Tag Archives: 4×4

Journey into the mountain kingdom of Lesotho: Sani Pass to Thaba Tseka

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Journey into the mountain kingdom of Lesotho: Sani Pass to Thaba Tseka

Ahh Lesotho – home of mountains, goats, mud huts, breathtaking views and possibly the most delightfully weird hotel experience of my life.

Heading up Sani Pass

We started our journey into Lesotho at the base of Sani Pass. After a quick stop at the Himeville hotel for a drink and a flushing toilet (would we find many of these on the road?) we were ready to ascend into the mountain kingdom. You start the drive around 1500m above sea level and finish at the summit (and the Lesotho border post) at 2873m. The road is narrow and windy and steep. It may also be scattered with the odd herd of sheep or goats just for the extra bit of adrenalin. The views along the pass are spectacular. Sadly, the day we drove it there was a heavy and persistent mist which meant no views for us. On the plus side it gave a beautiful eerie atmosphere to the ice alongside the road.

The route up Sani Pass

The route up Sani Pass

Sharing the winding pass with some livestock

Sharing the winding pass with some livestock

Frozen waterfall on the road

Frozen waterfall on the road

We arrived at the top of the pass around mid morning and discovered the friendliest border officials in the world. The border post is nothing more than a little concrete block. Despite the freezing temperatures everything seems to take place outside the office – the border officials they were kind enough to help us fill out forms to save some of our party from even getting out of the car. For those of you who love a souvenier (Em cant help herself, justifying it with a ‘helping the community’ speech) there is a little shop at the border. We didnt see anymore on our journey through Lesotho so we are glad we took the chance to get a novelty hat here.

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The border curio shop

The border curio shop

Just around the corner from the border is a lovely little hotel, the Sani Mountain Lodge. If you have the time, it is definitely worth stopping here for a delicious hot chocolate. This hotel is billed as ‘The Highest Pub in Africa’. I have since read that it is actually the highest licenced pub in southern Africa but it is still great fun to have a photo by the sign (even if mist ruined what we understand is usually a spectacular view). Just a word of warning, there are several day trips up the pass from South Africa so try and have an early hot chocolate/lunch to avoid fighting for service or a table when the crowds move in.

A drink at the top of the world

A drink at the top of the world

Driving across Lesotho is a wonderful experience. The roads are gracefully perched alongisde the mountains, winding around the top of the country. There are beautiful views of valleys, villages and many chances to see the local poeple getting on with their day in their signature blanket attire. Be warned that the driving is slow. Many of the roads are not tarred and even in the best 4×4 expect to spend the whole day on the road. Plan your route carefully to ensure that you get to your destination by nightfall.

A view from the road

A view from the road

Baby lambs (or kids?) on the roadside

Baby lambs (or kids?) on the roadside

Staying in Thaba Tseke

Accomodation in Lesotho is not plentiful. Usually this is not a problem but if you plan to visit over a South African holiday (like we did) it just might be! We planned this trip late but eventually found a website for a lovely looking hotel in Thabe Tseka called the Buffalo Hotel so we made a booking.

When we were approaching Thaba Tseka we saw a sign for Buffalo Hotel so, although a bit earlier than expected, we stopped, hoping this would be the end of the days driving. We were met by very blank faces at reception who had no recollection of a booking anywhere. There was definitely a moment of panic because we knew everything else was fully booked before we left. However, when we asked whether they, by any chance, had a spare room for us we were told that they had no bookings for that night. They were a new hotel and this was their opening night. If we wanted, we could be the first guests.

The Buffalo Hotel

The Buffalo Hotel

The whole experience from there just got stranger and stranger. They were obviously all nervous and trying to do everything as perfectly as possible for us but sometimes it all just seemed a bit bizaar.

Although there were only 5 of us, we were told that dinner would be a buffet. This buffet was driven across from another Buffalo hotel (presumably where we had booked although this was never confirmed?) and served to us on a large plate – mini individual buffets? We sat alone in a large dining room watched closely by the chef who checked constantly that we were happy with the food. The next morning, the chef drove back to our hotel to serve us a large breakfast – again under his watchful eye. I loved the warm beans but the cold french toast and fish fingers were a bit too much for me!

The rooms were lovely, clean and warm and provided us with an excellent stop over. The people were beaming with friendliness and the quirkiness of the whole experience will stay with us for a long time.

My little sister in an empty pink dining room

My little sister in an empty pink dining room

Breakfast with a twist

Breakfast with a twist

(Em)

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Planning a 4×4 Trip in Botswana

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Earlier this year, we were made an offer we could not refuse when we were asked if wanted to join a 4×4 trip to Botswana and Namibia.

