Kingdom of Lesotho
PART 1, GENERAL INFORMATION
Capital city: Maseru
Population: 2.1 million
Currency: Lesotho Loti
Km travelled: 980KM
Days in: 26
Languages: Sesotho & English
This is an enclaved country within the border of South Africa. It is one of only three independent countries surrounded by the territory of another country. Lesotho was previously the British Crown Colony of Basuto land, but it declared independence from the United Kingdom on 4 October 1966. It is now also a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The name Lesotho roughly translates to “the land of the people who speak Sesotho”. The economy of Lesotho is based on agriculture, livestock, manufacturing and mining. Lesotho became the largest exporter of garments to the US from sub-Saharan Africa. US brands and retailers sourcing from Lesotho include: Foot Locker, Gap, Gloria Vanderbilt, JCPenney, Levi Strauss, Saks, Sears, Timberland and Wal-Mart. In 2008 it exported goods worth 487 million dollars, mainly to the US. Now (2010) employment in the sector is coming down mainly due to international competition in the garment sector, however it still the largest formal sector employer in Lesotho. The average gross national income per capita in 2010 was US$98 per month. Diamonds are produced at the Letšeng, Mothae, Liqhobong, and Kao mines, which combined are estimated to produce 240,000 carats of diamonds in 2014, worth US$300 million. The Letšeng mine is estimated to produce diamonds with an average value of US$2172/carat, making it the world’s richest mine on an average price per carat basis. Export of diamonds reached US$230 million in 2010. Despite this Lesotho remains a poor country.
With all its land lying at altitudes in excess of 1300m above sea-level, it is a country of heights and extremes. Lesotho is famous for its spectacular scenic beauty branded by breathtaking mountain ranges, towering peaks, a rich variety of flora and fauna, crystal clear streams, surging waterfalls, diverse culture. A great place for overlanders who like 4×4 Off Roading and are in search for challenges and adventure.
Malealea, regarded as one of the top destinations in Lesotho, is a perfect one stop destination for a relaxing and adventurous holiday. A perfect base to start various 4×4 routes across the country. This will include camping in Basotho villages
Sani Top the highest point at 2874 metres above sea level, located at Lesotho border post in the district of Mokhotlong. The road descends the torturous meandering of the Sani pass. It traverses through the mountain plateau down the Drakensberg mountains and into the South African province of Kwa-Zulu Natal. The spine-tingling route is being used by adventure loving 4×4 motorists. Rumour has it that the road will be upgraded and possible paved in 2012.
The South African border post is 8km from the top of the pass and Sani Lodge is a further 16km on the right. The Sani Top used to be the opening to Lesotho’s Roof of Africa route that connects the breathtaking scenery of the Drakensberg with the attractions of Northern Lesotho, as well as South Africa’s Golden Gate National Park via Caledonspoort or the Monontša Pass. MUST DO IS HAVING A DRINK IN AFRICA’S HIGHEST PUB.
THE SANI PASS
Situated between South Africa and Lesotho the pass starts at 1544m and rises 1332 vertical meters to summit at 2876m. This altitude gain is almost 300 meters more than its nearest competitor – the Naude’s Nek Pass in the Eastern Cape. Certain sections are as steep as 30% and it is here that most drivers come unstuck when the going gets slippery with loose rocks, mud, ice, and possible snow. The large number of car wrecks down the ravines bear mute testimony to the dangers. Most of the hairpin bends are 180 degrees and more.
For most overlanders it remains more of a dream. There has been talk recently of tarring the Sani Pass (2010). This will be the end of a challenging drive in 4×4 vehicles with all the drama associated. Should the tarring project go ahead, the challenge and allure of the Sani Pass will move from a tough 4×4 route to a casual afternoon drive in a hatchback.
The South African authorities may refuse you permission to drive the pass if they deem your vehicle unfit to tackle the conditions. (4×4 required) The Lesotho side is not that safety consciences.
The Highest Dam Wall in Africa. The area is home to Katse Village. Developed in the early 1990s it provides a spectacular view of the Katse reservoir as well as the country’s rugged mountain scenery. At 2,000 metres above sea level, Katse Dam is described as “a striking piece of modern engineering”. The Dam is one of less than 30 double curvature concrete arch dams in the world; one of the world’s 10 largest concrete arch dams in terms of its volume and the highest dam in Africa. The Dam has since its construction in 1991 been attracting thousands of people who come to see this engineering creation.
