Lesotho: An authentic adventure with Suzuki Jimny

by Justin

A four-day Suzuki 4×4 expedition with thrills, no frills and an experience of a lifetime!

Day 1

The levels of excitement at the opportunity to adventure from Durban to Lesotho is at an all-time high as the Rove SA team were handed keys to a Suzuki Jimny. Eager to kickstart our ‘coddiwomple’, we opted to take a rather scenic route (okay, we took the longest route accidentally, which took us via Umhlanga and Durban central) to meet up with the convoy in Himeville, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). As the urban areas in KZN started to recede, the adventure was fully underway through the lush greenery of KZN, which is a marvel.

Three hours later, we arrived at Himeville Arms Hotel for a hearty lunch and a quick debrief. Stopping at the border control at Sani Pass in KZN, the jitters – part adrenaline, part uncertainty of the unknown – started to set in a bit as light showers descended upon the group. Upon entering the Sani Pass for the ascent to the Lesotho border, we put the Jimny into low range. The first few kilometres were relatively simple to navigate and

helped along greatly by the Suzuki Jimny’s low range drive, which feels sturdy and controlled. The views from Sani Pass are beautiful, rugged and at some parts, downright scary when you look out your window and see incredible drops. It was during these parts my navigator felt immense relief at not being the driver but cheered me on all the while frantically clutching the dashboard.

The African Expeditions team – a familyowned safari company that specialises in boutique adventures – who led the convoy and brought up the rear, were amazing as they kept the rest of the group (seven Jimnys in total) updated via radio on particularly hairy turns and oncoming traffi c (expect vehicles, taxis and people on foot).

Along Sani Pass there are various lookout points to take it all in. As time went by, the ascent became steeper and the “road” was littered by rocks, which the Suzuki Jimny navigated (and went over) with ease. While the Jimny had no issue, my nerves were rattled, and I had forgot my mantra of girl power (we were the only all female team on this expedition). I did ask my navigator if she would like a chance at driving parts of the Sani Pass, but she firmly said “No” and gave me a look to imply that I must be crazy to even ask. At some stage she calmly noted, “There is barely a road here… just rocks.” I responded with a “You don’t say…”

Approximately three hours later the convoy made it to the Lesotho border post, relieved and with a feeling of euphoria at “conquering” the Sani Pass. Girl power vibes were back – an all female team did it! (Granted many all female teams have most likely did this before, but it was a very special moment for us.) To celebrate this, we stopped at Sani Mountain Lodge, which boasts Africa’s highest pub, taking in the panoramic views. It is an awesome feeling to look down on the road you have just travelled, while standing level and above the clouds.

Alas, before darkness could descend, we headed out to Mokhotlong (meaning ‘place of the Bald Ibis’ in Sesotho) to find our accommodation for the night at Senqu Hotel. While not five-star accommodation, the hotel was a welcome haven that served up clean, comfortable lodgings and a hot meal with drinks to mark the end of a successful Day 1!

Day 2

After a relaxing breakfast we were ready to hit the road. Mokhotlong is a bustling city with various stalls scattered along the pavements, selling everything from airtime and clothes, to food, storage containers and more. It also boasts the familiar Shoprite, Pep Stores and other chain stores South Africans would recognise. After doing a quick shop and a refuel, the convoy was on the move again. Perhaps it was the adrenaline of Day 1 that caused this writer not to notice at first,
but seven Jimnys passing through Lesotho draws a lot of attention from warm and friendly locals pausing to stare and wave.

The true beauty of Lesotho shines once you leave the city areas. Here we were treated to majestic views of the Highlands as far as the eye can see. Driving through various mountain passes, we encountered numerous hamlets/rural villages that appear to be in harmony with the natural surrounds. Heading down, it’s quite a marvel to see large trucks carrying goods take on the ascent slowly but with relative ease.

The Roof of Africa Road – reportedly the highest tar road in Africa – was a leisurely drive. At the top of the road we managed to pull over at a lookout point, which was a novel experience with an impromptu braai for lunch (in true South African style).

The more enthusiastic (aka fi t) folk in the group headed out to do a mini climb, but with storm clouds threatening returned quickly after summiting rather winded due to the high altitude (this writer smugly looked on wondering about this sojourn – we had an off-road vehicle and there are panoramic views everywhere you stand, so was the exertion really needed? I’d rather drive than hike!).

