After another long flight we arrive at Jo’berg airport. Formalities are minimal here, passports stamped, bags collected and we head out the door to confusion. Where the heck do we find a legal taxi. Finally, we locate them inside the parking building and head to We Do Storage at Kempton Park to be reunited with GR2. She starts first pop and we unpack, sort out stuff and crawl into bed for an early night.
Later the next morning we escape our very gregarious hosts and head to the supermarkets. Fill up with food, get a Sim card and we are off. We are heading north to Pretoria to meet our lovely friends, James & Heleen, who we first met in Zambia. There is a pretty campground nearby where we can stay, and they pick us up to show us their home and do a tour of their city.
The next day we plan to do a slow drive through the centre of town, but see we are close to the Voortrekker Monument, so we pop in to see it. It turns out a real bonus as the Monument is stunning and views of the city pretty good considering the cloud cover today. Later we head into the city and find Church Square, which is surrounded by a cluster of old buildings. We drive right around it only to discover it is a bus route only. Lucky it is Saturday and no one bothers about us! Locals are laying on benches and some look as if they have been there all night.
Next, we head to Parys, southwest of Jo’berg, to catchup with Lorna & Searle who we stayed with last year. On the way we detour out to the huge diamond mine at Cullinan. We decide not to wait for the tour, and just wander the street of old houses that are now restaurants. We look at the hole and decide it wasn’t really worth the detour, and hit the motorways and back roads for the next few hours. We pass countless gold mines and loads of towns, with the usual huge settlement areas. During the weekend they take us out for a drive past the floodwaters surrounding their town and through the area known as the Vredefort Dome – an ancient meteor site.
We stay 2 nights before heading off Monday morning to the Spring Workshop where we are booked in for extra spring work. They have already started another job so we head to the Mechanics we were due to visit tomorrow. Fortunately, they can start, but do not finish before 4pm, and we have to leave so we can get locked into the Spring Workshop for the night for an early start. The next morning, they eventually start and we are there most of the day. By the time we return to the Mechanic it is too late to start, so they find us secure parking in a nearby townhouse complex. A great place, full of Indian families.
Finally, later the next day all chores are done and we “hit the road.” Our trip is starting. It is too late to go far so we stop at Klipdraai Camping just south of Jo’berg. We camp beside the river and try out all 3 swimming pools.
The next we head off, detouring across backroads, dodging potholes as we go, to reach the motorway. Lots of flat miles before we arrive in Harrisville which looks rather like an Aussie outback town, but perhaps even scruffier. The landscape is getting hillier as we head to the huge aqua Sterkfontein Dam. The campground at the dam is expensive so we decide there is enough time to reach Golden Gate National Park tonight. A great decision as all the amazing rocky landscape looks fabulous in the late afternoon light. There are numerous view points to stop and admire the views and a little scenic circuit to drive. But time to book into the campground and enjoy a braai.
In the morning we head off for a hike. I have chosen a 45min (the shortest!) one that goes to the Mushroom – the nearby rock! The great track slowly turns to a rocky scramble as we head uphill to ladders and then a rock face that I baulk at. John hauls me up assuring me that the walk is a loop! Phew we are on top of the mushroom and the views are great, but the track peters out. After much hunting we decide to return the same way, meaning John will have to navigate me down the rock wall! Not fun at all. Four hours later we are back at GR2 and ready for the comfort of driving in an aircond truck. Much easier exploring that way. And the scenery is magic all the way to Clarens. There is a Craft Beer Festival on and the place is packed, so we don’t stay long.
Our next stop is at Fouriesburg, yet another scruffy town, but it has a few lovely Guesthouses and Restaurants. We stop for a drink and chat with the locals before heading off to Camel Roc Guesthouse where we can camp for the night. It is located practically on the border with Lesotho, making for an easy start tomorrow.
We get to the border bright and early and it would be one of the easiest borders ever. Passports stamped out of Sth Africa, and then into Lesotho, pay our road tax and we are in (all of 15min). It takes longer to get a Sim card.
So here we are in The Mountain Kingdom, and the name doesn’t lie. Mountains stretch for miles. The weather is perfect, which is a bonus here as it is still the wet season. So, we decide to head straight up, up, up, up to Katse Dam. The road is amazing – great seal with no holes, and the views stupendous with mountains stretching forever. Basotho villages are dotted everywhere, so we can watch village life as we pass. There are countless Basotho herdsmen watching a few cattle or some sheep. Their uniform consists of a large patterned blanket tied or pinned around their shoulders and gumboots, preferably white. They generally don’t wave or smile – I think they must be tuned out a bit from watching sheep all day. After a huge drive we finally reach the Katse Dam and discover that we can camp at a great spot overlooking the dam. Awesome! In an amazing twist, one of our neighbours at home was involved in the construction of this dam.
