No form of travel excites me more than an African road trip. There is total freedom when choosing the route, changing directions and stopping to savor an unexpected discovery. Moreover, the excitement increases when it leads to an African adventure at the Kingdom in the Sky.
An African Road Trip
Our African adventure destination was Lesotho, a high-altitude, landlocked country located within Southern Africa. Armed with an upbeat music playlist and the spirit to be spontaneous, we left the chaos of Johannesburg behind and hit the highway.
The African road trip was a revelation within itself. The diversion through small South African communities and villages revealed red dusty roads, colorful street markets, thatched villages and laughing, barefoot children playing along the roadside.
Lesotho is a little off the beaten track and not widely publicized as a tourist destination. However, the beautiful alpine terrain, wide plateaus, rocky river valleys and miles of challenging trails are a wonderland to adventure seekers. We were on our way to the Kingdom in the sky.
Lesotho, Africa: Kingdom in the Sky
Arriving in Lesotho is like discovering a secret world. Guarded by imposing mountain ranges, this little-known country is unique in culture, climate and geography when compared to the surrounds of South Africa.
There are snowcapped mountains and deep valleys scattered with villages. Additionally, the young shepherds guarding their herds and villagers riding donkeys for transportation are a striking contrast to South Africa.
Lesotho is a nation completely elevated above 1000 meters, therefore acquiring the nickname as the Kingdom in the sky.
The crowded and chaotic capital city of Maseru is a colorful blend of traditional markets and stalls along with western hotels and shopping precincts. Upon arrival from South Africa by road, Maseru is a convenient stop for grocery items.
We stocked up on supplies and eagerly sought the open roads in search of some high adrenalin exploration and the warm hospitality of an incredibly beautiful nation of Basotho people.
Lesotho is a country jam-packed with adventure, soft or extreme, physically challenging and mentally rewarding. We eased our way out of the crowded, dusty city streets and headed for the Maloti Mountains, a perfect destination to begin our adventure.
The African Adventure Playgrounds
Afriski Mountain Resort is a year-round African adventure playground. During the winter months, the slopes attract snowboarders and skiers. While during the warmer months the alpine region has great endurance trails for hiking or altitude training with varying degrees of difficulty.
Mountain Trekking and Horse Riding
Generations of shepherds and horsemen crossing the terrain have created thousands of tracks for trekkers to follow across the highlands. Camping is permitted in most regions; however overnight tourists should be aware of rapidly changing weather conditions in the mountains.
The Basotho people do much of their travel on donkeys, horseback and foot, so mountain trekkers will be sure to meet with local inhabitants and young shepherds herding their stock.
As horses are a popular mode of transport, pony and horse treks are easily accessible for short half-day excursions or multi-day camping trips. The Basotho horses have a calm temperament and they are accustomed to uneven mountain terrain. I
t is not uncommon to see several horses tethered outside a general store in remote townships, akin to a scene from a western movie.
Mountain Biking and Abseiling
If travelers are keen to pick up the pace, rough dirt roads and nature trails are ideal for mountain bikes, or the more experienced riders can challenge themselves to cross the entire country on the rugged Lesotho Traverse.
Anchored in the Maloti Mountains is the world’s longest single drop abseil. The 204-metre descent is set on the edge of the spectacular Maletsunyane Falls, cascading from the Maletsunyane River.
Although tarred until the last few kilometers, the mountain roads approaching the falls are winding and narrow and we were happy to arrive at our overnight destination at Semonkong Lodge prior to nightfall.
Despite the coverage of wild spring flowers in the valleys below, there was still some snow scattered on the mountains, so the warmth of awaiting log fires in our cabins was a welcome comfort.
From the extremity of abseiling, Semonkong also has plenty of stunning trails for hiking, bike riding, and pony treks. While the pristine mountain streams offer some of the best trout fishing in Africa.
“White Gold” Water Adventures
Lesotho’s rivers, lakes and stunning waterfalls are more than just a fishing haven. Water sports enthusiasts seek out the mountains and valleys, blessed with an abundance of water, for swimming, rowing, skiing and windsurfing.
Kayaking on the rapids of larger rivers, surrounded by melting snow and valleys of wild terrain, make for an unforgettable encounter with natural beauty. The Basotho people refer to their water as ‘white gold.’.
Off-the-Beaten Path African Adventure
Lesotho is all about outdoor adventure. It is still a widely underrated travel destination, perhaps so adventure travelers can keep this land a secret. You can hire cars and 4×4 vehicles at Maseru if you’re not on a guided tour.
Lesotho’s adventures can be as challenging or relaxing as you choose, while the drive across the country is an educational experience in Basotho culture, extreme geography and natural beauty.
If you are planning to visit Southern Africa, take a detour to the Kingdom in the sky, you won’t be disappointed.
If You Go Lesotho Travel Facts
Lesotho’s climate ranges from 30 C during the summer, down to -7 C in the mountains during the winter. There are around 300 days of sunshine per year.
Getting to Lesotho is not difficult. Many visitors arrive by plane, but roads from South Africa are quite good so visitors can drive between the 2 countries. The flight from Johannesburg is 1 hour. Visa requirements vary.
Travelling through Lesotho is relatively easy. It is also safe to drive your own vehicle. Drivers must stay on the left side of the road. The people are friendly and hospitable, although not everyone speaks English. There are several guided tours available and information on what to see if you are not on a tour.
Lesotho accommodation options range from camping under the stars to 5-star hotels. We stayed in Semonkong Lodge in Maloti Mountains and camped for the rest of the journey.
Author Bio: Karin Mander is an Australian freelance travel journalist, with a passion for travel, photography, and documenting her journeys. After studying Ecotourism and Adventure tourism, Karin established Victoria Explore & Discover, a company specializing in sightseeing tours to her hometown region on Australia’s beautiful Mornington Peninsula.