Lesotho’s northern highlands

Posted by Sarah Isaacs on 15 August 2011

Lesotho‘s northern highlands are home to isolated communities and daunting mountain passes. Mafika Lisiu Pass and Katse Dam were the main attractions – symbolizing the coming together of nature and human ingenuity.

Kingdom in the sky

As we made our way from Maseru into the northern highlands, Lesotho‘s name “˜kingdom in the sky’ started to make perfect sense. We stopped at the top of Mafika Lisiu Pass, at a staggering height of 3090 m, to appreciate the precipitous mountain peaks that stretched as far as the eye could see: a sky-high kingdom indeed. My mind boggled at the small collections of shale stone and thatched cottages we passed on the way up, home to isolated communities that seem to rely on donkeys, ponies and walking as their primary modes of transport. We passed men, women and school-uniformed children walking up inclines so steep that the car was threatening to stall. Nevertheless, most of them found the energy to wave as we drove by, the younger kids screaming ‘sweets!’ at the top of their voices.

Although the road was tarred, tackling the descent was tricky and required careful gear navigation. A gear too high and the break pads took strain, a gear too low and the engine started to scream. Our leisurely downward drive into Katse Village offered spectacular views of the Katse Dam – a 54 sq km expanse of glassy water, reflecting the sky above and rich green surrounds. The rain started to pour as we checked into Orion Katse Lodge – a hotel and collection of houses positioned in a cordoned-off neighbourhood of Katse. The area was once home to the men and women responsible for the construction of the dam but today most of the houses appear to stand empty. I felt as though we’d entered a ghost town.

A dam big investment

We spent the afternoon going on a tour of Katse Dam, starting with a lecture at the Katse Information Centre and ending with a visit to the dam wall. The scale and complexity of the project is too great for me to detail here but suffice it to say Katse’s dam wall is the second highest in Africa. At 185 m high and 750 m long, 2,32 million cubic metres of cement were produced to build it. Trucks had to climb Mafika Lisiu Pass, delivering cement to the building site every two hours. To find out more about this ingenious engineering feat, check out the Lesotho Highlands WP site.



Orion Katse Lodge
Tel 002-662-891-0202
Email [email protected]

If you enjoyed this post, check out more of Sarah Isaacs’ overlanding adventures through Africa.




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