We had originally planned on leaving KwaZulu-Natal to enter into Lesotho on December 10th, but that morning two things happened: we awoke to find it raining heavily, but – more importantly – one of the kids had some gastric problems. We ended up extending our stay in the Tower of Pizza for an additional day, which we spent in front of a roaring fire, making handmade Christmas ornaments and watching seasonal movies. It was really the first serious feeling of Christmas we’ve had, this year… it was very welcome, too.
Anyway, back on the road the following day, we headed to Lesotho. We debated whether to take the Sani Pass to enter the country – it’s meant to be absolutely stunning – but given the recent rain and our uncertainty about the road conditions, we decided to power on round to a more predictable entry into the country.
We drove first past the Sterkfonteindam, and then climbed up into the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, where we had a very interesting mix of weather conditions.
We’d read horror stories about the wait at the borderpoint near the capital, Maseru, so decided to cross at Ficksburg Bridge, instead. This proved to be a great decision.
Entering Lesotho was straightforward: we had to queue for maybe 20 minutes to get an exit stamp from South Africa – with a fairly large crowd of Lesotho citizens, who had presumably entered South Africa for the day – but had no queue at all to enter into Lesotho on the other side of the bridge. Entering the country was a bit of a shock for the kids, though: it was immediately much more “African” than where we’d been so far, in terms of the amount of noise, the traffic and the goings on in the street. This reduced as we gained distance from the border – and increased temporarily as we drove through Maseru – but changed completely as we hit the countryside.
Lesotho is a magical place… it’s a mountain kingdom surrounded – and completely landlocked – by South Africa. It doesn’t have the same economic power, of course, but then neither did it suffer through apartheid... the country just feels very different from its neighbour. Aside from widespread poverty, the major problem in Lesotho is HIV/AIDS: it has the second highest HIV prevalence of any country, just behind Swaziland. Apparently as many as 53% percent of adults are undergoing antiretroviral treatment (although the adults prevalence rate is fairly stable at the – still-shocking – 25% mark).
Our chosen destination for this leg of the trip was Malealea… a truly beautiful part of the world.
We’d looked at various options in guidebooks and on the web, and had settled on the Malealea Lodge.
We hadn’t booked in advance, as we were still a week before the school holidays start in South Africa, and figured that in the worst case we’d find space there to camp. It turned out that they had plenty of availability – at least until the following week – and so we chose to book for 3 nights in a couple of standard rooms (we considered their lovely rondavels, but would have had to stay in two separate ones… we prefered being in connected two rooms, instead).
After checking in, we listened to a local choir performing. This choir wasn’t paid by the Lodge, but comes in a few times a week to sing for its residents. People in rural Lesotho are often very poor and so value greatly the tips they receive from tourists.
On our first full day in Malealea we decided to go exploring on our own. We followed the instructions provided in the rooms, to walk down to a nearby waterfall.
We stopped to eat, and had some local children come along and ask for the usual combination of money and sweets. We shared our peanut butter sandwiches with them, which was beter than nothing.
Giving up on finding the waterfall, we decided to take a different route back (not something we’de have done without a GPS!). It took us up through another streambed into a meadow of flowers and a lovely little village.
We hadn’t found the waterfall, but we did have a fantastic hike!
The next day we went on a pony trek to see some local rock paintings. We were accompanied by two guides on horseback, and ended up hiring a couple of men from the village to lead the ponies for the two younger kids. This was really helpful for the steeper sections of trail.
Lesotho is full of shepherds tending their various flocks.
Arriving at the top of the area with the paintings, we were greeted by a crowd of children. One of them was our official guide, the others came along for the first part of the walk to earn some extra money.
They did this by performing a mini-concert in a cave on the way.
Then we walked to the paintings.
The paintings were really impressive. Some of the earlier ones dated back 27,000 years!
There was a second stop with different paintings to see.
Then we headed back up to find the ponies and our other guides.
The ride back was via a different route, but still very scenic.
The ext day we left Lesotho. We drove first to Mafeteng, which ended up being a slightly crazy road, but very, very interesting.
We exited vua the tiny border post called Sephapho Gate. I get the impression there are at most 2 cars passing through each day.
Here’s the route we took through from Durban to Lesotho and beyond:
We thoroughly enjoyed our few days in Lesotho. It has a very different feel from South Africa: both in terms of the countryside and the people we met. This is definitely a place we’d love to visit again!
By the way… if you’ve enjoyed these photos, you can see more (and more regularly) via our Instagram page.