Getaway 4X4 Guide to Lesotho: Katse Dam Loop

Posted by Tyson Jopson on 14 December 2017

Arguably the highlight of a visit to Lesotho, the Katse Dam is an engineering spectacle. It’s the highest dam in Africa and its unusual shape, twisting like a serpent along the Maloti valleys, mean there is a lot of it to explore.

The easiest way to get there from South Africa is from Fouriesburg to Ha Lejone – it’s tar the entire way, the road is in good condition and it should take you about two and a half hours (depending on how busy things are at the Caledonspoort border post).

The most exciting way to get to Katse, though, is on a seven-hour tar, gravel and 4X4 route that starts on Lesotho’s A1 in the north.

We tackled these snowy routes with Toyota Fortuner.

Also read: The secret road to Sehlabathebe
Also read: How to tackle Lesotho’s Khubelu River meander

 

Katse Dam Loop

New Oxbow Lodge to Sani Mountain Lodge
Grade: 3/5 – Challenging. 4X4 essential, some off-road experience is required.
Days: 2

Katse Dam

From New Oxbow Lodge, a good tar road takes you along the spectacular Tlaeng Pass (take care in winter, it can be icy – see driving tips on the next page) towards the Letseng Diamond Mine, there’s a gravel turn-off (S28° 56.924’ E28° 49.966’) that heads west to Kao Mine for roughly 32 kilometres. After the mine, however, the road becomes increasingly challenging: stony descents in places and some slick surfaces. But there are superb mountain views, sweeping switchbacks and sections of fast, clean gravel.

Motebong village (S29° 6.267’, E28° 30.197’), in Ha Lejone, is a good place to stop, stretch your legs, eat and refuel if necessary (fuel is only available in 20-litre containers at the roadside). From Ha Lejone travel on the twisty A8 tar to the Malibamatso bridge. Turn onto a gravel road that heads west just before the bridge (S29° 10.769, E28° 28.622).

Continue on the western side of the dam on the gravel road to Makhangoa Community Camp (S29° 16.921’, E28° 23.072’). This final section, punctuated by stops for livestock, should take you less than three hours and you’ll end up on the banks of the Bokong River, where you can fish for trout (bring your own rod) or train your binoculars on birds.

The next day, take the gravel road to Katse Village and stop off at Orion Katse Lodge for a bite. At the time of writing, authorities at the Lesotho Highlands Water Project indicated that this lodge has been earmarked for exclusive use by the organisation for the next phase of the project (the plan is to build another dam where the Senqu joins the Khubelu River to the east). This is set to take place from March 2018 until the project is complete (reportedly 2019).

From there take the tar road over the Katse Dam wall and then the A8 up to Ha Makopela where you’ll need to get onto a dirt road that heads north-east out of town (S29° 13.467’, E28° 33.332’) along the Matsoku River. This track crosses the Matsoku River (S29° 10.631’, E28° 38.177’) and then winds back and forth across the mountainsides. At an intersection (S29°15.171’, E28° 51.183’), take a left towards Mokhotlong. Of all the drives around Katse, this is the most beautiful, largely devoid of people.

As the topography flattens, you’ll join up with the tar A1, which takes you to Mokhotlong, before heading down the A14 along the Kotisepholo Pass. Look out for Thabana Ntlenyane on your left – the highest mountain in Southern Africa – before pulling in at Sani Mountain Lodge. It takes about seven hours to do this section from Makhangoa, which includes stopping for a dam-wall tour.

 

Road conditions

The tar A1 is in good condition (be aware of ice on Tlaeng Pass). The gravel road to Kao Mine is also in decent nick but you’ll need to engage four-wheel drive in places. The dirt road from Makhangoa to Katse is relatively easy-going but there are some steep, loose sections and the odd eroded washout. The tar road from Katse to Ha Makopela is decent but potholed in places and the track from Ha Makopela past Palama is beautiful but tricky in sections and varies from stony and rutted to relatively smooth.

Driving tips

Black ice is a regular feature on Lesotho’s roads. It’s most likely to occur on high mountain passes such as Tlaeng and Kotisepholo. Consider using snow chains if travelling in peak winter. Drive in 4L and engage DAC (downhill assist control) to avoid braking, which can send you into a slide.

 

Katse Dam Loop map

 

Stay here

Lesotho-4x4-Katse-Dam

New Oxbow Lodge (S28° 46.264’, E28° 38.401’) has basic but comfortable rooms, a bar and restaurant. B&B from R440 per person sharing. Tel 0519332247
Makhangoa Community Camp (S29° 16.909’, E28° 23.035’) comprises four bungalows overlooking a trout- and yellowfish-rich oxbow on the Bokong River (bring your own rod). From R500 per person for a group of eight people. Tel 0333422793
Sani Mountain Lodge (S29° 39.742’, E29° 27.374’) has budget self-catering accommodation and a campsite but guests can still eat at the cosy restaurant (well worth it after a long day of driving). Self-catering rooms from R230 per person sharing and camping from R90 per person. Tel 0337020330

 

Activities

Take a community-run boat trip on the Katse Dam, which gets you close to the massive dam wall and offers a great perspective. R660 for the boat, for 45 minutes (takes 28 people). Book at Orion Katse Lodge. Tel +26622910202
Walk the Katse Dam wall, where a short presentation before the tour gives insight into the scale of the project and throws up some mind-blowing facts. R30 per person. +26622910202
Visit the Katse Alpine Botanical Garden in Katse Village, with the most incredible collection of succulents, including the spiral aloe, Lesotho’s national plant. R30 per person. Tel +26622910315
This Lesotho 4X4 route was researched and travelled to in association with Toyota

 

Find our free 4×4 Guide to Lesotho, in association with Toyota, with the December 2017 issue of Getaway magazine.

Get this issue →

Our December issue features the only 4X4 guide to Lesotho you’ll ever need, an incredible slackpacking adventure in Namibia, 50 ways to boost your summer holidays here in SA, 12 stays in Simon’s Town and a Mpumalanga road trip we like better than the Panorama Route. 

 






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