Getaway 4X4 Guide to Lesotho: the Southern saddle

Posted by Tyson Jopson on 30 January 2018 Tags:

This is one for the bucket list. Half in South Africa, half in Lesotho, this route has more mountain passes than you can waggle a wheel spanner at.

It features no fewer than eight mountain passes and shows off the very best of both sides of Lesotho’s southern border.

Also read: Where to find dinsoaurs in Lesotho
Also read: the Mohale Dam loop

We climbed all of these magnificent mountain passes in the new Toyota Fortuner.

 

The Southern saddle

Rhodes to Rhodes
Grade: 3/5 – Challenging. 4X4 essential, some off-road experience is required.
Days: 4

To get the most of these passes, take Naude’s Nek from Rhodes in the Eastern Cape up to Tenahead Lodge and Spa (S30° 42.573’, E28° 8.186’) and then tackle the TTT (Tenahead – Tiffindell Traverse), which tracks the high-altitude border and provides some epic views of the Southern Drakensberg.

This route from Rhodes takes about four hours so there’s plenty of time to stop and enjoy the scenery, do a short hike and have lunch at Tenahead or spend the afternoon skiing or mountain biking at Tiffindell. From Tiffindell take the Volunteershoek Pass to Wartrail and then Lundean’s Nek to the village of Upper Telle.

From Upper Telle, take the gravel road along the Tele River to the Telle Bridge border post. The turn-off to Ha Liphapang (S30° 17.375’, E27° 51.035’) is an easy hour’s drive on tar from the border post and the gravel road to the campsite is nothing short of spectacular, passing villages with white flags waving in the breeze (they indicate where you can buy local beer) before descending to the camp on the banks of the Merataleng River. The entire drive from Tiffindell should take about six hours and at the end of it, it’s more than likely it will be just you, the gurgling river and hunched Drakensberg valleys.

Take the same gravel route back to the tar A4 and head up to Mount Moorosi. Shortly after, there’s a gravel turn-off (S30° 15.213’, E27° 52.962’) that takes you up Devil’s Staircase Pass (on many maps this pass is marked incorrectly as being on the tar A4, which runs parallel to this road). The Staircase is more bark than bite and its peaks and troughs evoke more of a sense of wonder than anxiety as you track the Quthing River (there are two low-level bridges where it crosses) east to Lake Letsie.

Keep an eye out for the junction (S30° 18.223’, E28° 7.904) that takes you right and through a gate (S30 18.293, E28 7.983) towards the lake, which opens out in front of you in dramatic fashion. Here, wild horses mingle with livestock on open plains in a scene that looks like a domesticated Serengeti. After Lake Letsie, Ongeluksnek Pass begins in earnest. At the top of the escarpment the gravel descent unravels towards the South Africa border post. It is, hands down, better than Sani Pass and leaves you with a real sense of accomplishment.

Take the gravel track to Ongeluksnek Main Camp, and just behind it there’s a junction (S30° 19.745’, E28° 21.987’). Turn right here and continue on gravel towards Mount Fletcher. The going here can be quite slow due to corrugations and hard stones.

Keep left at the next junction (S30° 23.175’, E28° 23.130’), which takes you to the tar R56 past Mount Fletcher. On the other side of the Luzi River, there’s a secret gravel track (S30° 45.715’, E28° 31.384’) to Elandshoogte that’s well worth taking – it’s a beautiful way to get back to Rhodes via the impressive Pitseng Pass and Naude’s Nek.

 

Mohale Dam route map

Click on the map to enlarge.

 

Road conditions

The pass from Rhodes to Tenahead is good gravel. The traverse to Tiffindell and the road to Wartrail is 4×4 only. The gravel from Wartrail to Telle Bridge is slow-going, but it’s good tar from Telle to the Ha Liphapang turn-off. The gravel road to Ha Liphapang is good but the final bridge is washed out. It’s decent gravel from Mount Moorosi to Lake Letsie, and Ongeluksnek is 4X4 only. The gravel to Mount Fletcher is corrugated, the tar R56 is sound and the Elandshoogte gravel road is in good nick.

 

Driving tips

When encountering a ditch or a ridge, approach it slowly (first or second gear) and diagonally, putting one wheel in the ditch or on the highest part of a ridge at a time. This will maximise your chances of having at least three wheels on the ground with traction and increase the working range of your vehicle’s departure and break-over angles.

 

Stay here

Walkerbouts Inn, Rhodes (S30° 47.901’, E27° 57.712’) has an old-world charm and a cosy bar. The pizzas are magnificent. From R765 per person DB&B. Tel 0459749290
Tiffindell Ski Resort (S30° 39.220’, E27° 55.460’) has an abundance of accommodation options, including large, comfortable Mountain Suites with brilliant views over the Eastern Cape. From R395 per person. Tel 0117812620
Ha Liphapang Camp (S30° 27.840’, E28° 0.021’) is a gorgeous site on the Merataleng River. The ablutions are being upgraded, but there is hot water (donkey boiler) and a handful of Basotho huts that sleep two each. Facilities are basic and you’ll need to be fully self-sufficient. From R200 for a hut and R50 per person for a campsite. Tel +26658407186
Ongeluksnek Main Camp (S30° 19.779’, E28° 21.957’) is right at the bottom of the eponymous pass. There’s
a 12-sleeper lodge (from R550 for the whole thing), two double rondavels (R150 for each unit) and informal camping at R130 (sleeps six). Tel 0437054400

 

Activities

Mountain bike at Tiffindell Ski Resort. It’s one of the many summer activities available and the elevation makes it excellent for a downhill cruise to Rhodes. From R600 for four people, including a pick-up in Rhodes. Tel 0117812620
Hike in the Tenahead Mountain Reserve. Routes range from short, half-hour meanders to half-day hikes and there is spectacular birdlife to look out for. It’s free. Tel 0499718901
Fish at Ha Liphapang when the river is in full flow. There is a lot of trout. It’s free for overnight guests but you’ll need your own gear. Tel +26658407186

This Lesotho 4X4 route was researched and travelled to in association with Toyota.