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High in the mountains of Southern Africa, unique in that it is an independent nation completely surrounded by South Africa, is the Kingdom of Lesotho — the Kingdom in the Sky.
An extraordinary country that provides spectacular mountain scenery and offers the chance to enjoy Africa’s majestic beauty, the simplicity of a mountain people, and a serene quality of life. A magnificent opportunity to explore nature still little changed by man, still unspoilt by crowds of tourists, and to appreciate the untamed but beautiful landscapes of the soaring Maluti and Drakensberg mountains.
But for most people the ideal way of exploring Lesotho is on the back of the gentle, but sure-footed, Basotho pony — our traditional transport in the mountains.
Lesotho is Africa, but a different Africa, a special Africa, for Lesotho offers an appeal and an adventure that is rarely found in more commercialised destinations.
Gateway to the Maluti
This is one of the most popular areas of Lesotho, easily reached from South Africa and a short drive from Maseru, and a great base from which to explore the Maluti Mountains. The best border posts for direct access are Maseru Bridge, Peka Bridge, Maputsoe (Ficksburg Bridge) or Caledonspoort near Butha-Buthe.
Thaba-Bosiu is Lesotho’s great national monument. It is a flat-topped hill which was used by Moshoeshoe I as his citadel when establishing the nation. It is within easy reach of Maseru. The substantial remains of the King’s dwellings and villages and the royal cemetery of Lesotho are on top of the hill. A tarred road leads to a small information centre. From there visitors have an easy climb up Rafutho’s Pass (where the Free State Boer commander Louw Wepener was killed in an attack on Moshoeshoe I in 1865) to the summit plateau and the remains of Moshoeshoe's village. The views from the summit are lovely.
Guides are available at the tourist office.
Oxbow is one of the few places in Africa where snow skiing is possible, although the quality of the snow depends of the vagaries of the weather and the large differential between night and daytime temperatures in the winter season, which can cause the snow to melt rapidly. Normally, skiing is possible in July and August. Even if skiing is not possible, this is a wonderful area for walking and bird watching.
Routes to Oxbow
The road from Butha-Buthe to Oxbow is the original "Roof of Africa" rally route. It is a quite spectacular journey, going over a number of mountain passes and spending much of the journey at over 3000m. From Butha-Buthe, the road goes north for 15km, then at a junction goes east and climbs into the foothills of the Maluti Mountains. It ascends the Moteng Pass at 2840m, and then drops down into the upper valley of the Malibamatso River. Here, one comes to Oxbow Lodge, an upmarket ski resort. It is possible to free camp near the lodge and to enjoy the stories of Costas the owner and to enjoy his great bar across the river.
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Trips to Lesotho with Cederberg 4x4 in 2012
Watch this space for dates
The invigorating mountain air, spectacular panoramas of rocky crags, deep valleys and fields of alpine flowers, and the warm welcome of the Basotho people, set Lesotho apart as a special holiday destination.
To explore Lesotho is so easy. Excellent new roads wind up into the mountains, while 4×4 treks are an exciting way to explore the more out-of-the-way sites.
The Sesotho name Butha-Buthe (meaning place of lying down) is derived from the mountain that dominates the town. The original Botha-Bothe mountain was the fortress of King Moshoeshoe until 1824, when he relocated to a new capital.
Butha-Buthe is about 125km from Maseru in the north of the country, close to the Caledonspoort border post. It has pleasant, tree-lined streets, a hotel, community and administrative buildings, a market place, and a mosque for its significant Indian population.
It is also the starting point for the Roof of Africa Route past Oxbow to Mokhotlong, a road that was recently under reconstruction. There are also mysterious caves used by the San (Bushmen) in the area near Qalo and Sekubu, and some more dinosaur footprints.
The plateau to the east of the town is a delightful picnic stop on the way to Oxbow.
Hlotse - Major Bell’s Tower and Fort
The town of Hlotse, as its inhabitants know it, is commonly called Leribe.
Hlotse is close to the Maputsoe (Ficksburg Bridge) border post, and on the main road through to Caledonspoort. In springtime, this is a wonderful route to see the blossom in the fields against a backdrop of spectacular views of the Maluti Mountains.
The fortifications of Major Bell’s Tower were built by the British at the end of the 1870s and were besieged, but not captured, during the Gun War of 1880 — 81. The Tower is still largely intact. Visitors can see an interesting primitive statue of a European in front of a nearby local administration office. This is a must-see attraction for tourists interested in the history of Southern Africa and the various wars.