We have discovered that we can drive another way out, but this road/track has not been maintained. The scenery is still stunning, but John doesn’t really see it as he is watching for holes, ruts and mud. After 2 hours and only 55km we are glad to see tarseal and the ramshackle town of Thaba-Tseka. We turn and head into the mountains and up over the Mokhoabong Pass at 2860m. Then a quick detour out to the Mohale Dam. Then we head over The God Help Me Pass at 2281m. It is pretty steep going down, so maybe God’s help is frequently requested to get up the incredibly steep hill.
As we head down the mountains we turn south and arrive at Roma, home of a huge University. We stop for diesel and there are 3 guards at the petrol station, each carrying a huge gun. Is that reassuring or not! We head through yet another stunning gorge and continue to the tiny town of Semonkong where we pick our way slowly down a track to the Lodge where we can camp. It is a pretty spot beside the river and we decide to try out their restaurant.
We are here to visit the Maletsunyane Falls and I refuse to hike there as there is a road (well a track really), so we head there in the morning. There is a booth to pay entry fees which we reluctantly pay, although John convinces them he wont look, and only pays for one! Around the corner we spy the falls and a humongous, shiny brand-new information/visitor/restaurant/museum centre. Most of it is still closed, but the viewing deck is great. There is only so long you can stare at a waterfall, so after coffee we head off. Back to our tarseal and on through a magic gorge and to the main road. We are following the Orange River that flows all the way from Lesotho to the ocean marking the border between Sth Africa and Namibia. More mountain scenery before we descend Devils Staircase and pull over at the scruffy Moroosi Chalets for the night.
The next morning, we drive through Quthing with a brief stop to see the Dinosaur Footprint, but it so overpriced to go into a scruffy building to see one print we give it a miss. But we do stop at the Masitise Cave House to see the home built under a rocky ledge. The guide fills our heads with so much information I’m sure it has all literally gone in one ear and out the other!
We have been told there is a good road between Mohales Hoek and Malealea, but that is incorrect. It is nothing but a dirt track, but the villages are interesting and the drive up a rocky gorge incredible. We finally make it to The Gates of Paradise where we can look down on a huge fertile valley and see the village of Malealea and the Lodge. The road down is more like the track to hell, but the Lodge is lovely. It was an old trading post, but now a successful resort. We settle in on a lovely grassy patch and chat to other travellers. In the evening a local group sing and play their instruments. A drum made of a kerosene drum, and guitar bodies made from old tins. Awesome.
After a meander around the village and more chatting we head off, back to the tarseal again and down from the mountains to the big smoke. Maseru is a big sprawling dishevelled city with a surprising amount of traffic (considering how little we have seen so far). We do our usual drive slowly through the main streets watching the frenetic chaos. And we do spy someone selling Basotho Hats- we have been wanting to get one to add to out hat collection at home. I might even have to wear it home as it will be hard to pack. That will be interesting! We find our way to the Backpackers where we can camp on the grass beside a small lake. A pretty spot and surprisingly quiet in a city. John chats to 2 guys who work here. One was originally a school teacher. Interestingly they have 70 kids in a class (how can anyone teach that many!!), primary school is free, but high school paid. So, lots of poorer families can only get their kids educated to the lower level.
Before we leave town, we fill up with diesel. There are long queues and it is interesting to see people put in $5, $6 or even $18, while we put in $400! The $400 is equivalent to 6 weeks wages for the guy pumping the fuel. This is followed by lots of relatively flat driving, with a detour out to the Kome House Caves. We are rather stunned to be asked to pay parking on top of the rather large entry fee. Oh well. A guide shows us the rather unexciting cave houses.
Later we turn off the main road and follow a river bed all the way in to Ts’ehlanyane National Park where we talk the guard into letting us camp in the picnic area. Down the road is an expensive lodge. The surrounding mountains are lush and green, but our immediate area is surrounded by bottles, despite lots of rubbish bins. Such a pity! In the morning we drive up to the gorgeous (and exceptionally clean) Lodge and head out along a few of their trails. The scenery is stunning. Much later we drive back out of the valley and continue along the main ring road that circumnavigates the country. After passing a few scruffy towns, including the one we entered the country at, we drive up yet another incredible pass. This one is the Moteng Pass at 2820m followed by the Mahlasela Pass at 3322m. There are villages clinging to hillsides, followed by stark mountains as we pass Africa’s only ski resort and then a cluster of huge diamond mines. The weather gets cooler and greyer as we head towards Sani Top. Then there are streaks of lightening, and by the time we reach the top of the Sani Pass right at the border it is so wet and cloudy we decide to stay overnight at the Highest Pub in Africa. The views are awesome, the people we meet friendly and the meal pretty good, but also a tad pricey.
Tomorrow we will cross out of Lesotho and drive the infamous Sani Pass. Tackled by only the brave of heart!