of Zimbabwe, Matusadona has very distinct wet and dry seasons; rain is common, usually in the form of sharp thunderstorms from November through to early May, the rest of the year clear skies dominate. We would generally recommend visiting Hwange during the peak of the dry season; as the landscape dries up wildlife becomes more concentrated around the watering holes while at the same time thinner/ drier vegetation improves visibility. Having said this, there is a lot to be said for the ‘emerald season’; beautiful green scenery, fantastic birding and fewer tourists can make for a wonderful and unique experience.

WET SEASON

This is the wettest period of the year with, again rainfall normally comes in the form of an afternoon thunderstorm. Temperatures are hot during the day, averaging a maximum of 30°C/86°F, mornings are much more pleasant averaging 20°C/68°F.

The landscape by this stage is rapidly becoming lush, green and beautiful. Not perfect for game viewing, but there are many new born animals as well as migratory birdlife to enjoy.

Like the rest of Zimbabwe, Matusadona has very distinct wet and dry seasons; rain is common, usually in the form of sharp thunderstorms from November through to early May, the rest of the year clear skies dominate. We would generally recommend visiting Hwange during the peak of the dry season; as the landscape dries up wildlife becomes more concentrated around the watering holes while at the same time thinner/ drier vegetation improves visibility. Having said this, there is a lot to be said for the ‘emerald season’; beautiful green scenery, fantastic birding and fewer tourists can make for a wonderful and unique experience.

Explore Lake Kariba & Matusadona National Park Properties

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