King Moshoeshoe I was born nearby in the village of Menkhoaneng in the foothills of the Leribe district. The Leribe Craft Centre, a good craft shop, is at the entrance to Hlotse.
From Hlotse - a new tar road heads east into the mountains to Katse Dam which is just over an hour's drive.
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The Craft Centres of Teya-Teyaneng
The pretty town of Teya-Teyaneng is an important centre for local weavers and craftsmen. A short drive from Maseru, this town is an important stop on the way north, or a pleasant excursion from Hlotse and Ficksburg. Some San (Bushmen) rock shelters with rock paintings are close to the town.
The principal craft centres — who all welcome visitors to see many of the articles being made as well as buying wonderful souvenirs — include:
Treasure House of History
The region south of Maseru is full of local history and has many major sites that played an important part in creating the heritage of Lesotho. This is also great pony trekking country.
The area is easily accessible from Maseru, or directly from South Africa via Van Rooyens Gate or any of the nearby border posts.
The Maletsunyane Falls is the highest waterfall in Southern Africa, falling 196 metres in a single drop. Its nearly twice as high as Victoria Falls, though a fraction of the width. The village of Semonkong is nestled on the banks of the Maletsunyane river, upstream from the Maletsunyane Falls. It is called ‘The Place of Smoke’ after the characteristic haze created by the waterfall plummeting into the gorge.
The town of Quthing, also called Moyeni, is the southernmost town in the country. There are two of the most important sets of dinosaur footprints in the region. There is a large panel of Bushman paintings at Qomoqomong.
The town of Quthing, also called Moyeni, is the southernmost town in the country. It is divided into upper Moyeni, the original colonial "camp", where the post office, banks, government offices and hospital are found, and lower Moyeni, a large straggling village with shops, street vendors and the bus and taxi ranks. Taxis link Upper and Lower Moyeni.
There are a few sites of interest around Quthing. The Masitise Mission is a few kilometres out of town on the Mohales Hoek road. The main feature is a cave house, built and lived in by the mission's founder, the Reverend Ellenberger. A few faded Bushman paintings are located nearby. The Villa Maria Mission is located between Masitise and Quthing, and is a beautiful sandstone church with striking red twin spires.
There are two of the most important sets of dinosaur footprints in the region. They are located a few hundred metres up the Mt. Moorosi road from the Quthing turn-off. The prints of many different dinosaurs, both herbivores and carnivores, as well as other primitive reptiles, follow and criss-cross each other. These dinosaur footprints, are probably the easiest to locate in the country.
There is a large panel of Bushman paintings at Qomoqomong. Some of the paintings are faded. Others are fairly good. Please do not wet or touch them! Take a lift or taxi from Lower Moyeni about 8km to the Qomoqomong General Dealers store. Make enquiries for someone to guide you. It is about a twenty-minute walk. The drive and walk are quite scenic in themselves.
"Wayfarer, Pause and Look Upon A Gateway of Paradise"
This is an inscription in the rock by Mervyn Bosworth-Smith, founder of Malealea, Trading Station in the early 1900's - now Malealea Lodge. The inscription can be found at the peak of the Gate of Paradise Pass. This spectacular pass is on the road to Malealea. The view at the top of the pass (which is the top of an escarpment) opens out to a broad panorama over the plains below, dotted with attractive traditional villages. In spring visitors are attracted by the many alpine plants and flowers by the side of the road.
Malealea Lodge & Pony-trekking Centre is situated in secluded woodland surrounded by attractive countryside, it is ideal for trekking or hiking to a wide number of waterfalls (including the Maletsunyane Falls at Semonkong, where links are possible with other pony-trekking centres) and other scenic destinations.
The garden is attractive and features indigenous alpines, including the famous Spiral Aloe, as well as exotics. It is a haven for the commoner bird species, which can be observed at close quarters.
The Malealea complex and is run by the Jones family who are extremely helpful and hospitable hosts. They offer a wide variety of all inclusive or self-catering accommodation, including two bedded backpackers' rooms. There is a fully equipped communal kitchen, they also do meals on request. The lodge is located in a great area, and there are maps and trail descriptions available. These include hikes of varying lengths and degrees of difficulty, to places like Bushman paintings and mountaintops. They can also advise you on longer hikes and have packhorses for hire. They are experts on pony trekking and also offer day rides. The lodge complex has large lawns with lots of shade. It’s great to just hang out.
