Lesotho – The Adventure and Magical Kingdom in the Sky.
Lesotho is a country that sits on a plateau completely surrounded by South Africa. It has a growing adventure scene.
Most Meaningful Experience: Making a local friend and exploring a new country. Meeting the friendly Basotho people and discovering their tight-knit community culture
– Explore the cool and misty forest of Tsehlanyane National Park, then visit the Maletsunyane and Qiloane waterfalls.
– Drive up and down the mountain to the spectacular Sani Pass (home to one of the only skiing resorts in Africa) and get your passport stamped.
– Attempt the world’s largest abseil in Semonkong – a hub of adventure sports in Lesotho.
– Venture along the challenging mountain biking trails in Malealea.
– Although dubbed as one of Lesotho’s top sights, Katse Dam is not worth the drive in my opinion.
– Sample the Maluti Premium Lager – people drive from South Africa just to buy it!
Completely encircled by South Africa, Lesotho is a small country of soaring mountains and dramatic gorges that’s been dubbed the Kingdom in the Sky. It’s home to around two million people, with a quarter of those living in the bustling capital, Maseru, which nestles in a river valley. It was described to me by one local as a giant village, with rural huts dotting the landscape where shepherds graze their sheep.
I had made the long drive from Johannesburg to Maseru in my Nissan X-Trail, with the mountainous plateau blanketed by cloud rising in the distance. After one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen, I arrived at the border between South Africa and Lesotho, which was marked by a scattering of huts and people selling SIM cards.
A friendly couple, Rorisang and Mateko, helped me to buy a SIM, then offered to show me to my B&B, which was situated on a hill overlooking the Mohokare River.
Although I was advised not to venture beyond the property’s gate at night, I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, so took a stroll to the local store. I chatted with a little girl and gave away my Indians hat to a man who was carrying roofing up the hill, with my first impression that the people of Lesotho were always smiling.
My connection with Rorisang had also been warm and with some time off work, he offered to join me on an adventurous tour of the country, hitting all the major tourist sights in our 4×4. After navigating through the hectic streets of Maseru (which are not only used by cars but people, donkeys and livestock), we headed towards the Kome Caves in Tetanyang, a 90-minute drive from the capital.
Built in the 19th century, these mud cave dwellings are still inhabited by four descendants, including an 86-year-old grandmother. We were the only visitors that day, with a young boy guiding us to the entrance, which wasn’t otherwise obvious. We continued on to the Maliba Lodge, which is tucked into the Tsehlanyane National Park, driving along an arid plateau before descending into a lush forest that lined the mountainous valley.
Our final destination that day was the Sani Pass – an unpaved road that precariously hugs the mountains along the border between Lesotho and South Africa. Rori said it felt like we were “riding on the sky” and while government regulations stipulated you needed a 4×4 to attempt the route, people used to take VW Beatles along the pass, with many getting stuck or falling down the cliff face.
We passed a large diamond mine called Letsengs where DeBeers sources their diamonds, with a cluster of huts housing workers in the surrounds. The poverty was immediately visible and I wondered whether seeing this first-hand would make people question their need for a big, fat diamond ring after all.
That night we stayed in one of the old ski huts at the Sani Lodge, which had old beds, fireplace, and stove. Further down the road, there was a pub where we had breakfast – also knows as being the highest pub in Africa. The ski huts had been built by white South Africans. The lodge was decorated with pictures of people skiing down unending snow-covered white mountains, Volkswagon Bugs trying to drive up the Pass, and Apres-ski parties. It was clearly a challenging and celebrated activity to not just get to the top but also get down – and many people lost their lives trying. After breakfast the following morning, we made the 10-kilometer drive down the pass, only to return to give the police a lift back up, and joked about claiming the land as ours and building a theme park on the mountainside!
It was a six-hour drive from the Sani Pass to the Katse Dam along an unpaved, bumpy mountain road. Although the dam itself was a bit of a letdown in my opinion and probably not worth the effort involved, we stumbled upon the beautiful Semonkong Lodge, which ended up being the highlight of the trip.
Surrounding by a small village in a mountainous valley, the Semonkong Lodge was established 20 years ago and features both private rooms and economical dorms. In addition to mountain biking and fishing, they offer what is said to be the world’s tallest abseil and although it was my first time abseiling, it didn’t stop me braving my fears on the 200-meter (600-foot) drop. Take a look at the videos here.
After two days adventuring at the Semonkong Lodge, Rorisang and I parted ways as he returned to Maseru and I left Lesotho for Port Shepstone on the South African coast to go shark diving. I felt that Rorisang exemplified the Lesotho people – warm and caring – and I wished I’d had more time to spend with him exploring the Kingdom in the Sky. Thanks to Rory.