SEHLABATHEBE NATIONAL PARK.
Situated in the Drakensberg escarpment is the Sehlabathebe National Park established in 1970. A breathtaking undisturbed area of its own beauty of clear rivers running through the park. Rocks of different formations, San paintings, rock pools and a great waterfall.
TSE’HLANYANE NATIONAL PARK
Tse’hlanyane National Park is in the front range of the Maluti mountains, with headquarters at the foot of the Holomo Pass. It has 32km of easy gravel access road that leaves the main A1 route 8 km south of Butha Buthe. The route passes through the village of Khabo’s and parallels the Hlotse River along a very picturesque valley until it reaches the park entrance.
HA KOME HISTORICAL CAVE DWELLING
The Ha Kome Cave Village is situated at Pulane area in Berea district. The caves were a hideout for the Basia and Bataung clans during the Lifaqane Wars and cannibalism. The cave is still inhabited by their descendants to this day. There are also faded San paintings in the cave which indicates that the San also occupied the cave some time prior to their arrival albeit briefly.
EXTREME 4X4 ROUTE
For or those who spend money on aftermarket 4WD gear this is the place to test your equipment. This extreme 4WD route includes Tlaeeng Pass, which at 3275m is the highest road pass in Southern Africa. This is 4×4 terrain only and when wet will test both the drivers off road skills and the vehicle’s capabilities
LIPHOFUNG NATURE RESERVE “place of the eland”
The cave is in fact a large overhang in the Clarens sandstones, which is a typical feature of the Lesotho lowlands. It lies in a tributary stream valley of the Hololo River just off the main route from Butha Buthe to Oxbow and Mokhotlong. A small visitor’s centre incorporating a display of Basotho culture and San rock art has been developed to attract tourist.
MATSIEN ROYAL VILLAGE
The 1858 settlement of Letsie 1 has become the traditional capital of Basotho after Thaba-Bosiu. The Royal Archives was established by the Royal family and was legally registered in 2008 as a non-profit making organization. It houses pre-colonial and post-colonial records (paper-based, digital and electronic) relating to Chieftainship in Lesotho, published books for library users as well as cultural objects kept in the museum which have a bearing on the Royal family. Nearby is the Royal Palace and homestead and dinosaur footprints and the centre provides guided tours to ruins to Paramount Chief Letsie 1’s settlement
Is a village situated in the Maseru region of Lesotho. It once served as a hideout for outlaws and to this day has an untamed, remote atmosphere. The name of this village means “Place of Smoke” which derives from the Maletsunyane Falls. Semonkong was established in the 1800s and has a total population of about 8 000 residents. The village is located near several natural attractions including the 3096 metre peak of Thaba Putsoa and Maletsunyane which is the highest single drop waterfall in the world according to the locals at 192 meters. It also has the highest (204m) commercial abseiling in the world as recorded in the Guinness book of world records.
Because of its elevation, Lesotho remains cooler throughout the year than other regions at the same latitude. Most of the rain falls in summer with huge thunderstorms. The surrounding lowlands often reach 30 °C in summer. Winters can be cold with the lowlands getting down to −7 °C and the highlands to −18 °C at times. Snow is common in the highlands between May and September; the higher peaks can experience snowfalls year-round.
Summer: !4 degrees at night to 30 degrees during the day
Winter: minus 5 degrees to 15 degrees during the day
Rainfall: all year round, a little more in summer months
Summer: 9 degrees at night to 18 degrees during the day
Winter: minus 3 degrees at night to 9 degrees during the day
Summer: 10 degrees at night to 23 degrees during the day
Winter: minus 5 degrees at night to 15 during the day
Rainfall: Dec to march
Summer: 8 degrees at night to 24 during the day
Winter: minus 5 degrees to 15 degrees during the day
Rainfall: all year round
Summer: 5 degrees at night to 22 degrees during the day
Winter: minus 10 degrees at night and 13 degrees during the day.
Rainfall: mainly in summer, snow in winter
PART 2, BLOGS, PICTURES & GALLERY
ENROUTE TO LESOTHO
We have been told of some steep tracks, beautiful high mountain scenery. At 6.30am we forced ourselves to get out of the warm bed, just as the sun came up over the mountains. I quickly pumped up the fire (still smouldering from last night) and when Clary had the coffee ready, the fire was roaring. Our first stop today is Rhodes; for many years one of the most remote getaways in the Eastern Cape (formerly Transkei). Children, dogs and horses roam the gravel streets freely without hindrance. From here we travelled to South Africa`s only ski resort Tiffendel.