The national flower of Lesotho, the spiral aloe or Aloe Polyphylla, is restricted to steep basaltic mountain slopes. There are large areas of these pretty plants found around Semonkong.
Semonkong Lodge operate the world’s highest abseil (204 m) down into the gorge alongside the falls. This record has been accredited by Guinness World Records.
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This district provides a very scenic corridor for motorists en route between Maseru and Quthing District. This is a bustling town with well-stocked shops. Whether you’re heading north or south, this is a good place to replenish your supplies.
At Motlejoeng, 2 km south of Mohale’s Hoek, visitors can explore some of the most interesting cannibal caves, which are found throughout Lesotho and bear witness to the Lifaqane, the terrible time in the 1820’s when roving bands of warriors fleeing the Zulu impis prevented farmers from growing crops, and several groups of people were forced to practice cannibalism in order to survive.
The Roof of Africa
Not for nothing is this part of Lesotho called the Roof of Africa. The Drakensberg Mountains soar into the clouds. Thabana-Ntlenyana, at 3482m, is the highest peak of Southern Africa. Dramatic mountainscapes offer some of the most spectacular scenery in Lesotho, while the tiny villages, all but cut off from vehicular traffic, display traditional lifestyles unchanged for generations.
Most people arrive in Eastern Lesotho from South Africa via the spectacular Sani Pass, but the route from Caledonspoort is easier, and the main road can be reached from the Monontsa Pass with a 4x4.
The Sani Pass is a spectacular mountain road that is a well-known entry point into Lesotho from South Africa’s Natal Drakensberg Park. It is the gateway to the ‘Roof of Africa’ scenic route that links the spectacular scenery of the Drakensberg with the mountains of northern Lesotho. The Sani Pass is the only border post between Kwazulu-Natal and Lesotho. A 4X4 vehicle is necessary for this road especially if the weather is bad. Never underestimate the changeability of the weather in Lesotho. A common truth is that you can have four seasons in one day, so be prepared. Have lunch at the top of the Sani pass at the highest pub in Southern Africa.
Once, the Sani Pass was a rough mule trail descending the Eastern Highlands of old Basutoland into Natal. Tough drovers brought wool and mohair down the Pass on donkeys and mules to be exchanged for blankets, clothing, maize meal, the essentials for life in a remote, impoverished
country. And a young man had a dream … of operating a motor vehicle service up this fantastic Pass, using the 4-wheel drive vehicles he had seen on service in World War II. His name was David Alexander and he founded this Company in 1955. It has operated on the Sani Pass ever since.
The Katse Dam, part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project--Africa's second largest dam (The Tekeze dam, completed in early 2009, is now Africa's largest double curvature dam), eventually to include 5 large dams in remote rural areas--is a concrete arch dam on the Malibamat'so River in Lesotho. The potential of the project was identified by the South African Civil Engineer Ninham Shand as a possible means to supplement the water supply to South Africa. The World Bank arranged for a treaty between the then-Apartheid government of South Africa and its much smaller neighbor, Lesotho, allowing execution of the project to proceed.
Water from the dam first travels through a 45 km, 4 m diameter tunnel, exiting at a hydroelectric station near Muela. The dam's high elevation allows a gravity flow delivery system to South Africa, in addition to hydroelectric power for Lesotho, and was a prime reason behind the choice of site.
Water delivery officially began on 22 January 1998. The dam currently supplies about 30 m³/s of water to South Africa, which pays Lesotho $35 million per year, plus a variable royalty based on calculated water usage benefits.
When this clean water gets to South Africa it flows into the poluted rivers before getting to the people for drinking.
Lesotho’s climate is a mixture of temperate and sub-tropical influences, with surprising extremes of temperature ranging from winter minimum temperatures, which can drop below freezing around July, up to summer maximums of over 32°C. The best time to visit is in late October to November, when summer temperatures are yet to arrive but visibility is high after the rains. April to early May is another good time.
The unit of currency is the maloti (M), which is made up of 100 liesente. The maloti is fixed at the value of the South African rand; rands are accepted everywhere but maloti are not accepted back in South Africa. The only foreign-exchange banks (Bank of Lesotho, Nedbank and Standard Bank) are in Maseru.
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