Adrift in a sea of wildlife

Give bounc­ing about in a four-wheeldrive a miss and view Africa’s big game from a more se­date and se­duc­tive house­boat, writes Tony Park

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Escape - - STUNNING ZIMBABWE -

DE­SPITE their enor­mous size, the ele­phants’ foot­steps are barely au­di­ble as we drift silently along­side the herd, hold­ing our breath as we keep pace with them just a few me­tres away.

We are watch­ing big game in Africa but in­stead of bounc­ing about in the back of a Land Rover, we’re on the water, on an alu­minium plat­form bob­bing on pon­toons, on the wa­ters of Lake Kariba in Zim­babwe.

An af­ter­noon boat cruise, watch­ing an­i­mals, is part of the daily rou­tine on the house­boat Re­turn to Eden, which we have char­tered from the town of Kariba, on the shores of the lake that di­vides Zim­babwe from Zam­bia.

Lake Kariba was formed in 1959 when the Zam­bezi River was dammed for a hy­dro-elec­tric­ity project. The Zam­bezi Val­ley was rich in wildlife and the ris­ing flood­wa­ters turned hill­tops into is­lands, strand­ing thou­sands of an­te­lope, rhi­nos, big cats and other wild an­i­mals.

The Government of Rhode­sia (as Zim­babwe was then known) launched Op­er­a­tion Noah, in which vol­un­teers in small boats rescued those an­i­mals and re­lo­cated them to the new Ma­tu­sadona Na­tional Park on the lake’s shore.

The Ma­tu­sadona hills, from which the park takes its name, glow a strik­ing pink in the dawn and dusk as Re­turn to Eden’s cap­tain, Satiel, pi­lots us around the dead trees that still poke through the lake’s wa­ters, more than 50 years af­ter they were flooded.

A house­boat on Lake Kariba bears lit­tle sim­i­lar­ity to the glo­ri­fied float­ing car­a­vans found on Aus­tralian wa­ter­ways. More ship than boat, it boasts six cab­ins, all with air­con­di­tion­ing and en­suite, an enor­mous up­per deck for din­ing and laz­ing, and even a plunge pool.

Kariba’s cli­mate is warm and dry from May to Oc­to­ber and hot, sticky and wet over the sum­mer but even at the hottest times there is usu­ally a re­fresh­ing breeze. Cov­er­ing more than 5000sq km, it is the world’s largest man-made reser­voir.

As Aus­tralians, it’s hard not to think of the 1980s minis­eries of the same name when we board Re­turn to Eden, and just as croc­o­diles played a part in that drama (James Reyne tried to kill his on-screen wife Re­becca Gilling by feed­ing her to one), th­ese men­ac­ing rep­tiles are very much a part of the Kariba land­scape.

Kariba is also home to a stun­ning ar­ray of aquatic bird life, in­clud­ing pied king­fish­ers that hover busily over the water be­fore nose­div­ing in for the kill, and ma­jes­tic fish ea­gles whose mourn­ful wail is for many the sound of Africa.

We have booked Re­turn to Eden on a self-ca­ter­ing ba­sis, but the op­er­a­tors can also pro­vide all meals. Self-ca­ter­ing really just means we bring our own food; we don’t need to cook it be­cause chef Chris is ready to turn our ba­sic in­gre­di­ents into some cre­ative fare.

Ma­tu­sadona is a long, nar­row re­serve on the Zim­bab­wean side of the lake and is famed for its lions,

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