Lesotho is a small landlocked country made up of 75% Mountains. The country is not usually making any major headlines, but what a country! The main claim to fame is having the highest lowest point in the world! Fun fact about Lesotho is that it actually has a dinosaur named after it, “Lesothosaurus”, which means lizard of Lesotho. The name was given after many of the dinosaur’s earlier fossils were found there.
Drafting the action plan
Many people think travelling entails getting on a plane and going somewhere to a different time zone but what about the countries only a drive away? Luckily for South Africa, we have 6 boardering countries to consider, one of which being the amazing Lesotho. Costs are minimal, requires no time off work, and has a lot of fun stops along the way. There are two main reasons one goes to Lesotho: 1. You are doing as the Swiss do and visit Afriski. 2. You can tackle Sani Pass and visi the highest pub in Africa!
Initially, when planning the trip, I wanted to embrace Lesotho and drive right through it. We could stay right at the tip of Lesotho at Sani Mountain Lodge, they offer really affordable backpackers. Unfortunately, I really struggled to find decent information relevant to this era! Many people spoke of their trips up Sani pass but few mentioned coming through Lesotho down Sani Pass. The problem was my tiny marshmallow of a car, it would never survive anything more than some speed bumps. What about the fact that it’s winter? Did that mean there would be icy roads; icy roads meant we could get stuck. If we got stuck would we have signal to let anyone know? I was determined to use my public holiday wisely, but the odds did not look good!
Just before we decided to give up, we found tours from Underberg where they take you up in their fancy 4×4’s, teach you some Lesotho culture and offer a decent lunch and then take you back down! Underberg had tons of accommodation. I knew for sure that the roads would be good no matter what car you were driving, which completely alleviated the stress of getting a possible flat tyre in the mountains with the closest thing to help being some goats passing by!
How the weekend went down (technically up)
We left early on Friday morning with the aim of making the day count and not just driving straight through to Underberg. Golden Gate National park was our first stop. We put a little too much trust in Google Maps, which had us on shady gravel backroads going 20km/h. Despite a few questionable moments, the park was beautiful and an all round good decision. Next stop was Sterkfontein Dam. This just happened to be along the way, but wow! Blue, blue water was all you could see for miles! This dam happens to be the biggest hydroelectric plant and third biggest dam in South Africa!
After 11 hours we finally arrived; I won’t lie, the last hour was rough. We took a while to finally book accommodation so we literally got what felt like the last place left in the country. Despite all that it was amazing. It felt like we were visiting our favorite aunt, whose sole purpose was to shower us with love and food! Pile inn Bed and Breakfast was cosy, warm and truly a home away from home.
The next day we had a tour up SaniPass. Our driver Elias had jokes for days and really made the trip what it was. Up the mountain we went stopping for picture perfect spots, frozen waterfalls, and friendly chats with beginners attempting the steep incline. It took approximately 2 hours to the top, we made a pit stop and ordered some food at the bar that some might mistake for the highest point, but the good stuff is really further up. Thanks to China there is a fantastic road all the way through to the Capital so you can safely come from the capital with a normal car. A little further on is were we found the snow and the highest point (3240 metres), depending on how lucky you are there can be snow anytime.
After a few attempts at a snow man we were off to the Lesotho village. As most of the country is mountains, they can’t be too picky with farmland. Most animals are pushed into the mountains which requires a lot of shepherds to keep them up there. All over you will see little huts where they stay often for a few months, away from their families. All that hard work can work up an appetite so that’s where the villages come in with colored flags to indicate what food they have for the shepherds. This includes foods such as meat, veg, bread or beer. Elias, being as connected as he was, got us a chance to taste some freshly baked bread.
Our last stop on the journey was lunch and a few drinks at the pub (I recommend the hot chocolate there are marshmallows involved). This is the highest pub in Africa and maybe even the tiniest. Even though it was freezing, it would’ve been a sin to stay inside and not take in the views. Fun fact: you won’t see any trees so high up as they are apparently not big fans of such high altitudes! What you can see see for days is mountains that look like they have melted into the country. It is something a million pictures couldn’t do it justice to, and really creates a “you had to be there” type of moment.
The journey down was faster, more frightening and way bumper; something Elias referred to as the African massage. We arrived home just after 4 just in time to catch the rugby at the local golf club. In a town which consists of a main road and old main road I suspect they every inhabitant was at the bar.
On Sunday there was a nice big breakfast followed by hugs and kisses goodbye, and we were on our way again. On the Friday we arrived at night, so missed a lot of the surrounding towns on the way in. The drive home through Kwazulu-Natal was really magnificent, the sun was shining and the mountains and hills didn’t stop coming. Together with many others we made our way back home. This time round we stuck to the standard route home which took us about 7 hours.
Some helpful Lesotho tips
1. Google might not believe it, but there is a tarred road all the way through Lesotho. It is safe for any car even a marshmallow car! Sani Pass though is 4×4’s only.
2. The speed limit in Lesotho is 80km and it is easy to get a fine, so any road trip should be considered a slow road trip. Also, for some weird reason, you need two red triangles in your car.
3. Book accommodation early to get the best prices as it fills up quickly.
4. Okay, I did know this, but it was a crucial element that made us go to Underberg instead of through Lesotho: To get through the boarder you need a bank letter proving that your car is being financed (If it is being financed!). If you not the owner of the car, the owner would need to give an affidavit stating they are okay with you going on a road trip and not inviting them.
5. GO!!! Lesotho is an untouched beauty. It is almost like it was built for unforgettable road trips!