Cross Border Rentals – Lesotho

Lesotho

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.

Katse Dam

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).

Maluti Mountains

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.

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.

Ketane Falls

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.

Maletsunyane Falls

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.

Car Hire South Africa

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Cross Border Rentals KZN

KwaZulu Natal

Just outside Golela, I turn my 4×4 rental left onto the N2 and head south for Durban. I could probably make Durban before nightfall, driving along the 500 km of good motorway, but I decide to stop en route. There’s a game reserve at Mkuze but I want to gain some time so choose to stop at the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park. The other option is to go west to St Lucia Estuary, but I don’t want to go too far from the N2. After taking the Hluhluwe off-ramp, I turn right at the stop street and cross over the freeway. After about 14 km along a tar road, I arrive at the memorial gate and steer my 4×4 hire through the entrance to the reserve.

Hluhluwe-Umfolozi

Established in 1895, Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve is the oldest game reserve in Africa and covers about 96 000 hectares. It’s contains an amazing variety of fauna and flora and is famous for having rescued the black rhino from extinction. On the drive into the reserve I see giraffes, zebra and loads of buck. There are some rhino around but I keep my distance, as I have heard stories of rhinos charging cross border car rental vehicles. I don’t know whether it’s true or not but I am not going to risk it. I spot some vultures sitting on top of a tree, no doubt waiting for their supper. I am spending the night in a camp on top of a hill in the centre of the park. The views are to die for. That evening I go on a 2-hour night drive and am incredibly lucky to see a leopard with its kill (a warthog) up a tree.

The next day, I drive slowly for 17 kilometres until I reach the Nyalazi gate. There I turn my trusty 4×4 rental right onto the R618 towards Mtubatuba and get onto the N2 again, direction Durban, which is less than 300 kilometres away. The Valley of a Thousand Hills is formed around the Mnegni River and its tributaries and as I drive along the lush coast road, I begin to understand how this landscape so inspired Alan Paton. The magic of these hills is almost tangible and so I stop from time to time to appreciate the beauty and enjoy a coffee.

Durban

It’s almost nightfall when I pull my cross border car rental into Durban. The next morning I join the hordes of sun worshippers on Durban beachfront. I play in the water, pretend to get eaten by sharks, eat pineapple on a stick, and watch the dolphin show. I even take time to watch one of the beautiful sand sculptors at work. I can’t resist a little twirl in a rickshaw, and then round off my day with the dodgy pleasures of Durban’s Minitown.

But, after a good night’s sleep, I am pleased to be on my way – my 4×4 rental and I aren’t made for city life. I take the N3 past Pietermaritzburg and Hilton until I reach the R617 off ramp at Merrievale (Southern Drakensberg). I then turn left onto the R617 to Underberg where I turn right to Himeville. I fill up with fuel and restock my supplies in Himeville. About 9 kilometres out of the town, I reach a crossroads where I turn left onto a gravel road that leads to the Sani Pass.

Sani Pass

The Sani Pass is the highest pass road in South Africa and was originally developed as a bridal path in 1913. The first vehicle negotiated the path in 1948 when it was no more than a donkey track. Although the road has been upgraded, I am still glad that I am driving a 4×4 hire vehicle as the pass snakes its way up the Drakensberg escarpment. The driving is quite tiring. I have to navigate around zigzag curves and hairpin turns. By the time I reach the South African border post I have climbed more than a kilometre! At the South African border I am astonished when the officials tell me that the Lesotho post is closed for the day, so they’ll just give me the stamp – but apparently this is fairly common. Under 21 car hire has made the continent of Africa accessible to youngsters from around the globe and they often stand amazed at our supposed lack of fanfare where official business is concerned.

The road behind the South African border post is extremely steep and rocky. Greatly relieved to have good traction and four wheel drive, I drive slowly and take care to brake and accelerate smoothly. I am not surprised at the names given to some of tight turns in the road – ‘Suicide Bend’, ‘Ice Corner’ and ‘Big Wind Corner’ to name but a few. About eight kilometres after leaving the South Africa, I reach the summit (at 2874 m) and direct my 4×4 rental in the direction of the Lesotho border crossing.

Cross Border Car Rental