The drive up the Carlisle Hoek Pass is a must for every 4WD enthusiast. and in Dutch we have a saying I sh..t 7 colours of Poo. Clary sh..t 14 today and after a little domestic we continued uphill. Clary did not look out of the window as the road had given away in many places and there were no barriers. Once we arrived at 2750 meters we came to a locked gate and a security guard informed us that the resort had gone bankrupt and we had to turn back. The way back was a real problem for Clary as she did not want to stay in the truck. She walked the 4-km steep descent. Clary nearly walked as fast as I could drive as the hairpins required 6 point turns and the weight of the truck pushing it very close to the edge of a 500-meter sheer drop. At one stage, the angle of the truck pushed the whole thing side-ways. Not a nice feeling! As the resort was in receivership and with the heavy rain in Nov-Dec, the road had had no maintenance at all, so that did not help. Once down, we had another pass to go. It still took a little persuasion to convince Clary. I wanted to visit Naudes Neck Pass 2500m and the highest lodge in South Africa at 2505 meters – S30.42.57 E028.08.19. From here we backtracked to our campsite on the Steep River, where another roaring fire kept us warm.
We travelled via East Barkly and Lady Grey to Tele Bridge, the border post with Lesotho. The natural beauty of this area must be witnessed and absorbed; this is magnificent scenery. Today was our first border crossing. Carnet and passport in hand we arrived. Customs did not know what the Carnet was. They sent us to the Police, but they did not know either? The inspector had seen none before. So, I explained, “Sign here and here and stamp please”. So, he did. “Thank you” I said. Next- Lesotho customs.
In South Africa they had a computer for all the information and our passports, here everything is manual and is all was written in a book. “Carnet, where do we stamp this?” the officer asked. “You don`t need one” he said. “Are you sure?” I asked. “Yes, sure”, he said. We then realised that we had the South African police inspector sign the second slip but not our copy on the top? Shit! As we had to back track through no-man`s land, we asked permission to drive the truck back. No worries they said. So, we did. We saw the same fellow and told him to take his copy and sign and stamp mine. He had no idea but followed my instructions. We turned around and went back to the Lesotho border. They recognised the truck and waved us through, easy! After an afternoon of grand slaloms (potholes) we arrived just before dark in Malealea and while setting up camp we heard singing. The local band had arrived with home- made instruments and came to entertain us and asked if we could please donate $1.50 AUD for the local community. No worries. (Last of the big spenders some of you may say!) A local tour guide offered to show us Semonkong, the neighbouring village of Ha Moahloli and Maletsunyane Falls. Semonkong has 2000 inhabitants but only 20 or so cars. So, everything is on foot, Bashoto pony, horse, or oxcart. We learned about local life as we walked the streets (muddy wet tracks) and we did meet local people. We also had lunch at a local restaurant where we were served local Lesotho food. I realised after lunch that the walk across the mountain to the waterfall was one hour or more, so we decided that we did need transport. The oxcart we organised was not available, so we looked for a car and for $12.50 we got a driver. The Toyota Landcruiser had no door handles, a slipping clutch, and the doors would not close! Who cares! off to the waterfalls and the village of Ha Moahloli, where we were invited into people`s home so we had time to interact with them. We saw people make traditional clothes made of animal skins and plants. Last but not the least, the mighty Maletsunyane Falls, one of the highest single dropping waterfalls in Africa. The cascading water creates a haze as it plummets 186 metres into a spectacular gorge. It is from this haze that looks like smoke that Semonkong gets its name. Smonkong means The Place of Smoke.
