I just came back from my Lesotho road trip; my bag is still zipped, there’s some leftover loti in my wallet, I still tend to stick to the Lesotho speed limits and my foot have not moved from the ready-set-go position to hit the brakes at any moment just in case a donkey, cow, sheep, dog, horse or pothole appear.
I’m searching for eloquent words and adjectives to describe the last few days (and it will come, stay tuned) but if I had to sum up the Lesotho road trip experience it would go something like this: one week, 2232 km, three police road blocks (the one friendlier than the next ), two easy-peasy border crossings (Telle Bridge and Caledonspoort), one selfie, multiple waterfalls, many friendly waves and sincere smiles, hundreds of kilometres of winding roads, countless donkeys/horses, mountains upon mountains and one extremely comfortable ride with the Isuzu mu-X.
9 Highlights from my Lesotho Road Trip
While it feels like every kilometre I travelled was a highlight, here are nine moments or sights that stood out more than others.
Keep checking in with the blog as more detailed posts will follow about the Lesotho road trip, the costs, distances and how you can do DIY a trip to the mountain kingdom in a sedan!
Maletsunyane Falls is one of the highest single dropping waterfalls in Africa and it plummets 192 metres into a gorge. If you are adventurous you can go down the longest commercially operated single-drop abseil in the world. If that sounds a tad bit crazy you can always hike to the falls or drive.
For some reason spotting a spiral aloe (also Lesotho’s national flower) was one of the things on my wish list for Lesotho, from a distance I saw one while on a mountain but got up, close and personal with one in Katse Botanical Garden. The Katse Botanical Garden was started as a plant rescue mission (especially for the spiral aloes) to mitigate the impact of the Katse Dam.
Before going to Lesotho I’ve gathered from a few different websites that you need no knowledge or interest in engineering when visiting Katse Dam but that the dam and the dam tour will knock the socks off your feet. My socks got knocked off. The Katse Dam project and standing inside the dam wall – with 30 metres of concrete between you can the water – is impressive to say the least. Or should I say, damn impressive? Read these interesting facts about the dam on Roxanne Reid’s blog.
Mafika Lisiu Pass
In my mind I thought this pass would be a nail-biting experience, especially after hearing that failing brakes have caused deaths and after getting numerous warnings about black ice (and it did not help that the first winter snow already came down two weeks before my trip… so anything was possible). While the pass was steep with hair-raising hairpin bends, twists, turns and cliffs covered in ice next the road, it was an unforgettable experience climbing 3090m to the top (and coming down the same way again). That view. Those mountains. Sjoe.
Rock Pools at T’sehlanyane National Park
T’sehlanyane National Park is just 50km from the nearest border post and it boasts numerous hiking trails, a waterfall and crystal clear rock pools. Frostbite icy in winter but just imagine taking a dip in summer. Maliba Lodge is situated in the national park and boasts various accommodation styles, from budget-friendly to family-friendly to honeymoon-and-luxury-friendly. The rock pools are a stone’s throw from the Riverside Huts and a stone’s throw and a half from the 8-sleeper Riverside Lodge units while the 5-star Mountain Chalets come with the incredible mountain views and private decks.
I came to the conclusion that the day mountains were distributed to the world Lesotho stood front in line and got more than their fair share of mountains. It is the scenery, the roads (another engineering miracle) winding through, over and around the mountains that led me to saying that no road and no minute is ever dull in Lesotho. The number of photos I have of mountains…
Friendly, sincere and helpful, that’s how I would describe the Basotho; I felt 100% safe at all times. Before my departure I’ve been warned about corrupt police and strict driving laws; on the first day I got stopped at three police check-points, and every officer was polite, friendly, respectful and up for the quick chat and joke. Sticking to the speed limits (albeit slow) and respect goes a long way.
On the map, before my departure, I saw the main veins of the country but never knew how accessible places really were until I got there. If you are not looking for a 4×4 adventure you can still have a Lesotho adventure on a road perfectly tarred. The speed limits force you to enjoy the country at a slow pace. Plus, there is the added benefit that fuel is about R2 to R3 cheaper in Lesotho.
Driving with the Isuzu mu-X
While I’ve travelled in the Isuzu KB bakkie left, right and centre, I had the opportunity to put foot to pedal in the bakkie’s (fancier) sister, the Isuzu mu-X (which stands for multi-utility crossover). The mu-X was launched in Thailand in 2013 (and sold in Australia and the Philippines) and even though it enters a highly competitive SUV market in South Africa, it also enters with the Isuzu promise – With you, for the long run – and with Isuzu’s long withstanding promise of reliability, durability and dependability. Comfort is the mu-X’s middle name – both on-road and off-road – this 7-seater comes out with the well-known and much-loved 3.0 L 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine, it has a 6-speed automatic gearbox (a dream for the long road), a ground clearance of 230 mm, and it comes with an infotainment system and a world of safety features that will keep you safe around town, on the home stretch and when you venture off on a 4×4 track. (Besides the 4×4 model there is also the 4×2 model, with the same 3.0 L 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine, and 6-speed automatic gearbox.)
The mu-X exceeded my expectations and with the ample space in the back it even became my sleeping quarters for a night in Lesotho when the temperature dipped just below zero in the early morning hours. The vehicle has a multitude of storage compartments and since I self-catered throughout most of the trip and travelled with everything from border crossing documents to camera gear to extension leads, a gas stove and camping lights, everything had its place and it saved me time and the effort to ransack a crate in search of something.
But what about Sani Pass?
Sani Pass is a rite of passage for many 4×4 enthusiasts and a must-see for visitors to Lesotho but I decided to not go up the pass. Why, you wonder? Well, I believe good things can’t be rushed and I knew that a week would not be enough to travel to that side of the Drakensberg Mountains, go up the pass, visit where I wanted to visit, take it all in and then exit via the Caledonspoort Border Post. So I put Sani Pass on hold for my return visit. In retrospect, the fact that I didn’t go up Sani Pass is also one of the highlights of my Lesotho road trip because now I have something exciting to look forward to and when I return I can combine it with a visit to Sehlabathebe National Park and the Underberg area.