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Lake Kariba Whether houseboating on its surface or walking along its shoreline, you'll find it hard not to jump for joy when visiting Lake Kariba. 36 Travel Zimbabwe December 2009 s our houseboat Royal Game cast off from shore, I tried to take in the fact there were another 5500 square kilometres of Lake Kariba to explore. My guide, Craig van Zyl, was more focused on what was immediately to hand. " Great food, plenty of beer, and few other boats on the horizon. How good is that?" he enthused. He was right. Chartering a houseboat on this vast lake is the ultimate leisure pursuit for travellers to northern Zimbabwe. However, this classic pastime is not just for tourists. Zimbabweans themselves regularly take to the water for relaxing fishing holidays. Surprisingly, there are very few similar operations set up to explore Africa's other great lakes in this rewarding manner. Our 44ft mono- hulled cruiser was one of the more modest yachts on the lake, with some of the larger houseboats so luxurious they resembled floating gin palaces. Petite it may have been, but our boat was perfect for our small party. The crew was made up of Keference, a captain with 12 years' experience, and Past, a helpful man who also performed culinary miracles in the galley. I had visited Lake Kariba before, but I'd never really appreciated its size. Being on the water imparts a real sense of expansiveness and a feeling of freedom. The shimmering surface stretched endlessly across the horizon, and 30 minutes after leaving Fothergill Island I could see nothing else. When landmarks did appear on this silvery canvas I relished each one of them: little islands, the drowned crowns of once- arid hills; and eerie skeletal treetops of old leadwood forests, still standing firm despite having been half- submerged for 50 years. Skirting the shore, houseboats are actually a great way to see large mammals such as buffalo and elephant. As these species wandered down to the lake's edge to graze the lush grass, they seemed so relaxed, taking little notice of us despite the incessant squeaking of white- crowned plovers - supergrasses of the avian world - warning of our presence. I was told their lack of concern was due to the fact we weren't blocking off any of their lines of retreat. We moored overnight in one of the marshy bays in Matusadona National Park, a remote wilderness on Lake Kariba's southern shore. No sooner had I drifted off to sleep, after feasting on steak and roast potatoes and regaling in stories of Africa, than I was woken at 5.30am by the aroma of frying eggs. I was awash with anticipation. Matusadona is famed for the density of its lion population, and Craig, who cut his teeth guiding here, was about to take me into the bush on foot. Dropped off on shore by a skiff, I felt as excited as I was vulnerable - I was now part of nature. And it proved to be my most memorable bushwalk ever. horizon Good times on the

December 2009 Travel Zimbabwe 37 CHRISTOPHER SCOTT