unravelled

acar4u.co.za

unravelled

22

Lesotho

unravelled


There are more passes

in Lesotho than at

a matriek afskeid.

My favourite has to be the

evocatively-named God

Help Me pass. I consider

myself well-travelled on

our continent, and I can tell

you that there’s no other

place like the mountainous

Kingdom of Lesotho.

My brief to my guide

Bernie is simple: show me

something I haven’t seen

before. I’ve done Katse

Dam, the Maletsunyane Falls

and Sani Pass, and while I

really wouldn’t mind seeing

them again, I’m itching for

something new.

Drive from the Sehlabathebe National Park

to Sani Pass and you’ll end up driving the

Matebeng Pass en route, with scenery like

this, it’s as guaranteed crowd pleaser.

How many times can you visit a tiny place

like Lesotho before you’ve seen it all?

Well, our Bush Editor discovers that if you have the right guide

there are always a few new gems to be uncovered.

Words and pictures by Patrick Cruywagen.

We’re tooling about in the newly-launched Pajero Sport (see road test on page 76);

this SUV has low-range, rear diff-lock and reasonable ground clearance of about 215

mm. Our vehicle only has 80 km on the clock and I must be one of the first journalists

in SA to be experiencing this model – but more about that later.

We enter Lesotho via Van Rooyen’s gate, which is a few kilometres from the Free

State town of Wepener, where we’d spent the previous night. Our proposed route is a

basic inner circumnavigation of Lesotho, beginning in the west then heading east.

It’s September and Lesotho is as dry as Fish Hoek on a Saturday night. The Basotho

are preparing for the imminent rain by ploughing – young herd boys wrestle with

beast and implement alike. The pale, brown earth reveals a healthier dark chocolate

colour as the plough turns it over. The cattle wheeze while the herd boys moer them

mercilessly with sticks, whips and dry klonte – clods of dry earth; I don’t think they have

an SPCA in these parts.

Still, some sections of the mountainside are covered in bright red aloes, giving the

sepia picture a little colour. I’ve never seen aloes here before – to me they belong in

places like the Baviaanskloof.

It’s lambing season; the herds of sheep are multiplying before our eyes and the herd

boys are hard pressed to keep tabs on all their new charges – this doesn’t stop one

enterprising shepherd from offering us a young lamb for dinner! We refuse, our Engel

fridge is filled with enough chops and beer for the whole of Maseru – it’s a boys’

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trip and we’ve decided to keep our

menu simple.

Not far from Mohale’s Hoek we pass

over the Senqu River; for the next

few days it’ll be an almost constant

companion. The dry rocky scenery

reminds me of the Fish River Canyon

in Namibia. This is the contrast that

Lesotho has to offer: early in the year

it’s green and lush, now it’s dried

out and dusty, waiting for the first

summer rains. Hopefully they won’t

arrive during our visit; rains here can

be torrential and can easily upset

one’s travel plans.

We stop to admire the scenery way

too much, so it’s already dark when

‘‘

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When winter heads north, the ploughs come out in preparation for the summer rains.

For the next few days the Senqu River

will be our almost constant companion

‘‘

we reach our first overnight stop at

the Sehlabathebe National Park, the

oldest such reserve in Lesotho. This is

a park renowned for its hikes, birdlife,

rock paintings and waterfalls.

According to the Pajero Sport’s

thermometer it’s around freezing

point, so I head straight for the

fireplace in the massive house

where we’re staying. This place

offers everything one could ask

for – there are several rooms and

we’re sharing the house with some

other South Africans.

Where else can you find a room with a

view like this for R150 a night?

The remoteness of the park and

the fact that one can only reach it

in a 4x4 was our reason for coming

here. But the next morning we’re

given another reason as we’re

greeted with an awesome view of

the Drakensberg’s southern slopes;

although it’s freezing outside, the

beauty of the surrounding mountains

sees us braving the temperatures on

the stoep while having coffee and

beskuit. The view warms us.

To get to our next destination –

Sani Pass – we first have to make

our way over Matebeng Pass, one

of my favourites. It’s probably more

challenging and spectacular than

Sani. First there is much descending

to be done and soon we find


ourselves next to the Senqu

once again. Canyon walls

seem to envelop us but

soon these disappear as we

climb again, this time up the

Menoaneng Pass. Eventually,

around mid-afternoon, we

reach Sani Top. The eastern

part of Lesotho is the highest

and thus the coldest, and

Sani is no different with a

strong wind about. Still, I

go for a run down and back

up the famous pass. The

severity of the gradients

bugger up my muscles

and the next day I walk like

John Wayne.

Now, I didn’t know there

was a diamond mine in

Lesotho – it’s the highest

one in the world they

say – and after refuelling

at Mokhotlong, we stop at

the Letseng Diamond Mine.

It’s like being in SA – some

10 percent of the staff are

from back home. This mine

is well-known for producing

big diamonds, and while

diamond mines are closing

down all over the place,

here production is still going

strong around the clock,

seven days a week. According

to GM Jan Venter, they’re

the only diamond mine in

the world making a profit at

the moment. We’re taken

on a tour of the place and

after putting an emergency

light on the Pajero’s roof

we’re allowed to drive down

to where the blasting and

extracting takes place.

