The Drakensberg is part of the Great Escarpment and separates the extensive high plateaus of the South African interior from the lower lands along the coast, It rises to more than 11,400 feet (3,475 metres) and for 700 miles (1,125 km).
It was time to leave South Africa, at least temporarily, and move to the mountainous kingdom of Lesotho. This small landlocked country is surrounded by South Africa and has the highest, low point of any country in the world at 1400 metres. Roughly the size of Belgium, and containing the highest mountains in Southern Africa, it is known by some as Africa’s best kept secret.
We planned to leave Lesotho three days after getting there via the infamous Sani Pass, which required a four-wheel drive vehicle, so we had to change out our little VW Polo for something a bit beefier. So, the first order of the day was to drive to Bloemfontein airport and swap our car at Bluu Car Rentals. It was only a short drive, so we were there in no time. The airport is small, so we soon found the car rentals lot. The lady on the counter was very helpful and walked out with me to show us around our new chariot, an Isuzu truck – perfect for the next stages of our travel.
The plan was to cross the border into Lesotho towards the north of the country. After about 90-minutes our GPS suddenly died – it had run out of power. We realised that the phones also had not been charging from the USB port. Something was happening with the power to the cigarette lighter socket and USD ports. I suspected a fuse had gone. Although this would not always be an issue, we needed to be able to charge the GPS to get around!
We pulled over and looked for the manual – which was nowhere to be found. So, I got out the car and flipped open the bonnet. The fuse box was not hard to find but the labelling was very cryptic, and I struggled to find the spare fuses. After a bit of head scratching, we decided to call the rental company, who said they would call us back, which we did not have great hopes for, so hedging our bets we turned the car around and headed back to Bloemfontein. Luckily, about half-an-hour on our return journey we got a call from Bluu Car Rental to tell us that they had arranged for someone to meet us at the border post at Maseru, the capital of Lesotho – which is not where we intended to cross. Anyway, we didn’t have a lot of choice if we wanted to get the electrical issue fixed, so we turned around and headed towards Maseru.
The journey to the border was uneventful, as was crossing. The only issue we had was that we needed to use the toilet and there was no water to any of the toilets, which had all been closed. Karen was even more desperate than me, so after cajoling some of the border post guards, we were able to use their toilet – which also did not have any water but at least was open. The Lesotho border post was even easier, we did not even need to get out of the car. On the other side of the border, we pulled into a car park and contacted the men who were on their way to help get the car repaired.
It was not long before a car pulled up beside us and two young men jumped out. Karen got out of our car and climbed into their car and the other joined me in the Isuzu. It felt somewhat strange, but we had been in Africa long enough to know to expect the unexpected. The weirdness did not last long as we had not travelled more than 200 metres before we pulled into a small storefront of a small garage. Although Karen had not spent more than a few minutes travelling with one of our new friends she already had his life story! We all got out and the men disappeared inside, and few minutes later one of the mechanics appeared with an electrical tester to confirm it was a blown fuse. Whilst I had found the fuse box in the engine compartment – the offending blown fuse was in a different fuse box under the steering wheel! Anyway, the problem had been diagnosed but they had no fuses in stock, so our friends headed out to find somewhere to get a fuse – returning about 30-minutes later. A few minutes later we were back up and running, we said our goodbyes and headed out for Maliba Lodge.
The journey through Maseru was not too difficult, but it was a noticeably different experience to being in South Africa – the roads worst and there were just more people around, giving a sense of much higher energy. We bought some fruit from a man during a stop at a traffic light, for a snack later on, and we departed Maseru for the Lesotho countryside.
As we travelled across the Lesotho countryside, we began to appreciate how beautiful this land-locked, mountainous country truly was. It was also very clear that life was tough here for many of the locals and evidence of poverty was everywhere. Also, we soon found out that the roads were not in the best condition. We had got used to pothole free roads the last couple of weeks, but we were now back to pockmarked tarmac with crumbling sides. To make matters worse the weather deteriorated, and we found ourselves driving through heavy rains, which were filling up the deep potholes quickly.
It took us about 2-hours to reach the turnoff on the main road, towards Tsehlanyane National Park where we would be staying at Maliba Lodge (‘li’ is pronounced ‘di’ in Lesotho). Finally, we reached our destination and the rains ceased briefly. The final part of the road was very rough, with a stream to cross, which had been swelled by the rain.
