South West Lesotho
45 km south of Maseru and deep in the Caledon valley is Morija, a pretty town and an important educational centre. The town is the site of the earliest mission in Lesotho, founded in 1833. It is named after Mt. Moriah, the temple mount in Jerusalem. The town nestles below sandstone cliffs in a lovely setting. This town is the site of the National Museum, Although small, it is well laid out with some very interesting exhibits covering history, ethnography, palaeontology and the future of Lesotho. It will give one a good overview of the country. The museum provides a clear insight into the Kingdom’s history from Moshoeshoe I. There are also some priceless prehistoric finds and fossils.The curator, Stephen Gill, is extremely helpful and friendly. They also have many interesting publications on sale. There is a small Conference Centre – Mophato oa Morija, a Craft Centre, and the 19th century church which is the oldest in Lesotho.
Other things of interest in Morija are the oldest house in the country, a church built in the 1850’s and the oldest printing works in the country, more than a hundred years old. Stephen Gill has brought out an excellent booklet called “Guide to Morija” which adds immeasurably to a visit to Morija. Get it at the museum. It includes detail on the history of Morija and a walking tour of the town with 24 points of interest described. It also includes information on other trails in the area including “Mountain Lakes”, “Dinosaur Footprints” and “The Makhoarane Trail”. The booklet concludes with tree and bird lists for Morija, geology of the area and a map. Pony trekking is also available around Morija, speak to Kefuoe Namane at the museum (see pg 42). Morija is well worth a visit.
Close to Morija is Matsieng, site of the present Royal Summer Palace of Letsie Ill’s village capital. The Palace is an attractive building in a fine setting, but not open to visitors.
Maletsunyane Falls, Semonkong
One of the highest single-drop falls in Southern Africa – nearly twice as high as Victoria Falls, though a fraction of the width. These are very impressive, and can be visited on pony-trekking trails from both Malealea to the West and Molimo Nthuse to the North. The Falls are very close to Fraser’s Semonkong Lodge, where one can so day trips to the Falls on foot on pony treks.
The Gate of Paradise Pass
This spectacular pass is on the road to Malealea. The view at the top of the pass (which is the top of an escarpment) opens out to a broad panorama over the plains below, dotted with attractive traditional villages. In spring visitors are attracted by the many alpine plants in flower by the side of the road.
Malealea Pony-trekking Centre
An outstanding pony-trekking centre, situated in secluded woodland surrounded by attractive countryside, it is ideal for trekking or hiking to a wide number of waterfalls (including the Maletsunyane Falls at Semonkong, where links are possible with other pony-trekking centres) and other scenic destinations.
The garden is attractive and features indigenous alpines, including the famous Spiral Aloe, as well as exotics. It is a haven for the commoner bird species, which can be observed at close quarters.
The Malealea complex and is run by Mick and Di Jones, extremely helpful and hospitable hosts. They offer a wide variety of all inclusive or self-catering accommodation, including two bedded backpackers’ rooms at M40/night . There is a fully equipped communal kitchen, they also do meals on request. the lodge is located in a great area, and Mick and Di have maps and trail descriptions available. These include hikes of varying lengths and degrees of difficulty, to places from Bushman paintings to mountain tops. They can also advise you on longer hikes and have pack horses for hire. They are experts on Pony trekking and also offer day rides. The lodge complex includes a well-stocked shop, a tennis court and a volleyball court. There are large lawns with lots of shade, great to just hang out.
This district provides a very scenic corridor for motorists en route between Maseru and Quthing District.
At Motlejoeng, 2 km south of Mohale’s Hoek, visitors can explore some of the most interesting cannibal caves, which are found throughout Lesotho and bear witness to the Lifaqane, the terrible time in the 1820’s when roving bands of warriors fleeing the Zulu impis prevented farmers from growing crops, and several groups of people were forced to practice cannibalism in order to survive.
Moyeni (Quthing) and Masitise Dinosaur Trackways
It is a further 55 km to Quthing. The town is also called Moyeni, and is the southernmost town in the country. It is divided into upper Moyeni, the original colonial “camp”, where the post office, banks, government offices and hospital are found, and lower Moyeni, a Large straggling village with shops, street vendors and the bus and taxi ranks. Taxis link Upper with Lower Moyeni all the time.
There are a few sites of interest around Quthing. The Masitise Mission is a few kilometres out of town on the Mohales Hoek road. The main feature is a cave house, built and lived in by the mission’s founder, the Rev. Ellenberger. A few faded Bushman paintings are located nearby. The Villa Maria Mission is located between Masitise and Quthing, and is a beautiful sandstone church with striking red twin spires.
There are two of the most important sets of dinosaur footprints in the region. They are located a few hundred metres up the Mt. Moorosi road from the Quthing turn off. The prints of many different dinosaurs, both herbivores and carnivores, as well as other primitive reptiles, follow and criss-cross each other.These dinosaur footprints, are probably the easiest to locate in the country.
There is a large panel of Bushman paintings at Qomoqomong. Take a lift or taxi from Lower Moyeni about 8km to the Qomoqomong General Dealers store. Make enquiries for someone to guide you. It is about a twenty minute walk.
