There are more passes
in Lesotho than at
a matriek afskeid.
My favourite has to be the
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
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’
trip and we’ve decided to keep our
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
Sani Top 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
firstname.lastname@example.org or look on www.4x4mega.co.za.
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
There are lots of
little Chinese stores
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
Last minute shopping in Wepener.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.