Right on South Africa’s eastern doorstep lies Maliba Lodge in Ts’ehlanyane National Park, one of only two national parks in the Mountain Kingdom. It took me a few days to get there; I started in the South, nearly a hundred villages, a few mountain passes, one flat tyre, and just over 1300 km ago.
It’s been quite the journey, not only to get there, but also to plan the trip and manoeuvre and position myself to see as much as I could at the slowest pace possible for the time I had at my disposal. But no matter how many times my dates changed (and how much closer the dates moved into the heart of the winter season and towards the possibility of snow), Maliba Lodge is the one destination in the 30 355 km² country that always stayed part of the plan.
There are three reasons for this: 1) It looked picture-perfect-let’s-build-the-puzzle-together incredible, 2) I wanted to visit a national park and Lesotho’s other national park, Sehlabathebe, was unfortunately not on my radar due to distance and the fact that I chose to be a responsible driver and not tackle unfamiliar semi-deserted rugged dirt roads alone and 3) Its location and close proximity to the border meant that I could easily start/end my journey at Maliba Lodge (while still doing a lot of driving to or from Port Elizabeth on the same day).
See, while it took me about 1300 km to get there from Port Elizabeth (via Telle Bridge, Semonkong, Maseru and Katse), Maliba Lodge is almost quite literally – if you have a strong arm – a stone’s throw of 50 km from the Caledonspoort border post, just 380 km from Johannesburg and 300 km from Bloemfontein. And on top of that, the road is tarred all the way from the border to the gate of Ts’ehlanyane National Park. Now it might be a bit far to qualify as being on the doorstep of Port Elizabeth (850 km) for a quick getaway, but if you’re in the Free State or Gauteng it is much closer and more of a “hey, it’s weekend, let’s go” kind of place.
More of Maliba
I kind of want to say Ich Maliba Dich but it does not make sense in German or grammatically. But it is one of those places with so much natural beauty that it leaves you at a loss for words and tangled up in sentences, so I just have to say it: Ich Maliba Dich.
Situated in Ts’ehlanyane National Park, with an altitude ranging from 1940 to 3112 metres, Maliba – which means ‘an abundance of water’ – is the only luxury lodge in Lesotho and it is the epitome of the country’s nickname, ‘Mountain Kingdom’. Here, it is all about mountains, you’re either on top of it, looking out on it, next to it, sandwiched between it or surrounded by it; but never without it.
The lodge boasts spacious 5-star thatched-roof mountain chalets, complete with a fireplace, a huge bath tub with a mountain view (to drown your South African drought sorrows) your own stoep, and a private veranda that gets you even closer to tranquility and into a state of Ich Maliba Dich.
It’s fit for royalty and it is no wonder that there were rumours in 2017 that the now new royal newly-weds holidayed here.
But with a 5-star badge on their name and thousands of stars in the sky, there’s more stars worth mentioning on the property.
About 3 km from the Lodge, there is also more budget- and family-friendly options that is almost right next to the most beautiful rock pools, perfect for a cold dip after a long hike. These units start from R400 per person per night. There are four double-storey lodges known as the River Lodge (with a 3-star badge); each lodge has four bedrooms and can accommodate up to eight people, there is a fully equipped kitchen, a lounge, a place to braai and a fireplace. The Riverside Huts, which was my home for the second night of my stay, are ideal for two people; the traditional rondavels come with ensuites, fireplaces and there is boma that can be used for a braai.
But if you don’t want to braai or self-cater in the River Lodge, you can always sit back and relax. A short walk – a minute or what – from the Mountain Chalets is the Main Lodge with its exclusive lounge, private decks and dining room where guests can enjoy breakfast and have a fine-dining experience over a three course dinner (must be pre-booked). There is also another restaurant on-site, the more informal Ogogo’s Bistro where you can grab a cold one and have light meals like wraps and burgers.
What to get up to at Maliba Lodge
This is the kind of place where you can kick off your shoes, curl up in front of the fireplace and relax with a good book, but it is also the place that will make you fill up your water bottle, put on your shoes and hike up a mountain.
Maliba Lodge offers a range of activities and excursions to nearby villages and attractions such as the Tsikoane Caves, Dinosaur Footprints, Liphofung Caves and a ski adventure at Afriski is just two hours away.
There’s a spa offering anything from mini facials to hot stone massages, you can explore the area on a guided horse ride, grab your binoculars for birdwatching as it is home to the endangered Bearded Vulture and go on one of the hiking trails in the park. Off-road enthusiasts can follow the numerous mapped out routes and explore the villages nearby and for the kiddies there’s the Maliba Bana Club where they can do cooking lessons, art, walks, and more. The lodge is also the host of the popular annual 50 km Lesotho Ultra Trail.
Ts’ehlanyane National Park
The park is located in the front range of the Maluti mountains, and as mentioned, easily reachable via a tarred road from Caledonspoort Border Post via Butha Buthe. It is easy to understand why the lodge was named after ‘an abundance of water’ as the park lies at the junction of the Holomo and Ts’ehlanyane rivers. Ts’ehlanyane National Park includes one of the very few remaining indigenous woodlands in Lesotho and it is home to over 220 plant species, 69 birds species and even though shy and rarely seen, about 24 mammal species.
I’ll write more about the park soon, stay tuned, in the meantime, have a look at this video I made.
My stay at Maliba was the perfect cherry on top for my Lesotho road trip and I’m glad that my route worked out that way that it was the last stop. Over the days I spent in Lesotho I became so used to speed bumps, livestock in the road and goat bells and chickens in the morning that the quietness and wake-up alarm of birdsong was the best possible way to end the journey and recharge my batteries.
Thank you Maliba Lodge for not only offering me a room for a night, but also for your hospitality and attention to detail. (And thank you to Travelstart for buying a majority stake in the accommodation booking website, SafariNow, because of this brilliant business move they publicly offered a R350 discount for any booking of R700 or more and I managed to get a Riverside Hut for only R450. On behalf of the whole of South Africa, you are more than welcome to buy more things and make more discount vouchers available, we’ll all gladly take it off your hands.)
But voucher or no voucher, dear Maliba Lodge, I’ll be back because Ich Maliba Dich.
(Sincere apologies to my 1999 German teacher in school and the professor in the first year of University, I was a hopeless case right from the first mention of tenses).
For bookings, accommodation prices, tours and excursions, visit www.maliba-lodge.com.
My stay was so amazing, I even took a selfie (which happens only once every 228 days).