Long Way Round Lesotho

| May 2, 2023 | Reply

Adventure biking, the thrill of adventure, challenge, risk and danger. To face an open road and uncertain finish. The joy of curiosity and exploring wild and unknown spaces.

We setoff to cross Lesotho, the mountain kingdom, with a mix of gravel roads and 4×4 tracks.  Me on my beast, the KTM 1290R, Adrian Hass on his KTM 890R using the trip as a prep trip for his upcoming Southern Africa adventure ride, and Ian Thomson a township wifi entrepreneur which is called TooMuchWifi, on his veteran BMW 1150 adventure. We realised on the trip that there was a lot of TooMuch about Ian!  We named it the Long Way Round Lesotho, heading on backroads to Nottingham road in KZN.  Then we took the lower Loteni to Himeville gravel road that that runs along the foot of the Drakensburg, a roller coaster gravel road climbing and dropping up spectacular mountains, green dairy farms very soon give way to golden brown grasslands cut by deep forested streams. Views from the top of twisting passes seemingly stretching forever.  Ian very quickly shows us why his brand is TooMuch, in this case TooMuchStopping and TooMuchPhotos, completely immersing himself in the landscape and views.

Ian and the guinea fowl that nearly knocked him off the bike!

Adrian all loaded up with his #890reasonstoadventure

Posing with Sani in the background

Onto Sani Pass which now has a lovely twisty tar road, where the desire to speed through the corners is overtaken by the pure beauty of the area and Sani Pass looming ahead.

Sani is legendary and spectacular, the pass twisting up the Drakensburg for 8 kms from the SA border post.

Streams cascade down the mountain and across the road, steep drop-offs on one side give way to spectacular vistas and steep rock walls on the other side tower over the road which twists and turns through a gash in the cliff faces. The road is rough needing a 4×4 and at the top the steep switchbacks are steep, with rocky steps and loose gravel, making it quite demanding riding. To make it tougher, a thick mist rolled in, limiting visibility and of course creating a sense of dread. I love this ride, the 1290 beast effortlessly growling its way up, stopping from time to time for my obligatory photos!





Adrian bringing up the rear drops his bike at the first steep corner rapidly lifting it up before I can take a picture, (my motto is take the picture of the fallen, and only then assist them).  At the next corner he drops it again landing more or less upside down, and now unable to pick it up he reluctantly shouts for help, waiting at the next corner, Ian and I walk down and help, only after the pic of course.

As we reach the top a strong wind swirls the mist around and away from the crest, late afternoon sunlight throwing a golden glow on the rock, contrasting with the white mist and dark blue sky.

Leaning into the strong cold wind we stamp our passports at the border and head to the Sani Top lodge the highest pub in Africa, however not before Ian who has ridden up effortlessly falls off his standing bike to the merriment of the border guards, and Adrian gets that pic!

We stay in the backpackers, a comfortable old building that feels like it must have been a trading store and spend a fun evening with great food at the Highest Pub in Africa.

Day 2 we head off into Lesotho, our midday destination Oxbow Lodge the long way round via Thaba Tseka, Katse Dam and 4×4 route to Kao mine and then Oxbow.  We plan to be at Katse, 200km’s away by midday.  As they say, Man plans & God laughs …

The road from Sani Pass heading into Lesotho over Black Mountain used to be a rough gravel road.  Now it’s a sweeping, twisting tar road that could be in the Pyrenees were it not for Basotho herdsmen in colourful Sotho blankets standing on rocky outcrops their sheep and Angora goats white dots on the hills their rock huts perched on vertical hillsides with rock wall kraals goat manure patties drying on the kraal walls for “firewood”.    We twist and turn along the road, flowers painting the road and hillsides yellow.  This road is a must for any biker, in fact the road from Buthe Buthe on the Clarens side of Lesotho all the way across Lesotho to Sani Pass top, is a spectacular tar road of high passes and impossible twists and turns, one pass Mahlasela Pass is at 3278m, one of the highest road passes in Africa, and certainly one of the highest tar road passes.

We turn onto the Thaba Tseka road, and instantly the gravel road is a mess of washaways, bumpy stone beds for km’s and huge “potholes” that even Joburg streets would be proud of.  These roads are what we came for and we immediately climb up into the mountains, the foothills and every valley have villages, remote isolated and seemingly from a prehistoric age.  Golden wheat fields are interspaced with green winter wheat and recently harvested mielie fields the stalks stacked in upside down cones, winters feed.  Women are walking with giant stacks of wheat chaff, men driving donkeys loaded with kindling, sacks of maize meal, ox drawn ploughs ploughing fields men holding the bucking rocking plough.  Everywhere there are horsemen riding Basotho ponies, some saddled, some bareback, their riding gear gumboots and a Basotho blanket cast over their shoulders like a Roman tunic. With amazing vistas stretching up into mountains and into deep river valleys we keep stopping to admire the view and take pics.

A combination of sight seeing and bad roads means we travel the 200kms in a lot longer than expected getting to Katse dam at 430pm.  We plan to overnight there but the lodge has a disco next door which is already pumping doof doof beats at an illegal volume.  We decide to press onto Oxbow as planned.  The distance is 150km’s and the owner of the lodge tells us it should take 2 hours max and the road is being upgraded and is in good condition.  After a quick discussion we agree to go for it…. After all how long can about 80km’s of gravel take us!

After about 30 km’s of insane flowing and twisting tar roads with breath-taking views of sunset over Katse dam, we exit the tar and head onto one of the worst roads we have been on so far. Darkness is approaching fast, hopefully the road is not too bad!

Even on the bikes we are managing no more than 20km’s an hour.  The road is a mess of muddy holes, steep loose rocky climbs, equally steep loose rock descents twisting back and forth along a high ridge.  I stop a local 4×4 and ask if this is the right road, convinced the GPS is wrong.  It is right they say, and yes it does get better further along, but no idea how far that is.  At least we know it’s the right road, although, it’s now dark I am pretty sure its going to take us 4 hours at this rate.  I am grateful for the really good 1290 LED light, it lights up fellow travelers riding in the dark on horses, driving loaded donkeys.  They clearly rely on the Basotho ponies and donkey’s sure footedness cause its pitch black.    Adrian is exhausted and his bike is cutting out on each big bump due to a loose side stand spring.  We stop and secure the side stand to the frame and head on.  After a very steep and hard downhill we come to a long rocky river crossing about knee deep.  Ian and I cross and stop to watch Adrian, half way across he stalls and drops his bike in the water.  Now we are fucked I think running into the freezing cold water to help.  Luckily his panniers held the bike up just enough not to drown it.  Cursing him we push the bike out.  The wind is now pumping, the temperature is around 3 degrees and we are really cold.  Don’t worry I tell Adrian, the road will improve soon.  Losing his cool and reaching the end of his energy Adrian says, “I’ve heard that fucking road getting better story to many fucking times.”  He does not believe me.  We have taken 2 ½ hours to ride 40km’s, its madness.

We head on, 500 meters further the road becomes a lovely gravel track.  I giggle to myself.  We pass two huge diamond mines, including Kao Mine where they have recently found one of the largest pink diamonds ever.  Its blazing with lights, operating 24hours.  30 kms of gravel later we hit the tar and head the last 30km’s to Oxbow and a welcome meal and drink.

We have faced an open road and uncertain finish. We have had the joy exploring wild and unknown spaces.


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