Chete, Zebra & Sekula
Chete is the largest island in the lake, and after a quick glance at the map you'll realise that it's much nearer to the Zimbabwean mainland (150m) than it is to Zambia (15km). This is because the border is defined as the deepest part of the Zambezi's old river course, not a line through the middle of the lake. In fact, the island lies just offshore from Zimbabwe's Chete Safari Area â€“ so it's no surprise to learn that it's become recognised under Zambia's national parks system as a private wildlife reserve and bird sanctuary. The island is owned by Westlake Safaris, who also own the neighbouring Zebra Island.
Chete is in a remote southern part of the lake, isolated except for the occasional twinkle from the nocturnal fishing of kapenta rigs in the distance. The island's game isn't tame, nor as dense as you'll find in the Luangwa or the better areas of the Kafue, but there is a sense of solitude and wilderness such as only a wild island like this can give. Its closest point of contact is really Sinazongwe, 17km away across Lake Kariba.
Much of the bigger game migrates to and fro between Zimbabwe and the island. This is especially true of the elephant bulls, but typically there's a resident breeding herd of about 70 elephants on the island. There was a pride of lion which frequented the island, including a large male, although this pride hasn't been seen for a while. Then there are perhaps half a dozen leopard, a herd of eland, and plenty of waterbuck, bushbuck, impala and some magnificent kudu. Not forgetting the many crocodile and hippo that surround the shores, and a wide variety of birds â€“ to date, 378 species have been counted here and in the surrounding area. Vultures circle in the thermals over the high ground; and a solitary martial eagle may be spotted over the centre of the island, while lower down, numerous smaller birds come to the fore, including little bee-eaters and colourful blue waxbills.
Typically, a guided walk across the centre of the island will take around two hours. The landscape is very varied, similar in parts to Zimbabwe's Chizarira and Matusadonna national parks. Areas of dense cover, rugged interior woodlands and gorges contrast with lightly wooded clearings criss-crossed with game tracks; nearer the shore, the terrain opens up into expansive floodplains. There are no roads here, and there's just one small but very good lodge by the lake.
Chete is not directly accessible by water from Zimbabwe, but transfers are run from Sinazongwe on the Zambian side by the owners of the island's safari lodge (see below). The relatively short trip across the lake is either by trimaran (see box) or motorboat, depending on the weather, and is included in the overnight cost for guests at the lodge. Sailing into the wind and the wilderness is the stuff of dreams in good weather, but take a waterproof jacket just in case. (There's always a tiny dry cabin if life on deck becomes too challenging!)
Where to stayChete Island Safari Lodge
(8 twin chalets) PO Box 88, Sinazongwe; tel: +260 1 483144; fax +260 1483045; email: email@example.com; www.cheteisland.com
Started in 1998 by Rob Fynn â€“ the founder of the excellent Fothergill and Chikwenya safari camps in Zimbabwe (on Lake Kariba and in Mana Pools, respectively) â€“ this small camp has been 'out on a limb' from Zambian tourism. It's off the normal routes and so ignored by most operators, and omitted from their brochures. Perhaps that's fortunate, as it's a lovely quiet camp in an exclusive and remote island location.
Comfortable and well-equipped Meru-style tented chalets are widely spread out on either side of a central living area facing the shoreline, with views over a classic Kariba scene of skeletal trees and islands beyond. Inside each are twin or large double beds, with attractive use of various local African fabrics. Solid furniture is also locally made from wood and wrought iron, with good bedside lights and a ceiling fan. The bathroom, at the back, is built of stone, and fully covered to keep out the elements, while judicious use of reed fencing ensures that each chalet is both secure and private.
The lofty central lounge/dining area is beautifully designed with a thatched roof in which is set an upper platform looking out over the water. Comfy armchairs are set to one side, and a large square solid-wood dining table to the other, all with uninterrupted views across a wide expanse of green lawns to the lake. After three courses of good, home-cooked food, you'll often retire outside to sit around the fire, while during the day guests can relax around the lake-water pool. The atmosphere is one of comfort and tranquillity, rather than over-the-top luxury, with managers Adrican and Anna going out of their way to make visitors feel welcome.
Activities include walking safaris (with armed game scout), boating safaris around the islands (using motorboats and/or two-person Canadian-style canoes), and fishing from an open pontoon for both tiger and bream; fly fishing is also available. For those staying longer, there are trips to Sekula Island to see buffalo, or to Zebra Island, while those preferring to stay closer to the lodge could spend hours watching the varied birdlife. The lodge's 30ft sailing trimaran, usually used for transfers to and from the mainland, is also available for longer trips across the lake (see above); if you've any interest in sailing, it's a must.
Rates: US$230 per person, including all meals, park entry fees, safaris, laundry and most drinks. No single supplements. Open all year
This uninhabited island is administered by ZAWA, but day trips are possible from Chete Island to see the island's herd of buffalo.