Get Lost in Lesotho – Maliba Road Trip

Get Lost in Lesotho..

‘We need to promote Lesotho as a whole – as its own destination.’ These were the words of my wife who is the marketing manager for Maliba Mountain Lodge, a 5 star lodge in the mountains of Lesotho. She was referring to the fact that Lesotho is one of the lesser known destinations on the tourism map – even for us South Africans. It is generally seen as a country which is hard to get to – as a place more suited to those looking for a hard core adventure with their rugged off road vehicles.

We therefore decided to set out on a road trip ourselves, to see the highlights of the country, and to determine the accessibility of this small, mountainous kingdom. To gain first-hand experience – as a group of young South Africans, with little time between work days for travelling– of the people and their cultures, the landscape and perhaps to learn a bit about the country and its history. At the same time, to film the entire adventure to try and capture some of the spirit and culture of the country and its people.

Our goal, as a group of five friends, was to travel over four days into the easily accessible parts of the country, without the need for serious back up and support.

We were ready for a road trip with a Southern Africa road atlas, a 1996 Pajero named ‘Paji’, packed to the brim with photographic equipment and excitement boiling over. We set off after work on a Friday towards the base of Sani Pass – the well known entry point into south eastern Lesotho. Arriving after dark, we experienced the true travellers’ hospitality of Sani Backpackers. Even though we had missed the cut off for dinner, Russell the owner, welcomed us and made sure we were well fed and watered, serving us in true mountain-man fashion – decked out in a pair of hiking boots and short khaki Teesav’s. This popular backpackers is only 1.5 hours from Pietermaritzburg, and being situated in the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains, was the perfect place to start off our trip. It felt a bit like base camp, staring up into the beautiful, rugged peaks of the berg, a place to acclimatise our bodies before the great trek upwards and into the weekend.

The next morning saw us up early, making the most of the spectacular, golden light being thrown onto the side of the mountains. The perfect light for filming and photography! Through the border without any issues, Paji began to wind her way up the pass, stopping only for the film crew to run ahead to make the most of the spectacular views. Although November (close to the heart of summer), we were welcomed at the top by Lesotho customs officials crowded around a coal stove, balaclava’s and trench coats the standard uniform issue here. Then further on to one of the highest pubs in Africa, where the welcome drink (albeit 8.30 in the morning) was a drab of sherry. Mountain hospitality at its best!

Over an incredible fried breakfast, we discussed our plan, which was to drive through to Katse dam. Although only approximately 250km, word from the locals was that the drive could take anywhere between 7 and 10 hours – meaning an arrival time after dark. But what did the locals know? The confidence early on in the trip was showing strongly and we weren’t bothered by this latest news. So off we went, through some of the most spectacular scenery. Over mountain passes with views stretching away beneath us, then down again through valleys and over clear, flowing rivers.

The Pajero met it's match in Lesotho

In fact, it was at one such pass that Paji stepped up as the leading actor for the rest of the trip. Just short of the top, the temperature spiked and she blew! Not unlike the movies, steam squealed out of the bonnet loudly, although not loud enough to cover the swear words coming from some of the passengers. Nuts, stuck on top of the world with a hole in our radiator and nothing vaguely resembling a workshop for miles. But then the Basotho hospitality, compassion and ingenuity stepped in – the word was sent out that we needed a mechanic while we limped to the nearest accommodation – Molemong Lodge. People came from all over and, although never claiming to be mechanics, offered advice and assistance without hesitation. So, although this twist of fate never allowed us to get to Katse dam, we spent an amazing afternoon tinkering on the car and playing soccer with the locals. All under the most breath-taking sky of rolling, pink and grey storm clouds.

This is what travelling in Africa is all about. Being ready to work with what you have and willing to change plans as the trip unfolds. So the next morning we decided to head in the opposite direction – north over the ‘Roof of Africa’, onwards to Afriski and Maliba. But with the hole in the radiator patched with Pratleys glue and still leaking slowly like a cheap lilo, it was never going to be a straight forward drive, especially as we had to navigate the highest pass in Southern Africa.

Well, the pass got the better of us. But what would have been a marathon ascent of refilling the radiator every few kilometres, turned out to be quite rapid. This thanks to the help of a friendly Landrover owner who was only to excited to tow our stricken Pajero up the notorious pass. That is the last I’ll say of that. Once over the pass, we refilled the radiator and carried on all the way to Maliba – stopping only to try and capture the beauty of this country on film.

We certainly felt relieved arriving at Maliba, suddenly surrounded by 5 star luxuries and friendly staff (importantly for us, one of them a friendly mechanic). The stress drained away as we spent the next two days exploring the surrounding trails and rivers on horseback and foot. This lodge, unlike most mountain retreats, doesn’t just look up onto one range of mountains, but is surrounded on all sides by the majestic Maluti mountains. One feels quite small and insignificant in this landscape – totally in awe. Highlights included a visit to the Liphofung caves and rock paintings, spending time with the people of the Maliba-Ha Mali Community Centre, watching a local farmer trying to teach us how to plough a field with oxen, and eating dinner while watching the full moon come up over the peaks of the Maluti’s.

Eventually it was time to leave, with a slightly ill vehicle, we drove away from Maliba and out of the Ts’ehlanyane National Park. On towards the northern border post of Caledenspoort and into the relative civilisation and, more importantly, radiator repair shops of South Africa. An incredible experience – a trip of only four days which rivalled some of our more planned and far away African trips. Although we didn’t get to see the parts of the country listed on our itinerary, the places we did see more than made up for it. The friendly people, amazing scenery and remote feel of this country makes it a place well worth travelling…and with only a small portion travelled, it certainly has cemented it’s place onto our ever growing list of places to visit…again!

One comment

  1. Natalie Bheenick says:

    Loved your article & the videos but was disappointed you did not include the Riverside Chalets in your video of Maliba – we stayed there in Aug 2010 & had the option to have breakfast at the 5 star lodge…so from our point of view, we experienced both & it was really, really nice. As we were in Botswana for only 5 years, one of the things we wanted to do was ski in Africa so we came to Lesotho for Afriski but were most impressed with Maliba – the location, the people & also with Lesotho – we came in a Toyota & were a bit worried about roads but wherever we went, we had good tarred roads. We even made it to Katse Dam but as the locals say, it may have only been a couple of hundred kms away but combine the winding roads & the scenery & it took us a whole day to get there & back & that’s without doing the tour at Katse Dam! But we loved getting to know a little bit about Lesotho & now that we are back in Mauritius, this is what we miss about living in Botswana – the wide open spaces & the simple things in life as shown in your video! Thanks again for making my day!

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