Kate and I spent Christmas with her family (the then future in-laws!) in December 2015. We enjoyed a week in Durban and planned to escape the chaos of the coast in summer and drive back to Joburg through Lesotho over 7 days for some peace and quiet in the mountains.
We had both been to Lesotho before but our experience was limited to trips up and down Sani Pass. We were excited to explore the less touristy parts of the country.
Day 1: Westville - Kokstad - Ramatsediso border post - Sehlabathebe National Park (6 hour leisurely drive with stops and a border crossing)
We packed our beloved Suzuki Jimny (affectionately called "Jolene") and made an early start from Westville. We headed down the N2 and turned up to Kokstad at Port Shepstone. After picking up some last minute supplies at a local Kokstad Spar we took the R52 in a north-westerly direction. We turned off the tar at Cedarville and headed off through farmland towards the Drakensberg.
The roads were empty and we stopped in the foothills of the Berg for a quick lunch and to repack some of our gear that had become dislodged after hitting the dirt. Kate's mum had made us a tuna pie for lunch and we washed it down with ice cold cokes while double checking our maps.
We wound our way up through the mountains on public roads - which were nothing more than dusty narrow farm tracks - to the Ramatsediso border post. The pass up to the border post is sadly not as challenging as it used to be. A number of the hairpin bends been tarred which removes a bit of the challenge but it was still good fun. The views are fantastic and the changing vegetation as you climb higher is great to watch.
Just before we reached the top of the pass - and the border post itself - we came upon a packed Hilux ferrying people up to the top. Turning to Kate, I muttered a quick "I apologise in advance". I dropped to second gear and overtook the Hilux, getting a bit too close to the edge of the cliff for comfort. We got to the top of the pass and made it through immigration in a breeze.
We knew we had arrived in Lesotho when the border gate opened and the tarred road became a rocky, eroded mess. I couldn’t stop smiling. We turned right and headed for the Sehlabathebe National Park. The road is easy and the view is spectacular.
We passed small villages and drove through rolling green hills spotted with sheep. As we approached the park we stopped off to pick up some cold quarts of beer at a local bottle store, only to discover that they had run dry of Maluti. I guess it was December after all. We settled for Hansa instead and promised to return our empties.
We arrived at the park and were greeted by a rusted sign, a friendly guard and a grotesque collection of buildings, which resembled a housing estate in Midrand. The monstrosity has recently been developed by the World Bank.
The guard’s English was broken and our broken Zulu didn’t prove helpful but we eventually signed in and were given some vague sounding directions on how to get to the campsite. We drove off a little confused but happy to be arriving and enjoying such stunning scenery.
After a 5-minute drive we arrived at yet another Midrand-style housing development. This one completely deserted but for laundry hanging on a line. When we did eventually manage to find someone we were told we could camp on the rocky ground next to the new housing development.
We checked Tracks4Africa and after a few minutes of fiddling we saw that we had to continue on the track over the mountain to get to the campsite. We drove over a stunning pass, with some loose gravels sections, to be greeted with the view of the King of Lesotho’s fly fishing lodge and a few intrepid over landers set-up in the distance.
The campsite is surrounded by imposing mountains. There is a small stream and dam on the site. We set-up camp, built a make shift fire pit, got the new camping chairs out (a Christmas present from Kate's folks) and cracked two cold Hansa as we watched the sunset.
The campsite is in a wonderful position but the facilities are limited. There are no trees (it is Lesotho, after all!) so shade is tricky to find. We were first told that there were no toilets but after our arrival a fellow camper told us we could find a loo up by the old lodge. We trekked up – loo paper in hand – only come face-to-face with a man with a semi-automatic rifle. He told us there was no toilet and we scuttled off back to our tent.
When we returned to the campsite we recounted the story to our neighbours. They laughed and told us not to worry about the loo guard. He was from the Lesotho army and was stationed there to patrol the parks border with South Africa. Apparently it is used to smuggle guns and drugs into and out of the country.
Day 2: Exploring Sehlabathebe National Park
We woke to a cool morning, with crisp mountain air and light rain. We popped a kettle on the gas stove and got the coffee going. After a cup and a bacon sandwich we were ready to head out and explore the park.
I had planned a hike to what I thought was a nearby waterfall called Tsoelikanyane. Using GPS co-ordinates for the waterfall from the Tracks4Africa map, we set off down a valley as Kate repeatedly reminded me that it will be uphill on the way back.
At the start of the hike the GPS seemed to be pointing us in the right direction, but after about an hour I began to worry that something didn’t seem quite right. I came very close to admitting that I might be a little bit lost.
A few kilometres later, just as I was figuring out how to break the news to Kate, we saw a hopeful looking stream in the distance. As we approached we saw a group of Basotho galloping across the other side of the valley.
We followed the stream until it ran off a cliff in front of us. We peered down to find an enormous pool below us. We scrambled down the wall of the falls, stripped off and jumped in. Who needs Sun City, Thailand, the French Rivera or Miami when you can get this. We had the ice cold, crystal clear pool all to ourselves. It was absolute paradise.
After our swim we had a picnic of homemade Christmas cake, cheese, crackers and apples.
We then hiked back the way we came ecstatic to have found such a hidden gem. With an hour break at the falls, the whole hike took a total of 5 hours. I really recommend making the effort and hiking to this spot. GPS co-ordinates are wrong on Tracks 4 Africa, but not that wrong. Enjoy the adventure, get (slightly) lost and find that waterfall.
The next day we broke camp and headed off to Malelea Lodge via the Ramabanta Trading Post. Check back next week for the post!