Zimbabwe, Zambia

Kariba & Middle Zambezi

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Because of the rivers

Because of the rivers

Middle Zambezi – Zambia, view from Chongwe Safaris
Middle Zambezi – Zambia, view from Chongwe Safaris
Chongwe Safaris

Of all her many wonders, what is it that makes Zambia a place of such diversity and richness? Is it her waterfalls, or some of the world’s most beautiful scenery? The abundance and variety of her wildlife and fantastic fishing? Or perhaps the rich mineral deposits, fertile and productive farmland and regionally important hydroelectric plants?

It is all of these - and they exist because of the rivers.

As the Zambezi rises from dark marshy miombo in the north-west of Zambia, far away in the north-east the Luangwa originates in the Mafinga mountains  - the international boundary between Zambia and Tanzania and the watershed between the Zambezi and Rufiji river systems.

Along her way, the Zambezi briefly visits Angola then comes home to Zambia to be met by the Kabompo and the Lungwebungu, forming the immense Barotse floodplains. After being joined by the Luangingashe it flows through the Litunga’s kingdom where each year the Lozi people, whose traditional lives revolve around the seasons of the river, celebrate Kuomboka at the end of the rains, when the floodwaters rise and the Royal establishment moves to higher ground.

Past the Nyone Falls, the Zambezi flows through the Caprivi Strip, political boundaries created in colonial times to give the Germans access to the river from what is now Namibia.  It is one of the many cartographic peculiarities on the map of Africa drawn by men in European offices with pencils and rulers.

Over the Victoria Falls and into the Batoka Gorge, the river is accompanied for a short, famously turbulent stretch by adrenalin seekers on the hunt for white water thrills. The river is trapped for a while by the Kariba Dam, where her might is harnessed to turn the great turbines which power the copper mines and the rapidly growing economy of Zambia.

All the tributaries add to the Zambezi, now joined by the Kafue River, and after flowing through Kafue Gorge and another hydro-power station, she passes through some of the most breathtakingly beautiful scenery in Africa – the Lower Zambezi Valley.

Meanwhile, in the east, a very different river is flowing to meet the Zambezi at ‘Luangwa Town’ – formerly Feira. The Luangwa is one of the few remaining completely wild and uninterrupted rivers in the world. She meanders through vast wild areas of raw beauty, teeming with wildlife, and is joined along her route by many tributaries with poetic and mysterious names that roll off the tongue like spells being cast – Musalangu, Munyamadzi, Lusangazi.

Their waters join the wild Luangwa to finally flow into the Zambezi as she slows her run one last time through Cahora Bassa Dam, another enormous hydro-power scheme, escaping finally into the Indian Ocean through a delta system much reduced after the taming effect of the dams.

These rivers are the lifeblood of the region and, whether or not we realise it, have a fundamental effect on all of us who live here. Our power, our food, the fast growing economy, our mineral wealth and the entire tourism industry depend on our rivers.

We had better look after them.

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 13, June 2013)

Read more in our destination guide:
Kariba & Middle Zambezi

Zambezi Traveller Directory:
Norman Carr Safaris