Our room was a stone-built rondavel (a round-shaped hut or building) which was right next to the river at the bottom of the valley. It was cosy, but it was cold inside. As we had learned things can be cold in Africa, especially at altitude. The room did have a small wood-burning stove and they had provided some wood – this was the only way to heat the room. We tried to light the fire, which we are usually pretty good at, but the there was no kindling, so after a couple of failed attempts we gave up. We just climbed into bed to keep warm.
Later in the evening we drove back to the top of the hill to the main lodge for dinner. It was still cold and raining. On the way we passed a couple of the ladies who work at the Maliba and explained our woes with lighting the fire. They offered to go and set our fire, so we happily continued to the lodge. It was cold inside the building, but luckily the resort was more or less empty for the night, so we were able to sit right next to the open fire, which was roaring away.
After a surprisingly pleasant vegetarian pasta meal we headed back to our room and were delighted to find our little fire blazing away. They had even brought us a whole load more wood to keep it going. The edge of the cold had been taken off by the fire, so we quickly undressed and retired to our bed.
We awoke to a cold but rain-free morning. The sun was even trying to peek out from the clouds. For the first time, we could really appreciate the beautiful surroundings of Tsehlanyane National Park, with its green steep-sided mountains rising from an incredibly stunning valley. As the weather was looking better, albeit temporarily, we had our breakfast and donned our walking boots. From Maliba Lodge there are several walking trails of variable difficulty. The rainy weather had made some of the trails a bit treacherous, so we took the recommendations of the Lodge staff and headed out.
The trail we took climbed up the mountain face a bit, which made the muscles in our legs scream. We had been stuck in a car a lot in the previous months, so we were very much out of condition. Eventually, the trail levelled off and we were walking along the edge of the mountain, looking down to the valley floor below. Looking down the valley, the scenery was incredible. There were plenty of clouds around, but the sun made the occasional appearance. We were very happy bunnies to be out in the huge expanse of the Tsehlanyane. After 3 km we came to a mountain stream tumbling down the mountain. The path continued the other side of the stream, but the recent rain made it too risky to cross, so we turned around and headed back to the Lodge
The weather forecast for the afternoon was for more storms, so we had booked ourselves in for a couples massage at the Lodge. So, after grabbing a quick bite to eat back in our room we headed out to get our massage. The black clouds had started to gather by the time we reached the lodge. The massage room was in a tiny space at the top of the lodge building, which barely fitted the two beds. It was definitely cosy! The masseuses put on some music and proceeded with the massage. As we lay there having our bodies rubbed the storm rolled in and the rumble of thunder reverberated around the room. Probably the most disturbing thing was the music kept cutting in and out as it was being streamed over the Internet and the storm caused the signal to cut in and out. The massage came to an end, and we were very chilled. As the storm was still raging, we decided to hang around the lodge until dinner, which was a very tasty curry an ideal dish for a cold and rainy evening. After dinner we returned to our room and the fire we had set earlier was still going and the room felt very cosy.
Planning your visit to Maliba Lodge
From Maseru take the road to Teyateyaneng (TY) north east passing through Hlotse (Leribe) on
the way and travel for approx 130 km until you are about 5 km short of Butha Buthe. You will arrive at junction and road off to your right. There is a sign board here just before the junction.
Take a right onto the tar road and travel 32km until you reach Tsehlanyane National Park. This is
where the main road stops.
Once inside the park follow the signs for either Maliba Lodge OR River Lodge.
Approx time from Maseru to park is ±1.5 – 2 hours
There is no cell phone reception at Maliba Lodge. But the lodge does have Wi-Fi in the main building.
Best time to visit Lesotho
Lesotho is a small mountainous country, an enclave of South Africa, by which is entirely surrounded. Here, the climate varies essentially with altitude: it is temperate at the lowest elevations, which don’t go, however, below 1,400 meters (4,600 feet) above sea level, while it gets colder with increasing altitude.
The capital, Maseru, is located at 1,600 meters (5,250 feet) above sea level, but most of the country is crossed by the Drakensberg range and lies above 2,000 meters (6,500 feet); the highest peak is Thabana Ntlenyana, with its 3,482 meters (11,424 feet).
In Lesotho, the weather is often unstable, with rapid changes in wind and temperature from day to day. Winter is the driest season, while summer is the rainiest. Being in the Southern Hemisphere, it obviously has reversed seasons in comparison with Europe and North America.
Snow is more common at high altitudes, above 2,000 meters (6,500 feet), where rainfall is more abundant as well.