Lesotho is possibly one of the prettiest and most diverse regions to visit in southern Africa, yet it remains one of its best-kept secrets. With towering mountain ranges, deep forest gorges, crystal-clear rivers and cascading waterfalls, you’ll fall in love with The Kingdom in the Sky.
Ts’ehlanyane National Park
Ts’ehlanyane National Park is the jewel in Lesotho’s natural crown. Located in the southern section of the magnificent Maluti Mountains and a scenic 3-hour drive from Maseru, it’s the most accessible national park in the country.
The national park lies at an altitude that ranges from 1 940 to 3 112 metres and on one of the many popular mountain hikes, one can’t help but feel you’ve been transported to the Alps in Switzerland. The sub-alpine region is known for its unpredictable weather, striking mountain ranges, rare montane flora, stunning waterfalls and abundance of birdlife.
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The main attraction at Ts’ehlanyane National Park is its network of gorgeous hiking and horseback trails. Four major rivers flow through the Park which covers an area of 56 000 square kilometres. The trails crisscross over a tapestry of rolling hills, deep river gorges and undulating grasslands making Ts’ehlanyane heaven on earth for nature lovers, birders and outdoor enthusiasts.
The best place to stay in Ts’ehlanyane National Park is the popular Maliba Lodge which offers a choice of accommodation, including luxury chalets and self-catering bungalows on the Holomo River. Treat yourself to a meal at the lodge restaurant or Bistro. The food is delicious and the views from the restaurant terrace are breathtaking.
Most of the popular trails set off from Maliba Lodge, ranging from the gentle Lower Trail to Lets’a Lets’o (Black Lake) to the demanding 16-kilometre Circular trail to the magical Matsa Mararo Falls. The same trails can be done on horseback.
Sehlabathebe National Park
Sehlabathebe National Park is Lesotho’s oldest national park and a hiker’s paradise. Covering an area of 65 000 square kilometres at an average altitude of 2 400 metres, it lies below the magnificent uKhahlamba-Drakensberg escarpment which runs along the border of South Africa.
The protected wilderness area forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most remote and striking national parks in southern Africa. Sehlabathebe is recognised for its cultural significance in the form of abundant prehistoric rock art as well its exceptionally diverse natural resources.
A striking feature of Sehlabathebe is its collection of unusual rock formations that have been sculpted by centuries of erosion of sandstone substrata below the harder igneous rocks. The landscape is characterised by towering rock arches, large sandstone outcrops, deep caves and crystal-clear rock pools. There are 65 well-preserved rock art sites in Sehlabathebe.
The rich montane flora includes a diverse array of wildflower species which come out in full bloom between November and February. The most notable species is the endangered waterlily found in the shallow sandstone rock pools. Common animal species include the majestic eland, grey rhebok, oribi and black-back jackal.
Sehlabathebe is also a birder’s paradise. It’s home to 357 recorded bird species of which 57 are highly endangered. Rare species found in the Park include the Drakensberg rock jumper and siskin, yellow-breasted pipit and jackal buzzard as well as the endangered Cape, bearded and Egyptian vultures.
The best place to stay on a holiday to Sehlabathebe is a newly-built lodge located just outside the Park. It offers self-catering chalets and camping facilities. There’s no restaurant in the national park but day visitors can have a meal at the lodge’s restaurant.
Bokong Nature Reserve
Lying at an altitude of 3 090 metres, Bokong Nature Reserve is one of the highest nature reserves in Africa. It’s located at the top of the beautiful Mafika-Lisiu Pass on the road between Leribe and Katse Dam. Known for its sweeping highlands, cascading waterfall and outstanding views, Bokong Nature Reserve is heaven for hikers, nature lovers and birders.
A striking landmark in the reserve is the Lepaqoa Waterfall which tumbles over a 60-metre cliff. In the coldest months in Lesotho, the waterfall freezes to form a column of solid ice. The bravest and most experienced climbers abseil down the solid Lepaqoa Waterfall while less experienced climbers find easier options at the bottom of the waterfall.
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The Visitor Centre at Bokong Nature Reserves sits perched on the edge of a 100-metre cliff with panoramic views of the Lesotho Highlands. Pop in for a visit as the centre offers insight into the country’s diverse ecology as well as its geological and paleontology history.
Accommodation at Bokong Nature Reserve is simple self-catering bungalows situated close to the Visitor’s Centre and two overnight huts for hikers. Most people stay at the nearby Katse Dam Lodge and visit the reserve for the day for a hike or picnic in the mountains.
One thing to note is the high-altitude weather at Bokong Nature Reserve is unpredictable and life-threatening if you get caught unawares of a storm or get lost. It’s highly recommend that you hike with an experienced local guide. It’s not only the safer option but also provides much-needed employment.