Top “Sweets, sweets, sweets!”

Please don’t give them any.

Middle Bruno meets Brutus at

Letseng diamond mine.

Bottom If you’re staying at

Malealea Lodge, take a walk

around the village – the people

are friendly.

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As part of a community project,

the mine has assisted with building

a campsite and chalets (built in the

style of Basotho huts), which are

only accessible in a 4x4. We have to

use low-range in places and cross

several rivers (not the Senqu) to

get there. It’s worth it.

The campsite is an

hour’s drive from the

mine, while the

chalets are another

half hour on. What

I liked about the

Maloraneng Chalets

is that they’re built

near to an existing

village and they offer you

a great view over a river;

but best of all, they’re really

affordable – they only cost R150

per person per night. The chalets

are fenced in but I found the locals

very friendly and polite; there was no

begging, merely a courteous greeting

of “good morning” regardless of

what time of day our paths crossed.

Bernie was proving his worth

by taking me not only to the most

remote locations but also finding

value-for-money accommodation.

Surrounded by mountains as we

were, the temperature dropped

quickly in the late afternoon which

saw us having an early braai before

hitting the sack. Because the

accommodation was so affordable I

was able to have my own chalet out

of earshot of Bernie’s snoring!

Map clipped from MapStudio Wallmap

General Info South Africa (ISBN 9781770260092).

All MapStudio wall maps can be customised.

View their full range of over 50 wall maps and

other products at www.mapstudio.co.za

In Lesotho both young and old have to put in a hard day’s graft.

Our Route


Mitsubishi Pajero sPort 3.2 DiD GLs (at) r414 000

Although it’s slipped onto the scene without much marketing hullaballoo, the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport is big news in the

off-road world, so I was pretty excited when climbing in behind its handsome leather steering wheel. The couple of

hundred kilometres I had to cover from Joburg to Lesotho went by quickly – once this 2.0-ton beast gets going, she moves

along nice and comfortably.

Once we hit the gravel roads we engaged 4WD, not by the push of a button, but by using the secondary

“donkey” lever – call me a traditionalist, but I like this setup. It just feels right.

If you had but two words to describe Lesotho roads you might use a phrase made famous by the Sasol ad: “windy

windy”. The place has more curves than a Sports Illustrated swimwear model. This is where the gearbox’s tiptronic function

comes in so handy – you choose the gear you need for that steep pass or to overtake that slow-moving taxi, which makes

for a more confident drive. It’s not only on the gravel roads that we found the tiptronic feature useful, but also when doing

something like rock crawling.

Here, the Sport surprised us as we tackled one or two pretty rocky routes; even though it has an average ground

clearance of 215 mm I’m happy to say that not once did we hear the expensive sound of metal on rock.

The Sport has three rows of seats, but we folded down the third row to put in our 80-litre Engel fridge, so there was

still place for our bags and a few ammo cases. We plugged the Engel into the accessory power point located in the

boot area.

I drove a conventional Pajero up to Uganda and back in 2008 and I really grew to love this vehicle; but, there’s no

disputing that it’s a seriously big vehicle and its departure angle isn’t the best. For these reasons, I’ve decided I prefer the

Pajero Sport to the “normal” Pajero; its departure angle and size seems to make it more capable off-road. So although

the Pajero Sport has been positioned slightly below the “normal” Pajero by the marketing gurus at Mitsubishi, I’m going to

throw a spanner in the works and place the Pajero Sport above the Pajero. Why? Its shape, price and off-road capability

make it a more attractive package.

‘‘

‘‘

not once did we hear the

expensive sound of metal on rock

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‘‘ 28

As we make our way up

the highest drivable pass in

Africa the following morning,

we debate heading west on

a track not on our map but

described by Tracks4Africa as a

very rough. This would take us

to Katse Dam. We eventually

decide against it and stay on

the main road, stopping first at

Afri Ski to have a look around

and to confirm that it houses

the highest pub in Africa. We

take a GPS reading to make 100

percent sure – it’s much higher

than the pub at Sani Top. Then

we stop at Oxbow Lodge for

some breakfast, before making

our way to Maseru and then

onto our final destination, the

popular Malealea Lodge.

Once again a host of activities

are on offer, but after another

long run I decide to just stroll

through the village. There are

dozens of foreign tourists about

and yet the place is highly

affordable for South Africans

and once again we enjoy good

service. When staying at places

like this one is proud to be an

African, especially when you

witness the way the lives of

the surrounding communities

are improved by various lodge

initiated projects.

We’d come full circle and

all that remained was to exit

where we’d entered at the Van

Rooyen’s Gate border post. This

had been my best-ever Lesotho

trip; we’d driven some great

mountain passes, visited the

big diamond mine at Letseng

with 4x4-only accommodation

and stayed at the oldest park in

the country. Lesotho had again

proven itself not only as a great

4x4 destination, but a nearby

and affordable one too.

affordable for

South Africans

‘‘

route GuiDe

WHERE WE STAYED

Lord Fraser Guest House – Wepener

A very popular biker stop-off and once summer residence of the blind Lord Ian Fraser

of Lonsdale. We liked the feel and look of the bar. Room prices vary, R250 – R380 per

person sharing. Singles are slightly more. For more information call 082 579 1822 or

(051) 5831480.

