Travellers to the Drakensberg will hear whispers around the fireside about a magical kingdom in the sky. Someone will point vaguely at the clouded area in the distance and tell of vistas that are more beautiful than the mind can comprehend and of tall, slender men on horseback, wrapped in colourful blankets, trekking for miles across snow-clad foothills. They will become silent, staring, trying to find the words to describe the vast untouched landscapes…and turn to you with a twinkle in their eye.
Whether you visit for a snow-cation or to have a drink at Africa’s highest pub, there’s something for everyone in this small and friendly Kingdom
It goes without saying that there is an expedition before you enter the gates of a sky kingdom. You will need to navigate mountain passes.The journey alone to the country is breath-taking and as you ascend, trees make way for open undulating, tussock foothills.The spaces are wide and expansive.The vegetation is green and tussled by the constant variations in weather conditions. A fine mist covers everything in water droplets. The mountains beckon to you to come to explore them.
This is what makes Lesotho so special!
You can get to the tops of those mountains. You do not need to climb, you do not need to hike. A short drive will have you in the clouds and exploring the world that few have had a chance to encounter.
As the road becomes a little steeper, so does the landscape. The constant cloud-water has, over the centuries, carved imposing sandstone cliffs. The road-cutting into the hillside creates ledges where natural mini-waterfalls are surrounded by their own fairy gardens. Your camera will disappoint you because the magic is hard to capture, even when you stop often to drink the crystal, cold stream water.
If you haven’t already encountered shepherds herding their white goats before you reach the border, you are bound to see them soon. Their distinguishable silhouette, tall and proud; blanketed and topped with a knotted conical hat, a long stick in hand - waving and smiling as you pass them by.
Get your head in the clouds
Maybe you came along the Sani Pass. As this road is only accessible to 4x4s you would have been concentrating deeply as you snaked along the tight curves of the road when, suddenly the steepness flattened out and you found yourself parked beside a European, somewhat Switzerland-style, mountain chalet. Although the lodge is known for its bar - being the highest in Africa - there is nothing quite like booking yourself in for the night and drinking sherry beside the fireplace as you chat to someone into the deep hours of the evening.
Mornings here are just as magical as you blow the steam pipping off your coffee on the balcony, as the first light hits the crags in the morning and the fog begins to slowly lift as the sun begins to warm the day.
This is a perfect gateway to the interior and to acclimatise before you head to your longer-stay accommodations or adventure package tours.
Adventure lovers can certainly get their adrenalin kick on this road. Not only 4x4s but quad bikes are welcomed. A few tour operators offer bikes for hire and you can experience the pass in as small or large a group as you would like to spend the day with.
Beyond the lodge (or if you accessed Lesotho through any of the other borders) the roads along the mountain tops smooth out. They are long and well-maintained. The sky is open and the views are of towering sandstone cliffs, ballistic peaks and strange rock sculptures. A sense of freedom and being on top of the world - as you quite literally are - will begin to take hold.
The people here are known to be peaceful and friendly
They also walk,a lot! As you drive, you will find uniformed school children walking in large groups every morning and afternoon, ladies heading to town for a visit, or shepherds and travellers chatting with companions as you wind your way to your destination.
Along the roadside, the lives of the cloud people become apparent. They live in solidly built unburnt clay and stone circular or rectangular one-room thatched houses. The homesteads are surrounded by aloes, a small garden and stables for their sturdy, tough Basotho ponies. It is interesting to look out for the home of the chief, or headman, which is usually larger and surrounded by the homes of his wives. Their creative hobby of brightly painting certain walls and doors makes sure that your view of open grasslands is dotted with spots of colour.
Spectacular scenery and snow-clad mountains
Perhaps you are heading to Maletsunyane Falls. You have heard of this massive waterfall cradled by majestic exposed cliff faces as the mountainsides plunge into deep, steep gorges. The asphalt has made way for a good quality gravel road and you park a distance from where you know the falls to be. The air is thin here. The breeze is rolling through the windswept grasslands. Fine sleet is dampening your jacket. As you make your way, you know that you are the only person for hundreds of kilometres.
And there it is!
The flat land suddenly ends in a sheer drop. An impressive gorge encircled by an amphitheatre of proud, giant, imposing mountains opens before you. Directly in the centre is the white, gushing waterfall that crashes 200m into a huge pool below. You will want to bring a drone. The footage will be incredible because this scenery is spectacular!
Lesotho has become quite the destination for nature and adventure lovers. The trout streams are regularly stocked, the countryside lends itself to hiking, birding, mountain biking and 4x4 exploration. When the Maluti Mountains receive their annual heavy snowfalls, the landscape changes and Lesotho becomes a rustic, welcoming ski resort!
Follow dinosaur footprints
To punctuate your journey, there are many cultural and historical places of interest, too. The heavy imprints of the Lesothosaurus - yes, indeed - a large dinosaur that lived in the region, are not only viewable at Morija, they are to be found on a stately solid rock face jutting out perpendicular to the surroundings. In the remote South East region of Lesotho, some of the finest prehistoric rock paintings in Southern Africa can also be seen.
Lesotho is a truly magical land. It is a kingdom, not only because of the monarchy that has been threaded into blankets of culture since the dawn of Africa but because it is an accessible but little-developed place of spellbound beauty and wildness.
A person changes when they have breathed fresh mountain air and sipped clear spring water straight from the earth. It will leave you in awe and you will be the one with the enchanted glint in your eye as you try to tell others of the land high-up within the clouds - ever entranced by the experience of it all.