It might be Katse’s little brother, but that doesn’t make Lesotho’s Mohale Dam any less exciting.
In fact, because of its relative obscurity, navigating the solitary gravel track around the dam is suited to the particularly intrepid off-roader (read: there is a small chance you’ll get a bit lost).
Built on the Senqunyane River, this is the second of four dams (two are still planned) in the Lesotho Highlands Water Project and is connected to Katse by a gravity-fed tunnel.
The areas around it are still pretty undeveloped, which means it’s best done as a day trip from Maseru. Even better is to use it to take in some of Lesotho’s geological and anthropological highlights in the Toyota Fortuner.
The Mohale Dam Loop
Maseru to Ficksburg
Grade: 2/5 – Moderate. Mostly gravel but still doable in a high-clearance 2X4 in good conditions. A 4X4 is advisable for inclement conditions.
It’s a beautiful, easy hour-long drive from the capital to the dam along a magnificent tar road that climbs no fewer than three mountain passes along the way, each a little more scenic than the one before.
At the end of the last one, Blue Mountain Pass, a gravel turn-off (S29° 28.678’, E28° 2.871’) takes you over a small offshoot of the dam and then along its western inclines. From the turn-off it’s about 23 kilometres to a fork (S29° 23.424, E28° 2.096) where you’ll need to keep right (left takes you back to the top of Blue Mountain Pass via another gravel road) and continue past goats and cows on a string of service roads that wind back on one another while the dam disappears and comes into view on every other bend.
At one of these bends (S29° 23.967, E28° 6.473) you’ll need to turn right and take the bridge over the dam and head back to the Mohale Dam visitors centre (don’t be confused by the bridge you see ahead of you at the junction – that leads to a village and not much else) for a tour of the dam wall. The loop takes about three hours and then you can either stay at Mohale Dam Lodge, which overlooks the water, or head back down the A3 to Molengoane Lodge to shorten the driving time the following day.
On the western boundary of Molengoane Lodge a gravel turn-off (S29° 24.228’, E27° 46.941’) takes you to the Ha Baroana Rock Art Centre (S29° 21.769’, E27° 47.259’) where you can do a short hike down to a string of caves along the Lipereng River where 3 000-year-old rock paintings of eland and shamans dot the cavern walls.
On the other side of this river (you’ll need to take the A3 back towards Maseru and then the turn-off at Makhalanye (S29° 24.658’, E27° 37.182’) is Thaba Bosiu, the most famous peak in Lesotho. It is where Chief Moshoeshoe first set up a stronghold for the Basotho people in the 19th century in the wars against the Ndebele. It became an impenetrable mount for several skirmishes after that and is where the Basotho held off Free State commandos in 1858. It was never taken and remains a symbol of pride for the nation. Indeed, you’ll notice a striking resemblance between the spire on the north of the plateau and the traditional hats worn by Basotho people.
After Thaba Bosiu the road turns to gravel for a short stretch and then back to tar as you continue north to another significant Basotho site – the Kome Cave Dwellings. The fascinating caves are still home to generations of Basia and Bataung people who built their homes into the walls of these caves more than 200 years ago.
From here it’s less than two hours of tar road via Teyateyaneng to the Peka Bridge border post (S28° 56.628’, E27° 44.042’) and then on to Ficksburg. All in all it’s an easy day’s drive from either Mohale or Molengoane to Ficksburg but allow at least five or six hours to do the route if you’re visiting the cultural highlights.
Mohale Dam route map
Aside from the gravel road around the Mohale Dam and the short drive to Baroana, this route is mainly tar and easily doable in a high-clearance 2X4 when it’s dry (it’s possible in a sedan too, but will be slow-going in sections and there is risk of damaging your vehicle). There are a few steep sections where engaging four-wheel drive is prudent but not necessary. The short descent from the parking lot at Kome Caves to the visitors centre is 4X4 only and those without will need to walk (about 20 minutes).
Look as far ahead as possible on Lesotho’s mountain passes. Local minibus taxis tend to ‘straighten out’ the bends which means they’re often on the wrong side of the road. Keep as far to the inside of the road on blind rises too.
Black Swan Guest House, Maseru (S29° 19.510’, E27° 28.693’) is just off the slip road from the Maseru Bridge border post, so you’ll avoid (most of) the city traffic. Rooms are clean and there is Wi-Fi. B&B from R650 per person. Tel +26622317700.
Mohale Lodge (S29° 28.708’, E28° 3.705’) is a large hotel with great views of the dam, but it’s often completely empty and you might feel a little like the Lonely Boy King at dinner. From R750 per person sharing B&B. Tel +26622936134.
Molengoane Lodge (S29° 24.229’, E27° 46.974) is cosy with friendly staff and a great menu. B&B from R450 per person sharing. Tel +26622347766.
Take a tour of the Mohale Dam wall , which includes a short video of its construction, a walk along the wall and an outline of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. Tours from R30 per person. Tel +26662130000.
See rock art at the Ha Baroana caves. It’s an easy 15-minute guided hike from the visitors centre. From R20 per person. Tel +26659028241.
Take a tour of Thaba Bosiu, which starts at the Thaba Bosiu Cultural Centre and includes a short history and guided walk to the plateau. From R60 per person. Tel +26627000605.
Explore the Kome Cave Dwellings with wonderful guide Francis Masheane. From R43. No contact number but arrive between 09:00 and 15:00 and he guarantees a tour.
This Lesotho 4X4 route was researched and travelled to in association with Toyota.