Lesotho. 2008

Lesotho is a small country surrounded by South Africa and is aptly named "The Mountain Kingdom" as the whole country is above 1000m (over 3000 feet). We spent 5 days travelling around some of the amazing roads carved out of the mountains.

Map of our route

From KwaZulu-Natal there is only 1 border post with Lesotho and it involves a climb up the Sani Pass. From the main road turn off just beyond Himeville the first 12 km is an easy road (currently being resurfaced) to the Sani Hotel. For the next 15km, to the South African border post, it becomes a bit steeper and uneven but can still be accessed by an ordinary car with care, however after the border post only 4x4 vehicles are allowed up the last 12 km due to the steep, rocky sections, several of them are 1 in 3.

This is the top section of the Pass with the steep zig-zags in the distance.

In 1869 Lesotho became a British Protectorate and remained so until its independence in 1966. English is still taught in its schools and most people speak English as well as their own language, Sesotho.

At the top we got through the Lesotho border post and then went to the Sani Top Chalet which, as the picture shows, is the highest pub in Africa at 2865m (9300 feet).

We stayed the night here and were very comfortable thanks to a gas heater in our room and a roaring log fire in the lounge - much needed as soon as the sun went down.

From the Sani Top there's an excellent view down the valley and we watched several cars crawling up and down the Pass.

There is a proposal to tar the Sani Pass road to make it possible for all vehicles to use it. Many South Africans with 4x4 vehicles would prefer that it stays un-tarred because they enjoy the challenge of driving it .

The next day we followed "The Roof of Africa" route to Butha-Buthe. This involved going over 2 mountain passes over 3230m (10 000 feet).

We took 6 1/2 hours to travel 240km.

The land over about 2000m tends to be too high, cold and windy for farming so is very desolate.

As soon as we got below 2000m there were plenty of mountain villages.

The houses ranged from rondavels made of stone to rectangular brick built buildings with tiled roofs and in Butha-Buthe (the biggest town that we passed through) there were some very nice 2 storey brick built houses.

It was the beginning of Spring (September) and despite several months without rain the peach trees were full of pink blossom. The rains usually start at the end of September / October.

The hillsides around the villages were terraced and we saw lots of ploughing usually with 4 or 6 oxen pulling a single furrow plough. Generally 2 people were with the ox team, one handling the plough and the other directing the animals.

A couple of times we did see small tractors being used.

Another mountain pass (the lowest point in the centre of the horizon is the top of the Pass) but this time it was a new tar road which was built a few years ago to access the Katse Dam.

This was our third day on the road and we travelled 164km in 4 1/2 hours.

There are 204 major bends on a 53km stretch of this road!!

 

On our way to Katse we stopped at the Bokong Nature Reserve, near the top of the Pass, which has an interesting visitor's centre with a stunning view of the surrounding area including this waterfall which was partly frozen.

The Katse Dam took 6 years to complete and is the first phase of project to supply water to South Africa and electricity to Lesotho. The water from the dam is piped to a hydro-electric station which supplies electricity to Lesotho and then water travels onto South Africa where it provides Gautang province with 50% of its water supply.

We had an interesting tour of the dam which included going inside the dam wall which is 185m high and 600m wide at the top.

At the Katse Dam visitor's centre we met an American guy who'd set off from the USA 18 months ago on his bike and travelled down through South America to Buenos Aries where he'd got a boat to Cape Town. He'd come up the Sani Pass on his bike yesterday and even after unloading all his kit into a car (kindly offered by a passing motorist) he still dropped his bike 3 times on the top section!!

He's planning to go up through Africa and aims to be in Europe in 6 months or so.

Driving along the narrow, winding mountain roads you would be more likely to come across donkeys, horses, sheep and goats than another vehicle.

Donkeys were usually loaded with sacks but were sometimes ridden. None of the donkeys had any headcollar or bridle, they mostly seemed to know where to go and, if necessary, would be directed with a tap by a stick.

Horses were the most common form of transport for men in the mountains (we never saw any women on them).

Throughout Lesotho the most common form of dress for the men was a blanket (often woven into coloured patterns), a woolly hat or balaclava and wellies and they all carried a stick.

During the day it would get hot but still tended to be windy so the blankets and hats helped to keep out the dust.

Although most of the mountain villages had stand pipes for water the women would invariably do their washing down by the river.

We would often see their brightly coloured blankets spread out over bushes, drying in the sun.

On our fourth day we covered 157km in 6 hours (including 1 hour for repairs).

Most of the time we we contouring round the steep sided valleys, sometimes travelling 40km on the road to cover 10km as the crow flies!

Twice we had to drop down and cross wide rivers but at this time of the year there wasn't much water and the bridges, although very narrow, were adequate.

While following the road near a river we suddenly heard a rattling noise coming from the offside rear wheel. Kev thought it might be something in the brake pads so took the wheel off and had a look. A bit of metal fell out but when we put the wheel back on found that the noise was still there so Kev had another look under the vehicle, found a loose bracket and used a cable tie to hold it in place but still the noise persisted so he then decided it might be the wheel bearing. We still had 50km to go so decided to risk it! taking particular care on the downhill sections and trying, as far as possible, to avoid using the brakes.

On Day 5 we came back down the Sani Pass on our way back to South Africa. Kevin said that it was easier going down as he could put the truck in low ratio and let it take itself down!!

Map of our route

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