Some of the paintings are faded, others are fairly good. Do not wet or touch! The drive and walk are quite scenic in themselves.
This is a spectacular high mountain valley east of Moyeni, 80 kms south of Maseru, which is the location of a wildlife conservation project, involving the full participation of the local population, designed to protect and support the Bearded Vulture.
This substantial reeded lake and wetlands area is an important wildlife habitat (particularly for waterbirds), and is a wonderful picnic spot for walkers and pony-trekkers. Local herd boys graze their donkeys, goats and sheep in the area, and local villagers welcome tourists. The lake is best reached via the main road from Moyeni to Mphaki.
Moyeni to Qachas Nek
Although the road has been improved, this 179km journey still takes about 6 hours. It is a very beautiful journey, the first and last parts following the twists and gorges of the Senqu river, the middle section taking one high into the mountains.
The road from Moyeni follows the Senqu valley, past the old store at Fort Hartley to the village of Mt. Moorosi. The actual mountain Mt. Moorosi is located further on, and access to the summit is from the village on the old dirt road to Makoae, at the pass over into the next valley.
Moorosi was a local chief who, in 1879, rebelled against the harsh laws applied by the Cape colony, and held on against the might of the British Army for 8 months from the summit of the mountain. It is a worthwhile climb to the top, with the remains of the defences still visible, and superb views of the Senqu valley. The old road follows the Quthing valley to the village of Makoae, a lovely trip with a bubbling river and aloe covered slopes, but traffic is sparse. The road to the border at Ongeluksnek branches off this road. The new tar road crosses the Quthing River and climbs high into the mountains. After about 40km, it reaches the village of Mphaki, where the old road rejoins. From here, the road rises and falls, twists and turns through the mountains until rejoining the Senqu valley at Christ the King mission. It is well worth stopping here and walking out to the edge of the plateau where there are superb views of the Senqu valley where it has carved a large horseshoe curve in a deep gorge.
It is possible to walk down to the bottom, and there are Bushman paintings in the area. Enquire at the mission, which also has a guest cottage where you may be able to stay. From here it’s a further 53km to Qachas Nek, much of it right down next to the Senqu in great scenery. The last 11km take you out of the Senqu valley and up to the town of Qachas Nek, situated right on the border. It is a small spread out town with a post office, banks and the usual stores.
Qachas Nek to Sehlaba-thebe
There are three options to this journey.
One is by road via Tsoelike, another is to fly to Sehonghong and go by road to Sehlabathebe and the third is to fly direct to Sehlabathebe.
From Qachas Nek the Tsoelike road follows the Senqu, the Tsoelike river and the country’s southern border to Sehiabathebe village. The flight from Qachas Nek is however, highly recommended! It is on a clear day, a superb experience. The 20 minute flight goes up the Senqu valley and ends at Sehonghong. One option from here is to continue on the four wheel drive track to Thaba Tseka but the road to Sehlabathebe is another amazing experience.
Contrary to many maps, a road no longer exists between Sehonghong and Qachas Nek, so all traffic goes via Sehlabathebe. There is still not much traffic, which is understandable because the “road” is absolutely horrendous. During the week, though, there is some traffic, and the trip up and over the Matabeng Pass at 2940m is quite spectacular. Another option is to walk this stretch.
Sehlabathebe village doesn’t consist of much, but is the place to enter the Sehlabathebe National Park. This is the only National Park in Lesotho, having been proclaimed in 1970. It conserves an area of high mountain plateau bordering on South Africa. The area is full of wonderful rock formations, huge rock overhangs and many small lakes. The Prime Minister of Lesotho at the time, Leabua Jonathan, loved trout fishing and, since the dams and rivers are a fisherman’s paradise, this may explain the park’s existence. The Park Lodge is called Jonathan’s Lodge and the Prime Minister often used to stay there, at which time all other guests had to leave. Jonathan’s successors haven’t been fishing enthusiasts, and you are unlikely to be disturbed!
Sehlabathebe to South Africa
From the Lodge it is a 10km walk on a good footpath to the South African border post at Bushman’s Nek (there is no Lesotho border post). It is possible to arrange to do the journey on horseback for M20. If going down, you can arrange it at the Park Lodge. If going up you need to arrange for the horses to meet you at the bottom, contact Lesotho National Parks in Maseru on 323600 extension 18 at least a week in advance.
At Bushman’s Nek there is a camp ground next to the border post called Silverstreams, and also a hikers hut run by the Natal Parks Board (enquire at their little office next to the border post).
From Bushman’s Nek it is 40km by road to Underberg. No public transport runs on this route, so hitchhiking is the only option. It is worth walking 2.5km up the road from the border to the Bushman’s Nek Hotel- more chance of a lift. From Underberg it is easy to hitchhike the remaining 19 km back to Sani Lodge (if you get stuck phone Sandy on 033 7021228 and he’ll fetch you) or to head on to Pietermaritzburg or Durban. A fork in the road from Bushman’s Nek takes one to the main road down to Kokstad, another option.
It is possible to do the round trip from Sani Lodge. to Mokhotlong, Thaba Tseka, Sehonghong, Qachas Nek, Sehlabathebe, Bushman’s Nek and back tothe Lodge with the option to leave some of your luggage behind at the Lodge.