There are three vital things to consider when on a lowrange trip through Lesotho, confides Stuart Reichardt, after joining the Maloti Drakensberg Transfrontier VW Amarok 4×4 Expedition.
Don’t ever be lulled into thinking that a 4×4 trip is going to be easy, particularly one to Lesotho, even if the organisers pepper the itinerary with enticing words such as guesthouse stays, lodge accommodation and community-home stays. These hooks are merely there to elicit your agreement, and as soon as you’ve made your participation official, it’s all uphill – and downhill – from there, with endless kilometres of rocky undulations that will have your kidneys gurgling sweet nothings to your kneecaps. Promises of luxurious tented accommodation with blow-up mattresses and thick woolly blankets, which were bandied about loosely in emails by the organisers, omitted the fact that even the sheep in the area die with regularity from the extreme cold.
THE MALOTI DRAKENSBERGTRANSFRONTIER PROGRAMME
The Maloti Drakensberg Transfrontier Programme (MDTP) is a collaborative initiative between the governments of Lesotho and South Africa, set up to sustainably manage the natural and cultural resources of the Drakensberg and Maloti mountain ranges. With conservation and sustainable management as the focus of this initiative, the two countries are in collaboration to raise awareness of the area and create crossborder tourism opportunities, and more specifcally to attract 4×4 tour operators to areas on both the South African and Lesotho sides of the border.
Whatever your mind can conceive relating to extreme off -road travelling should be amplified at least tenfold to understand the true essence and toughness of such a trip, but when all is said and done, be prepared for the immense satisfaction of its completion. Lesotho will take you to the highest of highs and offer you some of the most scenic vistas imaginable, and its fine dust, kicked up by the tyres of 4×4 vehicles, will permeate your very core with myth and legend. It’s not called “The Kingdom in the Sky” for nothing.
Matatiele and Ongeluks Nek Pass
After a quick flight to Durban and a briefing from André de Villiers, the 4×4 specialist leading our trip, the convoy of ten 2.0 VW Amarok 4x4s left the Ballito dealership and made the four-hour drive to the town of Matatiele (called “sweet Matat” by many) situated close to the South African/Lesotho border. This was the first overnight stay, at Resthaven Guesthouse. (Philip Rawlins, the owner of the guesthouse, was fortunately part of the trip and is a mine of information on Lesotho.) The only way to wash away the last straggling thoughts of the stresses and strains associated with city and work life was to grab a hot shower and have a good meal before turning in for the night.
With an early start the following morning, we drove to the designated venue on the outskirts of Matatiele town. Once the scrumptious hot breakfast had been demolished, we assembled in the tent for the various speeches. The rousing speech and prayer by Chief Thabang Kauli, who also moonlights as the local pastor, was delivered with such fervour and gusto, and rose in pitch and volume to reach such a fiery crescendo, that it had the dual purpose of striking fear into the hearts of all the self-respecting attendees (even the remotely religious ones) and warding off any impish tokoloshes that might try to hinder the progress of the expedition.
Whatever protection was invoked in the enthusiasm of his trilingual (Sesotho, Xhosa and English) prayer must have worked, because the bad spirits were definitely too bang of Thabang to make any appearance during the trip. It was suggested that the excellent ground-clearance of the VW Amaroks was too high for the Tokoloshes to climb into, given their diminutive stature, but I still think it had something to do with the chief’s zealous prayer delivery. God was on our side.
Mehloding Adventure Trail & Chalets (Matatiele)
It must be noted that Chief Kauli was dressed in his Sunday best, even though it was a Saturday, and looked resplendent in his white pinstripe suit, over which he wore his traditional Basotho blanket to ward off the early morning chill. Following a selection of short guest speeches and a quick ribbon-cutting ceremony, the Maloti Drakensberg Transfrontier 4×4 Expedition hooted its farewells and we made our way through the Ongeluks Nek border post, kicking down into low-range for the bounce and hop to the top of a misty Ongeluks Nek Pass, 2536 metres above sea level. The official border between South Africa and Lesotho is demarcated only by the remnants of a rusting-metal fence post barely visible at ground level at the top of the pass. If anyone ever tells you that it’s impossible to be in two places at once, you can counter by saying that you’ve set your feet on either side of the rusty pole in the ground at the top of Ongeluksnek Pass. Sala kakuhle South Africa, lumela Lesotho!
The Holy Trinity of 4×4
In the application form for my participation in this initiative between the South African and Lesotho governments, there was a special-requests section which I promptly filled in with three suggestions. These were fruit, beer and dancing girls, much to the delight of Rabson Dhlodhlo, the programme coordinator. And, boy, did Rabson fulfil his function by honouring my requests! That man can organise. Two of my special requests had already been fulfilled, as there was ample fruit to eat during the trip and cold beer at all the overnight stops. So, what about the third request for dancing girls?
For the full story see the January 2018 print edition of SA4x4