As my passport is already stamped and the cross border car rental building is indeed closed, I cross over into Lesotho with my 4×4 rental with no problems. I am rewarded by the most spectacular views, looking across a magnificent, rugged alpine landscape, and the sight of a restaurant. I stop there for a quick meal and short rest before continuing my journey.
Lesotho is an odd country, despite being entirely surrounded by South Africa, it’s most definitely another country; in fact in many ways it seems to be another world. Today, there are very few vehicles at the summit, although I do pass some Basotho people on their donkeys wearing blankets and their conical hats.
Black Mountain Pass
From Sani Top, I continue along the road and reach the Black Mountain Pass, which is different from but as dramatic as the Sani Pass. Instead of spirally upwards over a short distance, the Black Mountain Pass climbs steeply and then drops sharply into deep valleys. Two hours and 52 kilometres later, I arrive in the town of Mokhotlong (which means the place of the bald-headed ibis) in a valley dominated by Thabana Ntlenyana, which at 3482 metres, is southern Africa’s highest ‘beautiful little mountain’. The guide book tells me that one district commissioner even had his wife’s piano transported from the Sani Pass – as I look back up at the route taken, I wonder at the skill of the donkey/pony handlers.
Mokhotlong to Thaba-Tseka
The next morning, after refuelling, I go back along the road for a few kilometres until I reach the St. James High School, where I turn right at the sign to Rafolatsane and Linakeng. I cross over a concrete bridge, then turn right at the T-junction. The road passes along the edge of a deep and narrow valley, winds up a steep hill to the village of Linakaneng, and then descends into the valley, towards Linakeng village. About 15 kilometres later I cross the Linakeng River. I nearly miss the junction to Taung about eight kilometres further on. Here I turn right towards Tsaha-Tsheka and soon reach the Koma-Koma causeway. Luckily the weather is good and so the causeway is passable – it is often impassable in heavy rain. About an hour later, after the village of Mohlanapeng, I reach Thaba-Tseka.
The road is Katse Dam is a good dirt one. The Katse Dam is part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, an blab la bla. At an elevation of almost 2000 metres, Katse must be the highest dam in the Africa (and also contains arguably the coldest water in Africa).
The next morning I start early to drive to Semonkong. Passing through Thaba-Tseka again, I continue towards Roma, past the Mohale Dam. The Maluti Mountains are truly one of the great scenic routes in Lesotho, from the stack and dramatic scenery of the Blue Mountain Pass to the willow-lined valley that then leads up to the Molimo Nthuse (‘God Help Me’) Pass. Over another pass and then I begin to descend into the valley and farmlands. I turn left to Roma from where it’s another 90 kilometres to Semonkong. The road is good, sealed for the first 30 kilometres and then a relatively good direct road. About four hours after leaving Roma, I arrive in Semonkong.
Lesotho is not just a beautiful scenic country. It is also an adventure sport destination for many South Africans. I am spending a couple of days in Semonkong to indulge in waterfall worship and experience some extreme adrenaline rushes. The following day I swop my 4×4 hire for a pony. Basotho ponies are descendants of the Indonesian horses that were imported to the Cape in the early nineteenth century. They were interbred with Arab stallions to produce strong, sure-footed ponies able to withstand the harsh climate. It sure makes a change from driving – on a pony you feel part of nature. My pony is incredibly sweet-tempered and copes admirably with the uneven terrain, where not even a 4×4 rental could pass.
My first waterfall destination is Ketane Falls. I get off my horse and scramble over boulders, down an embankment and onto a rock slab overlooking the waterfalls. The Falls thunder over a huge rock outcrop dropping 120 metres to the pools and rocks at the base. I don’t go too near the edge and am relieved to get back on my pony and return to firmer ground! Later, I think about my reaction to the vertiginous drop at the waterfall. I have travelled through most of southern Africa, across borders and bush. I have happily driven up and down mountains in my 4×4 , and it is only now that I realise I suffer from a from of vertigo! It’s time to face my fears.
The next day, I go to the Maletsunyane Falls (meaning Place of Smoke) to grab myself some vertigo-beating, adrenalin-pumping action. I am going to abseil alongside the Maletsunyane Falls, which, at 200 metres, is the highest single drop in the whole of southern Africa. At the top I stand, strapped in, deafened by the unbelievable noise issuing from the waterfall, seriously doubting my sanity and contemplating throwing myself off the cliff! Instead, I take the plunge and experience the most memorable 30 minutes of my life. It is quite overwhelming to descend alongside a thundering waterfall, surrounded by spray.
The next day, I leave Semonkong to return to Maseru from where I will cross into South Africa at the Maseru Bridge border post and take the N8 to Bloemfontein. Thank goodness my 4×4 hire caters to the under 21 car hire crowd. Its good-looking and stable, getting me from A to B.