Making good time, we reached the Oxbow Hotel by afternoon, which afforded us a great opportunity to frolic in the river and for hikers to climb the path to the waterfall. Whilst lounging on the river rocks, it was an opportune time to take in the natural surrounds, which also included seeing sure-footed mountain goats grazing.

The Oxbow Hotel has a charm and very friendly staff who served up a flavourful and scrumptious dinner. As a South African, it was not too difficult to adapt to Lesotho’s “load shedding” – lights out at 10pm!

Day 3

Day 3 was a long, uphill drive on tar. We passed various sites that are important to the locals, including the Butha-Buthe Mountain where King Moshoeshoe, the fi rst King of Lesotho, and his followers settled. En route to Semonkong, meaning ‘the place of smoke’, we traversed some more mountain passes – it is the Lesotho Highlands after all – and passed through some bustling cities, including Roma.

Locals seemed to fly by in their vehicles, but as the roads are filled with turns, and at some points rocks, it is advisable to practice caution. Reaching the viewpoint in Semonkong, we got to see the waterfalls from a distance.

Following this we headed to Semonkong Lodge, which has a rustic and natural feel to it. After some drinks and dinner, it was time to hit the snooze button as we had an early start for Day 4.

• The local Maluti beer is similar to a light SA beer.
• You can experience four seasons within an hour when driving – hail, rain, sunshine, cold – so pack accordingly and always keep a jacket in the car.
• Driving conditions on Sani Pass and other mountainous roads in Lesotho depends on weather conditions – it becomes more dangerous in snow, on black ice and in heavy rain.
• On long drives – outside city/town areas – ablution
facilities are few and far between.
• It’s advisable to drive slowly as there are a lot of hairpin bends, animals, and rocks at parts.

Day 4

We were up at 5:30am with the tour guides leading us off at 6am to head to Maletsunyane Falls – the highest single drop waterfall in Africa and the second highest drop in the world. My navigator took the driver’s seat, and we had another opportunity to offroad. The Suzuki Jimny was put into low range and was helped with the vehicle’s descent assist, which helps control speed without the need to brake constantly. The descent for the most part was fi ne, but eventually we veered off the gravel road for a true offroad experience.

My driver, at certain points, started to do a ‘hand fl ap’, which was rather impressive as it involved driving with one hand while she repeatedly chanted, “Oh my word” as she tried to avoid heading into ditches and avoiding large hidden rocks.

The drive was worth it – we reached a lookout point where we had a spectacular view of the falls and were above the swallows (birds). Some of the group opted to horse ride to the spot and met up with us later. As we celebrated the view, we were filled with awe, surrounded by such natural beauty.

The drive back up was uneventful for the most part, besides one of the teams driving into a ditch. The rest of the group stopped near the top and it was an exciting moment as we patiently watched the Jimny get out of a tight spot – at this stage many of the group were feeling relieved that they hadn’t driven into a ditch. Twenty minutes later we all regrouped and headed out for a leisurely breakfast, after which we set off for Maseru where we would fl y out to our respective homes. The drive to Maseru, while beautiful brought with it a feeling of nostalgia – it was a bit sad to return to reality.

It’s difficult to describe this trip, but the one thing that comes to mind is ‘authentic’. Lesotho is majestic – it feels truly African with bustling cities that are unpretentious, mixed with wild and untamed mountains, colourful villages, spectacular waterfalls and warm hospitality. Driving through the Highlands is a magical experience, and you can almost envision the past – even today, donkeys and sheep herdsmen roam the roads, and children confi dently ride past on horses.

At the start of this trip – prior to driving Sani Pass – I wanted a bit more speed from the Jimny, but as the adventure continued, I realised that the Suzuki Jimny retains its authenticity. It has had aesthetic facelifts, some models are now turbo versions, and there are additional gadgets such as charging points, but at its core, the Jimny shines as an off-roader.

Suzuki Jimny

Model: 5MT / 4AT
Engine: 1.5l with VVT
Power kW @r/min: 75 @ 6 000
Suzuki Jimny
Torque Nm @r/min: 130 @ 4 000
210mm ground clearance
Starting price: R326 900 for the 1.5 GA 5MT

For more information about Suzuki
Safaris: www.africanexpeditions.co.za

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