Sehlabathebe National Park – Lesotho

The oldest nature reserve in the country with free entry for now! It’s very remote, but you

get to sleep in the southern reaches of the Drakensberg. I will never forget the beautiful

sight of the majestic mountains that greeted us when we woke up. All for only R150 per

person per night in a fully kitted-out house. For more information call 09266 2232 3600

or go to www.maloti.org

Lord Fraser Guest House

Malealea Lodge

Sani Top Chalets

Maloraneng Chalets

Sani Top Chalets – Lesotho

They claim to have the highest pub in Africa, but the pub at Afri Ski is actually higher.

Their service won’t win them any prizes – the owners don’t seem to care and will tell

you to go elsewhere if you don’t like it. But to give credit where it’s due, for R500 a night

you’ll get a massive dinner, comfortable bed and hearty English breakfast. However

don’t expect hot water for your shower unless you beg. For more information call

(033) 702 1305 or www.sanitopchalet.co.za

Malealea Lodge – Lesotho

A very busy place; expect to encounter lots of package tourists. Still, we enjoyed

the setting and staff, and it’s good value for money. We paid R175 each for a

farmhouse-styled room; other options available including camping, Basotho huts and

rondawels. There’s lots to do, such as pony trips, cultural tours and hiking.

For more details see www.malealea.com or 082 552 4215.

Maloraneng Chalets – Lesotho

Once again great value for money at only R150 pppn; facilities are brand new and of

a high quality. You need a good 4x4 to reach these chalets. Well worth it – this is a real

gem of a place. For more information, call Des Mostert on 083 601 0212.


GUIDE – BERNIE WILLIAMS

Lesotho is a home game for our Bloemfontein-based guide

Bernie Williams, who we also used for the SOS Namibian

route (see our Feb ’09 issue). The route we followed takes five

days, but can be shortened or lengthened according to your

needs. For more details contact Bernie on (051) 448 7810 or

bernie@4x4mega.co.za or look on www.4x4mega.co.za.

FUEL

If you drive through a town or village and they have

fuel, then fill up. We refuelled at the Chinese shop in

Sehlabathebe, and the petrol stations at Mokhotlong and

just north of Maseru. Once in isolated areas it’s not so much

a case of there not being fuel as it is knowing where to

find it. Often it’s sold out of a shed; just make sure they’re

tapping it out of a BP drum and not adding something to it.

WHERE TO BUY

PROVISIONS

There are lots of

little Chinese stores

throughout Lesotho

that stock everything

from fuel to live

chickens to DVDs, but

their quality isn’t what

you’re probably used

to, so bring your own

red meat and other

essentials. If you’re

looking for fresh

produce, you’re pretty

much limited to the

supermarkets

in Maseru.

Bernie Williams

Last minute shopping in Wepener.

ESSENTIAL GEAR

The usual recovery gear is necessary, but if you’re going in

winter, snow chains are highly recommended regardless of

the weather forecast. Warm gear like good jackets, flasks

and OBS could also come in handy, even in the summer.

Lesotho is not a big country, but it’s a tough one.

CONVOY OR SOLO

Most South Africans we encountered on the way were

doing the solo thing. If I wasn’t using Bernie as my guide, I

would’ve missed out on several good things. But in good

weather you’re reasonably safe doing this solo – just tell the

folks back home where you’re going.

ROAD CONDITIONS

Personally, I thought that for such an isolated little country

the roads were in pretty good shape – even the tarred

ones. No matter how good your roads are though, with

rain and snow they can change dramatically. Someone

showed me images of a South African vehicle that had slid

uncontrollably down a mountainside after encountering

black ice on the road. Snow and very low temperatures can

present you with extremely hazardous driving conditions.

Be careful!

MAPS & DIRECTIONS

The Lesotho maps are notoriously crap. Most travellers you

encounter are using the old yellow Continental InfoMap,

which is a little outdated, but it works. Tracks4Africa is your

safest bet, but I’m proud to say that one of the roads we

drove (the one to the mine’s accommodation) wasn’t yet

marked on Tracks4Africa.

VEHICLE REQUIRED

It all depends on what part of Lesotho you’ll be visiting. Our

route (marked on the map) required low-range for some

sections. These include the roads going to the Mapoka

Campsite and the Maloraneng Chalets. For the rest of the

gravel tracks found on the memorable passes of Matebeng

and Sani, one should engage 4WD.

RISK

Expect to see children hurling themselves down the

mountain slopes in order to reach the roadside before you

pass. This is to ask for sweets – a problem we have created.

There have been reports of kids throwing stones at vehicles,

but we didn’t experience this on our trip. Other risks are

heavy rains and cold weather, which can make certain

roads impassable. Phone ahead to the lodges you’ll be

staying in to get updates ahead of time.

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