One of the many highlights of Lesotho is a visit to Katse Dam, centrepiece of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project which channels the water of the Lesotho Highlands via an incredible series of dams and tunnels through the mountains eventually coming out of the Ash River Outfall near the town of Clarens in South Africa’s Free State province where it gravity feeds to supply Johannesburg and Pretoria with water.
It was touted as the greatest engineering project in the southern hemisphere in the 1990’s when it was under construction. Nowadays the sight of the massive dam hemmed in by the mountain valley is well worth beholding!
For visitors, there is an information centre, which features a model of the whole project, showing all the phases. You can also go on a tour of the dam wall which is arranged by the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority Visitor Centre. The Katse Botanical Gardens is an added attraction.
The road from Leribe (Hlotse) to the Katse Dam (121 km) is an impressive feat of engineering in itself and takes about three to four hours to navigate, but allow more time for stops at the top of the mountain passes to take in the sweeping views and snap a few photos. What used to be the roughest track in the country is now smooth tar, though there are some very steep ascents and sheer drops to the side of the road.
The highest point is the Mafika-Lisiu Pass (3090 m), where there is a car park and viewpoint for the Bokong Nature Reserve, which is also home to the ice rat (Myotomys sloggetti), a rodent that is endemic to Lesotho and only lives above 2000m. Bearded vultures and other rare mountain birds can often be seen nearby.
As you enter Katse you will see the large double story building with a blue roof of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project visitor centre, from where popular free tours into the dam wall take place at 0900 and 1400.
The centre also has displays on the dam’s construction, with a video and models of how water will be moved around when all five dams are completed in the 2020s. Nearby is the Katse Alpine Botanical Gardens which was created to replant some of the indigenous flora that was displaced in the construction of the dam, especially orchids and the Spiral Aloe, Lesotho’s national flower.
There are 2 tours per day 9am and 11 am. No bookings required, you just show up. The 11 am tour tends to be very busy on long weekends. Depending on where you are staying and the distance from Katse, the 9 am might be a better bet.
Katse Information Centre (+266 229 10808/9)
Mon-Fri 0800-1200, 1300- 1600,
Katse Botanical Gardens (+266 229 10311)