During the tour we were advised that some Dutch people run an orphanage just outside the village. It is home to 89 orphaned children from the Semonkong community. The orphanage was opened by Jill Kinsey, a missionary from England. It is now run by her daughter, Tara and Son in Law Patrick. They moved here from Holland in November 2007. Patrick was in South Africa and Tara showed us around. She explained that the children here have often experienced things young children should not and living together as one big family helps them cope and find joy in life again. The youngest is a twin, who arrived with them at just 2 weeks old, her mother had died the day after giving birth high in the mountains and her twin died too. There are 2 bunk houses, one where the girls plus young boys up to 10 years old sleep. The boys` house is for boys 11 years upwards. Once a month after the church service, they hand out food parcels to orphans living with relatives. They like to have the orphans living with relatives but if there is little food, the orphan goes hungry. So, by giving food parcels the orphan becomes important to the family as they bring food instead of only taking food. So, they look after the child better. The orphanage also has a Shepherds school which provides basic education 4 evenings a week. This is for males from 8 years of age through to 45 years of age. After school, they get a meal. In summer, the shepherds roam the mountains, but once the first frost arrives in mid-April, they return. The weather here is very harsh, and the temperature can drop to minus 20 degrees Celsius at night in the winter. The orphanage works together with the Lesotho department of social welfare and Dept. of Health Sentebale (Prince Seeiso and Prince Harry`s Trust for OVC`s) and they provide 25% of the funds required. The rest, Tara explains, is from God, through churches in South Africa, England, America, Portugal and Holland. Tara` s mother has now opened another orphanage in Quiting where she already cares for 50 children. Due to the high HIV/Aids rate in Lesotho, there is such a large number of orphaned children. Tara explained that in the orphanage here in Semonkong, she has eight HIV infected children. Some people in Lesotho believe that having sex with children will rid them of Aids. Child rape and incest are also rife.
SEMONKONG TO KATZE DAM
As they say in Lesotho, you do not measure distance in kilometres but in hours. And the trip from Semonkong to the Katze Dam took 12 hours and 6 mountain passes 2500m+.
Result we arrived at Katze Dam in the dark of the evening. Unfortunately, the weather was not very nice today, but the driving was a challenge. The roads were muddy and slippery, but we made it. One pass was called GOD HELP ME PASS. (the name says it all). The highest pass we went over today was 2927 meters. The inclines and descents were steep and slippery and the rivers where flowing. Waking up this morning, we realised we had set our truck right on the escarpment overlooking the Katze dam. What a view! Great for a few days R&R. From here some more mountain passes. Via Bogong Nature Reserve right on top of Mafika Lisiu Pass – 3090 meters. Covering 1970ha, the Bokong Nature reserve is small, and it straddles the road from Katse Dam to Ha Lejone. Coming down, I think we came down 1000 meters in 5 or 6km. We were thankful for the air brakes. From there, after lunch, we continued to Liphofung Nature Reserve which has a cave overhang. This was used by the San people, who left rock art and a rich archaeological deposit of Stone Age implements on the cave floor. Unfortunately, the people were less than helpful in this very interesting place. As it was getting late, we found a campsite overlooking the river.
KATZE DAM TO SANI PASS
Our last destination in Lesotho is Africa highest pub on top of the Sani Pass. (Also, the highest road in Southern Africa) We camped right on top of the Sani Pass. A few years ago, we camped next to the Man of Snowy River hut which from memory was around 1800 meters. Our campsite was at 2869 meters. The scenery was spectacular, and it surprised both Clary and myself that on altitudes of 3000 meters people live with no electricity, no local firewood. All firewood is carried up the mountain on foot. Clary did not sleep very well last night as the owner of Sani Lodge Pub made sure Clary was going to be very worried traveling down the pass. It is freezing cold and we woke up to a blue sky.
The view was spectacular and made it worth putting up with the cold. Don`t forget we are at 2873 meters; Mt. Kosciusko, Australia`s highest peak is at 2228 meters. As we walked to the edge of the escarpment, we realised that we were above the clouds. After breakfast we left for the Lesotho border before descending the Sani Pass. This pass is the only driveable track into KwaZulu Natal. The steep track with 30% gradients was a bit of an anticlimax after what we had experienced during the previous days in Lesotho and the stories we had heard from other travellers. Clary was quite happy to stay in the car. With the size of our truck we had to do a few six point turns but nothing like the steep side slopes we had experienced before. However, nothing could have prepared us for the unbelievable views. We descended 1000 meters in the first 6 kilometres of the track. From there on, it gradually went down, so we took our time and took heaps of photos of the incredible scenery. Our Carnet had to be stamped but no one knew anything about it, so we explained the procedure and the police officer did what we asked him to do! In hindsight, maybe we didn’t have to have it signed when we left South Africa, but it is better be safe than sorry.
PART 3, VIDEO CLIPS
- Compilation Africa & The Middle East
2. Compilation Africa & Middle East