Lesotho – Sehlabatheba February 2016
Once again, this was an awesome 4×4 trip through some of the most spectacular scenery that the Mountain Kingdom has to offer.
The convoy was made up of seven 4 wheel drives and all with low ratio transfer cases, a pre-requisite for a trip of this nature. After our last fuel top up in Matatiele, the convoy made for the Qacha’s Nek border crossing, and as usual, the officials on the South African side were friendly and efficient. The only thing that has me puzzled is the process at the border, those either entering SA or leaving SA must enter the immigration building through separate entrances which makes perfectly good sense to me. However once inside the building, everyone meets at the same immigration desk with only one official on duty. I must say though, he does seem to do quite well in balancing the queues by taking a few from one side and then a few from the other side and eventually it all seems to balance out and keeps everyone reasonably happy. Once you have your passport stamped, you then exit through the door that the other are entering and when they have their passport’s stamped, they exit through the door that you are entering through. It would be a lot quicker by simply having two officials on duty though. The Lesotho side was very quick with no hold up’s and the officials were nothing but friendly towards us and welcoming us to their country.
The first stop on our way to the Sehlabatheba Nature reserve was a very necessary one, we needed to stock up on one of the finest products of Lesotho, namely their Maluti Lager. Their Maluti Lager is a really good tasting beer that goes down very easily and at a cost that is not much more than what we pay for a beer in SA.
It’s a few hour drive from the border to the campsite but the time passes quickly with just so many interesting sites along the way. For the first part of the day we have the Tsoelike River on our left and then later on the Legooa River. Much of the route takes us along the south eastern border between SA and Lesotho with SA in the valley on the right and the mountains of Lesotho on our left.
The Sehlabatheba National Park is spectacular, set amongst the Maluti Mountains on one side and the escarpment down towards Bushmen’s Nek on the other, the campsite being on a grassland between the two. After a wet and windy night we took a walk to the nearby mountain lakes and rock sandstone rock formations. They are nothing short of spectacular and a photographer’s paradise. Unfortunately there was still a lot of low cloud and mist around, but never the less still some awesome photos were taken. The attached photos were taken by Prakash Bhikha, one of our group and a well-known photographer.
Our next campsite was one hundred kilometers away on the banks of the Sani River. The route we were taking would include the Matabeng Pass which tops out at 3150 meters followed by the Sehongong Pass. We would also be taking in the most amazing scenery once we met up with the Senqu River and valley on our left hand side. Most rivers and streams in the Mountain Kingdom find their way into the Senqu River, which once it flows in SA. Becomes the Orange River. The source of the Orange being on the Khubelu River in Lesotho high up in the mountains up above the Royal Natal National Park. The drive up and over Matabeng Pass required the use of Low ratio, 1 because of the altitude and 2, because of the condition of the road that we were driving along. On the way down the other side of Matabeng Pass we stopped at a really remote and poverty stricken village where books, pens, crayons, clothing and pots and pans were handed out to the local villagers. We try and do this every trip, and it is the least that we can do to raise the lives of the villagers for a short while. We had a perfect stop over for our lunch break on the banks of the Matabeng River and in the shade of the numerous Poplar trees. From the lunch stop we still had around 60 kilometer to go, but the road improved so much so that we were able to travel at a slightly higher speed and we made camp by around 16h00. Camping on the banks of the Sani River was great, the weather was kind to us and we sat around the fire for quite some time, although after a long day in the vehicle, it seemed as though everyone was happy to retire fairly early.
From our Sani River campsite we had exactly 100 kilometers to go before we would arrive at the Sani Pass. Again the scenery along the route was amazing with mountain pass after mountain pass, and each pass being as good if not better than the previous one. The road has been repaired quite a bit since I was last there which made the going quite a bit easier, although the few kilometers up and over the Menoaneng Pass which topped out at just on 3000 meters was still fairly rough and required the use of low ratio once more. I fact, I find driving in The Maluti’s that low ratio is often the best option, even if the going is not too rough, using low ratio means that you are able to select a gear, possibly 2nd or 3rd and just move along at a controllable speed without constantly changing gears. The new tar road between Mokhotlong and the Sani has been completed but they are already ripping it up in places for what I would assume are maintenance reasons. The road, built by the Chinese was only finally completed late last year.
We were at the Sani Top by midday after a 07h30 start which meant that we had time for a bite to eat before the descent down the Pass and back into South Africa. The Sani Top Chalet is currently being well managed and the service and meals were really good and at reasonable prices too. There are plenty of tables and staff to cater for everyone when it gets busy and once your order has been taken, your meal arrives after a short wait.
This was a great trip through the mountains with a great group of people who all enjoyed the sights and camaraderie for the few days that we were all together.
I have done this trip many times in the past in many different vehicles, and I must say, I was really very impressed with the 76 Series V8 Land Cruiser station wagon. The vehicle has an abundance of usable power and is never found wanting for more. On the open tar road, it will quite comfortably keep up with the rest.
I do this trip at the same time each year, so feel free to book now for 2017.
by Gerald O’Brien