We had been to Botswana before and knew how incredibly difficult and expensive it can be, particularly if you don’t have the right equipment. If you don’t own your own 4×4 the best (and sometimes only) way to see the country is to join an organised trip. These seem to be run for people with lots of spare dollars or pounds and not for your average traveller! So… this opportunity – to jump in a ready-owned 4×4 and join a planned trip into unexplored Africa – was a definite yes for us!

For any of you wanting to do the same, here are some tips we picked up along the way:

1. Go in a 4×4
If you want the freedom of going anywhere then you will need a 4×4. If you don’t have one you can still see some spectacular parts of the country but be aware that you will be limited. There are 2 main tarred roads in Botswana – one to Maun and one to Chobe. When we first went to Botswana in 2009 we took my Ford Focus and easily made it to both these places. However, once we were there we had to rely on tours to explore the delta and the parks. With your own 4×4 you can seek out new spots and park yourself in a campsite in the middle of a game reserve for as long as you want.

The look on Chris' face says a lot about how he feels about this

2. Take plenty of spare parts and repair kits
Even the hardiest of 4x4s will take a beating on those roads and you do not want to be left stranded in the middle of nowhere trying to get help. We found having a someone with a keen knowledge of fixing cars also helped!

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3. Always have lots and lots of water
Be aware (particularly if you are wanting to stay at campsites within the reserves) that you run a high risk of ending up somewhere with no running water. The best thing to do is to have plenty of water with you at all times. Our trailer had a 50 liter water tank and we also took about 25 liters of bottled water in the car. What you need obviously depends on where you are going and how often you move.

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4. Find out where all the vetinerary check points are

Famously, Botswana is very strict on what you are allowed to take into the country – no meat, no oranges etc etc. However, once you are in the country, you can’t relax as you will be stopped at vetinary checkpoints along your route fairly frequently. These stops are desgined to stop the spread of foot and mouth so you can expect to drive/walk through a pool of some type of solution and to hand over all your meat (and sometimes fruit and veg). In order to avoid having all your supplies confiscated, find out where these are in advance. This will save you a lot of time and money.

Another tip, although raw meat can’t be taken through a checkpoint, they have no problem with you stopping on the side of the road and cooking it before proceeding. We had a very cheerful roadside braai on our way to the Okavango Panhandle.

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A checkpoint between Maun and the Okavango Panhandle

5. Invest in a rooftop tent
This is not an essential but for any of you who have a little bit of a fear of being trampled by elephant in your sleep or dragged out by hungry lions (disclaimer: I have no clue how likely either of these are) then the feeling of safety,  sleeping up above the animals is priceless! We spent many nights lying in bed listening to the hippos chomping and the elephants growling (yes, they do growl!) right next to our tent, able to enjoy it only because we knew we were not underfoot.

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6. Check whether or not you will have to pay park fees to transit through a game reserve.

Reserves are everywhere and sometimes your sat nav will suggest you drive through them en route to your next destination. We drove through one assuming we would not need to pay if we were just transiting – mistake. We ended up on a slow and dusty route through a reserve (with not an animal in sight) only to be hit with pretty steep park fees upon exit and then an extravagant ferry fee to get back onto the main road. If we had just stopped and asked we would have been told about the fees and could have taken the much faster tarred route around the edge of the park.

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Watching the unavoidable ferry between the reserve and the main road

7. Check the rules of each game reserve before you start exploring
Some of the reserves are much stricter than others. So, while you may be able to sit on roof racks and drive off road in the Caprivi, if you try that in Chobe you ill find yourself quickly removed from the Park.

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8. Book ahead!
Some game reserves (Suvuti, Moremi) require proof of booking before they let you into the park. These campsite are small and far between so don’t delay and make the booking with plenty of time to spare. Remember to carry printouts of all your bookings – internet access and cell phone reception are luxuies you won’t find in the African bush.

A map of the campsite - we were 'upgraded' to CK4 and were quite happy with it.

A map of the only campsite in Savuti

9. Be prepared to see lots of animals
These are wild animals but with a certain amount of luck and lots of respect you can have incredible encounters with a variety of animals. We had elephant walking though our campsite, hornbills landing on our laps, hyena visiting our campfire and hippo joining us at our dinner table.

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10. Be on the lookout for animals at all times
Sometimes the best times to spot wild animals – especially elephant – is while you are driving on the freeway. So keep an eye out even while you are doing 120km/hr.

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