TRAVEL ADVICE FOR SELF-DRIVERS: Tackling the remote "Back Route": Victoria Falls/Hwange to Kariba/Mana Pools

Wild Zambezi • 20 April 2022

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Wild Zambezi has many requests from self-drive visitors to Zimbabwe about the road network linking Victoria Falls & Hwange with Kariba Town or Mana Pools, along the southern edge of Lake Kariba.   

We always warn that this route is for adventurous, self-sufficient travellers with 4x4 ONLY.
Here are some tips:-

THE ROUTE: This is a long, slow and very remote journey - mostly along unpaved roads which can be in poor condition especially after the rainy season.  Some parts of the route are occasionally graded and improved, but travellers should be aware that potholes and river crossings can prove challenging. (For the latest updates on the road, see CURRENT ROAD CONDITIONS below).

4x4 ONLY is advisable even in the dry months.  Travellers should be totally self-sufficient (with food, water and vehicle spares) in case of breakdowns.  It is advisable to travel in convoy with at least one other vehicle, because of the remote nature of this journey.

FUEL is only  available in the main centres (Vic Falls, Hwange, Mlibizi, Binga, Karoi, Kariba, Chirundu). Selected filling stations take payments in US$ cash for fuel.  Seek local advice on availability. 

DISTANCE:  Victoria  Falls - Kariba is roughly 770kms (480 miles); Vic Falls - Mana Pools, is about 800 kms (500 miles). 

TIME is the real problem.  It is not advisable (or safe) to attempt to do this trip in one day.  Break  the journey with an overnight stop at Maabwe Bay (which offers chalets and camping between Mlibizi and Binga), in Binga (lodges and chalets available),or Chizarira (remote camping only) before tackling the long journey south of Lake Kariba to Karoi, where you join the main highway north to Chirundu, with turn-offs to Kariba and/or Mana Pools.  In the dry season, you can make Kariba in one very long day from Binga/Chizarira.  However, you will not make it to Mana Pools because of National Park cut-off times for entry into the Park.  You will need to spend a second night en route either at Makuti Travel Lodge (chalets), Marongora (camping only) or at Chirundu (various options). 

MATUSADONA NATIONAL PARK:  We are delighted to report that, thanks to the work of African Parks who have partnered with ZimParks to manage the Matusadona National Park, the access road into the Park from this "back" road, has been improved considerably and is once again accessible for self-sufficient, adventurous travellers with sturdy 4x4 vehicles.  Allow half a day to traverse the Park to the lakeshore at Tashinga HQ in the dry season.  During the rains this road becomes impassable due to the river crossings.  

 

CURRENT ROAD CONDITIONS (APRIL 2022)

We are grateful for some very useful up-to-date tips from the owners of Maabwe Bay about current travelling conditions along the whole of this remote "back route".  (Maabwe Bay is a delightful little settlement offering camping and chalet accommodation on the shores of Lake Kariba between Mlibizi and Binga)   Here's what they say - see the map above for detailed points en route:-  

  • The road from the 'Crossroads' turnoff between Dete and Kamativi is tarred and in good condition
  • From Kamativi the road is generally in reasonable condition except near the turnoff to Mlibizi where there are plenty of potholes.
  • The road between the Mlibizi turnoff and the Binga turnoff at Manjolo is very potholed and in poor condition. But the gravel section to Maabwe Bay is in good condition.
  • The gravel section between the Binga turnoff at Manjolo and Siabuwa is currently being repaired and is in good condition.
  • Visitors wishing to visit Chizarira National Park will be glad to hear that the roads have been rebuilt, but the gravel road into the Park up the Zambezi escarpment hills has been washed away recently and is rough again.  
  • From Siabuwa to the tar road 80kms short of Karoi, the gravel surface has washaways in parts, but is generally not too bad.  Proceed slowly and with caution.
  • The roads into the Matusadona National Park have been repaired and the road is in better condition than it has been for years.
  • Warning:  for safety reasons, it is advisable not to stop at the settlement near the Bridge over the Sanyati River - if you have to stop rather do so in a more remote area.  
  • The 80 kms of tarred road through Magunje to Karoi has been resurfaced and is currently in good condition.  This road meets the Harare-Chirundu highway a few kms NW of Karoi.

 

ALTERNATIVELY - TAKE THE KARIBA CAR & PASSENGER FERRY 
Wild Zambezi has been fortunate enough to experience the long self-drive route along the southern shore of Lake Kariba several times.  We can certainly vouch for it as a true adventure for those who are independent and very well prepared. 

However, the other way of getting you and your vehicle between Victoria Falls and Kariba or Mana Pools (or vice versa), is to take the Kariba car and passenger ferry.  

Kariba Ferries offer a fully-catered overnight journey of 22 hours along the length of Lake Kariba, from Mlibizi  to Kariba (or the other way).  Note that it is essential to consult the Kariba Ferry schedule on their website and to be in touch with their booking office well in advance of your trip.  The Ferry only runs when it has enough bookings to justify the trip.  So it is vital to pre-plan with this in mind. 

 

See also these related articles in Wild Zambezi's Travel Advice section:-

Self-Driving - Routes through the Zambezi Valley 

Self-Driving - Tips and Practical Advice

Comments (4)

UPDATE: We drove from Kariba to Binga via Karoi (on 28 April 2022) I'm pretty sure we took a few wrong turns after Karoi as there seems to be so many dirt roads leading to the same place. There were little settlements the entire way and people were very friendly and helpful confirming that we were still on the right road, or correcting us when needed along with the use of our GPS as reference. The tar road between Kariba and Karoi is in good condition, just watch out for potholes on the side when trucks approach. You turn off to Binga just before Karoi (coming from Kariba) and the dirt road thereafter we found to be in great condition! Easily manageable with a 4x4 and all rivers we crossed had well maintained concrete bridges. We were able to comfortably travel at an average speed of 50-60 km/h. The last 100kms approaching Binga had a stretch of about 30km where clay soil churned up from recent rains had dried and made the surface very bumpy and rutted, and the tar road leading into Binga itself is riddled with potholes. This part was far worse than any of the dirt roads we drove on. All in all the trip took us almost exactly 10 hours, and that included a quick pitstop for lunch on the way. We passed a few small local shops, but would suggest you pack enough food and water. We have a long range fuel tank so that also eliminated any worries when we took a couple of wrong turns. Apart from one small road sign there are no directional markers, so familiarize yourself with the route before departure. The road from Binga to Vic Falls is an easy drive (again apart from the terrible potholes outside Binga) and took about 4 hours this morning. So pleased we chose to drive this route, it was an absolute pleasure and a great way of seeing more of Zim!

Sonya Pieterse via Drive Zim3 May 2022
Excellent update on the 'back route". Thank you.

Haven't used this "back route" before but I am very confident to try it now. Very informative article and fellow comments. Thank you

Lovemore29 April 2022

FYI, if travelling the Vic Falls - Deka or Hwange -Deka route through to Crossroads Dete - Mlibizi/Binga road there is also great accommodation on the Zambezi at Msuna.

Jeff Deetlefs3 July 2018
Thanks for this, Jeff! Yes, check out Msuna on Wild Zambezi here: http://www.wildzambezi.com/locations/10/mlibizi-msuna

Great advice. There is also the Vic Falls to Deka road that follows/is close to the Zambezi meeting the Hwange road where a left turn will take you past the Olive Beadle/Msuna turnoff and on to the Dete Crossroads to Binga road close to Mlibizi.

Peter Ward26 March 2018
Thanks Peter :-)

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