This awe-inspiring region has been opened up to tourists by the development of the massive Highland Water Project that provides both water and electricity for Lesotho and much of the nearby regions of Southern Africa. New roads into the mountains have established better access, and the new dams are creating spectacular lakes that provide stunning new vistas and are home to increasing numbers of birds.
The best border crossings to reach this area are at the Maseru Bridge, Ficksburg or Caledonspoort. The main Mountain Road from Maseru takes you east via Molimo Nthuse to Mantsonyane and Thaba-Tseka, while from Hlotse the main Highlands Water Project road takes you past Pitseng and Ha Lejone to the Katse Dam Wall and Bokong.
Ha Baroana Rock Paintings
Some 5.5 km along a gravel road north of the main Mountain Road, and 39 km east of Maseru, is a vantage point over the Liphiring Stream facing an overhanging rock called Ha Baroana – the home of the bushmen. Here the San have left us a magnificent gallery of paintings of animals such as leopard, lion and eland, as well as blue crane and guineafowl.
There are also fine paintings of bushman life – hunting, dancing, and people in huts. From the main vantage-point, a trail zigzags down past the curator’s huts to the stream, which visitors have to cross to gain access to the paintings.
Enjoy the facilities of one of the principal pony-trekking centres of Lesotho, with a comfortable and old-established mountain lodge nearby. The lodge reflects typical Lesotho designs, with a circular, conical-roofed main building thatched in the traditional way.
The Pony-trekking Centre is operated by the Ministry of Agriculture, and provides excellent ponies and guides. There are around 80 ponies, about half owned by the Centre and half by local people. The Centre offers a wide selection of treks with possibilities ranging from a couple of hours, for those with only a little time or unsure of their horse-riding abilities, to several days with exciting treks visiting several waterfalls, local villages and other scenic attractions.
Molimo Nthuse Lodge
The Mountain Passes
The road to Molimo Nthuse takes you over a series of major mountain passes before reaching Thaba-Tseka, each offering superb vistas of mountain peaks, steep gorges, tumbling streams and broad valleys. Bearded Vultures and other unusual montane birds can often be seen from the pass summits. This is one of the most attractive tourist routes in Lesotho.
Matika Lisiu Pass
The top of this particular pass has a spectacular vantage-point from the car park facing down a dramatic deep valley towards Pitseng, and fine views in the other direction across the high plateau towards Ha Lejone.
This area is renowned for seeing Bearded Vulture, and several other unusual montane birds are often in evidence, including Orange-breasted Rockjumper, as well as an attractive marmot-like rodent (Otomys sloggetti) called locally an Ice Rat, which is endemic and found only at altitudes above 2000m.
Malibamatso Bridge across the Katse Dam, near Ha Lejone
There is a fine vantage-point towards the elegant new Bridge which crosses the northern end of Lake Katse and the Intake Tower, and across the Lake itself. The Lake is full and is very impressive. It will be a major centre for watersports in the future, and will have a range of comfortable accommodation in the area for tourists. Please ask the Lesotho Tourist Board for the latest news.
The area is also a wonderful place for bird watchers, and is notable for the numbers of small montane birds — thrushes and buntings, principally — which are present.
The road to the Katse Dam rises and turns away from the lake for some distance beyond the Malibamatso Bridge before returning to the lake at the Katse Dam near Bokong. The area is important for bird-watching enthusiasts as it maintains a significant number of Bald Ibis, which often follow farmers as they cultivate their fields.
Katse Dam and Dam Wall
This centrepiece of the whole Highlands Water project, is a fine piece of engineering, retaining what is a dam second in size in Africa only to the Lake Volta Akosombo Dam in Ghana.
The surrounding scenery is magnificent, and the construction work in this area will be completed soon. However, this does not detract from the magnificent panoramas, and is often of great interest to visitors.
The current lodge is primarily reserved for the engineers who are working on the dam. However, it will be converted to tourist use in a year to two, and should then be of a similar size (about 15 rooms) and standard to Mmelesi Lodge at Thaba-Bosiu. The view from the front of the lodge is spectacular, and is even better when the water levels are at their highest.
This area of the Katse Lake will also be devoted to water sports, motorboats ply across the lake rather picturesquely, carrying villagers from one side of the lake to the other, and boating for recreation has already been introduced.
For visitors, there is an interpretative centre, which features a model of the whole project and all its phases, with a commentary in English.
Katse Dam Lodge
The Farmer Training Centre: This one in Thaba Tseka offers accommodation at M25/night. It is located in the street above the post office and banks.
Maluti Guest: A new enterprise, they offer accommodation in two rondavels in a Basotho village 2km from the main road. Their tariff includes all meals and also the services of an English speaking guide, making it a rare opportunity to fully experience Basotho culture. They charge M85 per person for the first night and M65 for successive nights thereafter. They can also arrange horse riding.
A number of buses travel this route, leaving during the morning from both ends. The journey takes 6-8 hours and costs M30. The road carries a reasonable amount of traffic, so hitching is an option. Lesotho Air and Mission Aviation fly between Maseru and Thaba Tseka. Phone them to check on details.
Options from Thaba Tseki
The first option is to go north from Thaba Tseka to Katse Dam. The second option is to travel east, following the road into the Senqu valley, across the river at Koma Koma bridge, and up again to Makunyapane, (also known as Taung). From here, continue north-east, through the villages of Linakeng and Linakaneng, over the Menoaneng Pass at 3030m and down via Molomung Lodge to Mokhotlong or Sani Pass, (see “The northern route”).
From Thaba Tseka, buses and taxis go to Makunyapane and on as far as Linakaneng. From here, you’ll have to hitch over the pass as far as the village of Janteu, from where buses run past Molumung Lodge and on to Mokhotlong. The road over the pass has been upgraded so there should be a reasonable amount of traffic.
The third option branches south at Makunyapane. A four wheel drive track heads south down the Senqu valley, passing the St. Theresa Mission, Mashai store to reach Sehonghong (see pg 28).
There is no public transport on this route past Makunyapane and traftic is sparse. Patience is required. From Sehonghong are road options to Sehlabathebe or the flight to Qachas Nek.
Thabeng Air operate between Thaba Tseka and Qachas Nek. Phone them to check availability (see pg 30).