The southern part of Lesotho has a surprising archaeological history: it was once the domain of dinosaurs. They roamed sandstone valleys and lowlands, leaving behind footprints that fossilised and have been discovered after centuries of weathering.
This route bisects a part of that prehistoric range and you can see the imprints at two stops along the way.
We went dinosaur-tracking in the Toyota Fortuner.
The time traveller’s route
Malealea Lodge to the Ketane Valley
Grade: 3/5 – Challenging. 4X4 essential, some off-road experience is required.
From Malealea Lodge head west and then keep left where the road splits (S29° 50.135’, E27° 34.195’) and drive towards Matelile. Climb the Gates of Paradise Pass and continue to the tar traffic circle at Matelile (S29° 50.359’, E27° 32.173’) and take the left-most gravel exit. This road continues south and then east along switchbacks with impressive views of the Thaba Putsoa range before it crosses the Makhaleng River (S29° 52.452’ E27° 36.782’) and continues south to Mpharane.
From here there are patches of tar before you get to Mohale’s Hoek and the tar A2. Continue south on the A2 to Alwyns Kop. Just past it is the Masitise Ellenberger Cave House (S30° 24.304’, E27° 38.502’), a brick house built into the base of an overhanging rock by Reverend David Ellenberger in 1866. Today it’s a museum of sorts and embossed on the ceiling of one of the rooms is a set of dinosaur footprints discovered in the excavation.
Further along the road is the Quthing Dinosaur Footprints (S30° 23.712’, E27° 41.581’), where more prints are preserved in rock. It’s underwhelming, but the entrance fee is negligible. From Quthing, drive to Mount Moorosi, and shortly after there’s an unmarked turn (S30° 14.071’, E27° 52.537’) and an impressive tarred bridge over the Senqu River that becomes an eroded gravel road to the Bethel Business and Community Development Centre.
Accommodation is basic, but a stroll around the premises is eye-opening: the complex is self-sustaining and off the grid. It’s also the base for a secret route up the Ketane Valley which takes you deep into the Thaba Putsoa along the Ketane River. At the end of the drive is a secluded fly fishing spot and a hiking trail that takes you up to the Ketane Waterfall.
The time traveller’s route map
The road from Malealea to Mohale’s Hoek is gravel and relatively flat with the occasional steep gradient change that may require low range. The tar road from Mohale’s Hoek to Mount Moorosi is in good condition with the occasional potholed section. The gravel road to Bethel is severely degraded and impassable when the Senqu River is in flood. Most of the route up the Ketane Valley is graded gravel but some sections are tricky and 4×4 only.
Malealea Lodge (S29° 49.677’, E27° 35.995’) has all types of accommodation. If you’re on a budget but don’t want to camp, try the Basotho Huts. From R220 per person. Tel +26658407816
Bethel Business and Community Development Centre (BBCDC) Guest House (S30° 14.392’, E27° 51.055’) is not your typical accommodation. It’s in a working college so you’ll meet students engaged in all kinds of environmental and permaculture-based programmes. From R300 per person. Tel +26658742991
Camping in the Ketane Valley (S29°59.373’,E27°54.076’)is possible, but only with a guide who can negotiate with the village chief. It takes about two-and-a-half hours to reach the valley and the guide will ensure you don’t get lost along the route, which can be tricky. Book a guide at the BBCDC in advance. From R400 for an overnight trip (per group), plus meals for your guide. Camping from R50 per person. Tel +26658742991
Visit the Masitise Ellenberger Cave House. From R10 per person. Call ahead to make sure the guide and curator, Phakisi, is there. Tel +26657567721
Pop in at Quthing Dinosaur Footprints. From R15 per person. Tel +26658660170
Go fishing in the Ketane Valley. Day trips with a guide to fish on the Ketane River can be arranged at the BDCC. From R100 per person. Tel +26658742991
This Lesotho 4X4 route was researched and travelled to in association with Toyota.