Houseboats have become a status symbol for the wealthy and the nouveau-riche who have shifted the arena of conquest from road and conventional hotels to water as they provide serenity and exclusivity.
From private owned to rented houseboats, Lake Kariba, with its expansive mass of water, has it all!
Houseboats have been navigating the lake since its damming in the late 1950s with new variants coming in to satisfy new tastes and adorning contemporary fittings.
Merrymakers have latched onto houseboats for fun under unique surroundings, honeymooners find a secluded pad while those who want to relax have a perfect cradle.
Who does not want to experience the lulling effect of the waves and the distant but enchanting flapping sound of water hitting on the sides of the boat as one wakes up?
Only those who have dosed off under the hypnotic spell of a cradle or rocking chair understand the relaxing effect the sanguine paradise of the waves in the lake provide.
It is not a shoe string budget affair!
Houseboats are a unique draw-card for the opulent or those who use the concept of crowd funding to get the best for less.
From as much as US$320 translating to about $5 500 using the interbank rate per night, a family or friends can get a three-bed houseboat which can take up to 12 people.
This is ordinarily for people who move from the Land Cruisers, Mercs and Bimas to yachts and houseboats, it’s a flaunters’ paradise but away from the prying eyes as one will be out in the waters.
From the boardroom to the Kariba waters. From grinding straightforward or opaque deals to the harbour before setting sail into one of the biggest fresh water bodies in the world.
One key feature of Kariba is the rare opportunity to spend a night or more floating in the water on one of the nearly 150 self-contained houseboats, suited for one’s pocket.
It is a perfect home away from home experience. Some of the packages include docking on the many islands dotted around the lake including Antelope, Changa, Msampakaruma, Spurwing, and Fothergill islands among others.
These voyages lead to some exquisite hotels and lodges known to man as they are tucked away from the glare of the city but having amenities and facilities that compete with any in the bright lights of cities and towns.
A typical voyage starts on the numerous harbours dotted along the lake shores including Marinaland, Carobeck and Cutty Sark among others.
On these harbours are private boats which are used only on weekends and holidays while others are rented out throughout the year with holidays typically being peak periods.
One can hire a dry boat for less while meeting the cost of fuel separately. Tour operator and wildlife expert Mr Justin Mabhena said hiring a houseboat came down to how well people are organised to pool resources with friends.
“It is not always about money but people can organise themselves into clubs so that they share the cost,” he said.
He said those who hire boats provide everything including food, drinks and ice among other essentials for the trip while the operator provides the vessel and staff.
Those who hire usually determine the itinerary and areas of interest to visit.
While in the water, the pontoon gets people as close to the water as possible where one can reel in a fishing line anticipating to pull out a bream, tiger or bottle fish.
The pontoon gets as close to the shoreline to see animals including the sneaky crocodiles, the bulky hippo and elephants coming to drink water.
Seeing the lion is rare but possible. The fun-filled day can be concluded by a sundowner where one can view the sun go down, fodder for photographers.
Themed parties, including all white, male or female parties have been held on the houseboats where people soak in the Zambezi summer sun for a tone and a deluge of pictures for social media junkies.
The unique surroundings make flashy profile pictures, don’t they? Typically the well to do will invite the A-listers for their birthday or anniversary celebrations without having to hire bouncers to ward off party crashers or poopers.
Several companies have invested in houseboats where senior staffers go on holiday.
Mr Mabhena said companies that do not have boats hire them for their directors and managers for the weekend which has helped to bring in business for operators in the lake.
“It is common to have all houseboats fully booked during peak periods.
“It is a lifestyle that native black people are now catching up on after years of having only white people enjoy staying in the lake,” said Mr Mabhena.
I once went on a three-nights, four-day houseboat voyage on the Sahwira boat where a team of multitasking chefs kept me and a team of visitors from the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern African region explored Kariba.
On the first night, we docked at Antelope Island which proved to be a refreshing experience which made waking up difficult the following morning.
Temperatures are typically low in the morning. At dawn the houseboat was on its way to Spurwing Island which provided the delegates from South Africa’s Mpumalanga Province, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe with the opportunity to chat.
At Spurwing, the team was divided into two with one group going for game viewing on the pontoon boats with the other one going for fishing.
As with such outings, the day’s activities makes the subject for discussion as people relax in the wintry breeze of the lake under moonlit sky.
With music blaring from the speakers, others could not resist taking to the dance floor while others preferred intimate moments to discuss business or any subject that arises.
Others preferred playing games. The next morning saw the team heading to Musampakaruma Islands where those with an affinity for fishing went for an afternoon expedition which proved fruitful as almost everyone came back with fish.
People had a chance to disembark from the houseboat and explore the island which was rocky and sandy giving them a chance to walk, stretch and sit under the shade while chatting away.
The next day started early as the houseboat made its way to the lake-shore to end four days of exhilarating fun in the middle of Lake Kariba.
While these are some of the activities, some adrenalin junkies throw caution to the wind and swim in the lake.
Others choose to play it safe and swim in the on-board swimming pool which typifies the jacuzzi where people sunbath while sipping on premium drinks, typical of the life of the rich and famous.
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