EVER WONDERED WHAT IT WOULD FEEL LIKE TO TRAVEL TO A COUNTRY WITHIN A COUNTRY? ROVE SA DID JUST THAT AS WE SET OUT TO EXPLORE THE MALOTI DRAKENSBERG TRANSFRONTIER CONSERVATION AREA RANGING FROM CLARENS IN THE FREE STATE, THROUGH LESOTHO AND BACK TO SOUTH AFRICA VIA THE MAJESTIC SOUTHERN DRAKENSBERG MOUNTAINS OF THE EASTERN CAPE AND KWAZULU-NATAL.
Gauteng to Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Free State
With an early morning start, we set off from Gauteng, via the R57, through a scenic road with an abundance of sunflower and corn fields along the way. Our first stop, was the Golden Gate Highlands National Park situated at the foothills of the Maluti Mountains.
The mountain range with its large sandstone cliffs stands sentinel on the Lesotho border. Our first order of the day was a guided tour through the newly built Dinosaur Interpretive Centre, soon to open its doors to the public. This unique design includes patterns resembling dinosaur scales and is set to be a world-class project by SANParks. The purpose of the centre is to retell the history of dinosaurs in the park and in the region.
From there we booked ourselves in at The Golden Gate Hotel and Chalets for a well-needed rest.
Golden Gate Highlands National Park to Clarens, Free State
With just a short 20km drive we ended up in the picture perfect town, Clarens. Our first stop of the day was at Clarens Xtreme for some adventure time. We hopped onto a bus and took a short drive to the Ash River for some white-water rafting. The Ash River is fed by the Trans Caledon Transfer Tunnel, which pumps water from the Katze Dam high up in the Maluti Mountains in Lesotho. The crystal-clear water flows down the Ash River all the way to the Vaal Dam and is responsible for more than 50% of Gauteng’s water consumption.
We had lunch at Charlie’s Café and spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the interesting curio shops in and around Clarens. This town can become quite busy, especially over the weekend. We then set off to our accommodation at Upper House Guesthouse & Cottages for the night.
Clarens to Tsehlanyane, Lesotho
From Clarens, we crossed the Caledonspoort Border into Lesotho. Commonly known as the Mountain Kingdom, Lesotho is a country with the highest point in the world. (No other country on earth has a base altitude of 1 400 metres above sea level.) Once at the border we set off to Tsehlanyana National Park to Maliba Lodge, situated high up in the Maluti Mountains in the Butha- Buthe District. Once at the lodge, we did a horse-riding expedition higher up the mountains, with tranquil waterfalls showing the way.
Then it was a quick lunch before setting off to the Leribe Craft Centre located near the main intersection of Hlotse on the A1, right next to the turnoff to Katse Dam.
The centre trains local women, many with disabilities, to spin and weave mohair into jackets, bags, scarves, placemats and a variety of other items. Profits from the sale of products go toward education and housing for members of the community who also have disabilities. Afterwards, we headed to our accommodation for the night at Naleli Guesthouse.
Hlotse to Semonkeng, Lesotho
Here we visited the Koome Caves in the district of Berea. The cave dwellings are made out of mud and are still inhabited by the descendants of the original people who built the caves. The site is also one of Lesotho’s World Heritage Sites.
From there we drove to Taba Basiu Cultural Village based at the foot of the Thaba Bosiu highland and set along the Rafutho axis, which is the prime path to the mountain. The centrepiece of the Thaba Bosiu Cultural Village is a monument to Moshoeshoe I (the founder and first king of the Basotho people), a larger-than-life statue that looks out over the whole village, its circular landscaping and paths, its museum, traditional village, amphitheatre and chalets. The Thaba Bosiu Cultural Village is a “must-see” destination that offers an entire Lesotho experience.
After a quick lunch, we set off to the town of Semonkeng. Just before we reached the town, we took a detour to visit the mighty Maletsunyane Falls.
One of the highest single-drop falls in Africa at 192 metres tall, it is an important tourist attraction for Lesotho. Once in town, we met with M’e Masetho Elizabeth Letsi, a passionate lady who gave us a ‘blanket presentation’. She talked about the history, what each blanket means and the different qualities available.
Then it was another short drive to Semonkeng Lodge where we stayed for the evening and enjoyed a good night’s rest.
Did you know?
King Moshoeshoe I had an incredible 140 wives!
Semonkeng to Matatiele, Eastern Cape
After breakfast, we set off for our next destination. Along the way, we stopped at a few viewpoints to Qacha’s Nek bridge. From there we crossed the border back into SA and headed to a small town called Matatiele. Once in town, we stopped at Resthaven B&B, operated by Phillip and his family. Phillip took us on a scenic tour around the Ongeluksnek Nature Reserve.
The reserve is a hiker’s paradise with trails to suit all levels of competence (ranging from 1km to 12km in distance). Enthusiastic birders are in for a treat with around 241 different bird species found in the area. We made a quick stop in Mariazell and spent some time at the Roman Catholic church, built in 1916, and now run as a boarding house for students in and around the area.
From there we set off back to the lodge, had dinner and turned in for the night.
A mokorotlo is a type of straw hat widely used for traditional Sotho clothing, and is the national symbol of Lesotho.
The hat has a wide brim and a pointed top, a design that is said to be inspired by the shape of Mount Qiloane. A similar style of hat was worn by Basotho tribal chiefs, who performed a type of song known as mokorotlo at certain ceremonies.
Matatiele – Durban, KwaZulu- Natal
From Matatiele we set off for Durban. En-route there are plenty of panoramic views to keep you entertained and ample lunch stops and places to stretch your legs. For the ROVE SA team, it was a flight back to Cape Town from King Shaka Airport in Durban. If you have a bit more time, it might be a good idea to spend a couple of days in Durban, which is rich in culture, cuisine and adventure!
Interesting facts about Maloti Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation Area
- Countries it crosses: South Africa and Lesotho
- Area: 14 740 km2
- Fauna and flora: 2 500 species of flowering
plants, of which 13% are endemic
- Population within the TFCA: +/- 2 million
Stay here, experience this
Golden Gate Highlands National Park
T: +27 58 255 1000
Activities on offer include hiking/ nature trails, abseiling, horse riding, canoeing, tennis, mountain biking and Basotho cultural tours.
Upper House Guesthouse & Cottages
T: +27 83 608 1441
T: +27 (0)58 256 1260
Activities include white-water rafting, quad bikes, zipline, archery, paintball, wall climbing, abseiling, putt-putt, MTR trails, day tours and bungi trampoline.
T: +27(0)31 702 8791(SA) / +266
Leribe Craft Centre
T: +266 2240 0032
T: +266 5604 8200
T: +266 5854 7673
Taba Basiu Cultural Village
T: +266 2702 1962
Activities include restaurant, museum, village tours and amphitheatre.
T: +266 2700 6037
Activities include abseiling, pony trekking, hiking, mountain biking, 4×4 routes and fly fishing.
T: +27 (0)39 737 4067
Tour made possible by: Maloti Drakensberg Transfontier Project Boundless Southern Africa