Senquyane River Trailadmin
by Gerald O’Brien
Easter 2016 was going to be a difficult one for this convoy of 4×4’ers. We had planned to cover many mountain passes, disused roads and tracks on a 4 day trip through the rugged, yet awesome Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho.
After our drivers briefing at the Ficksburg municipal campsite on Friday morning, we set off in a convoy of 10 4×4’s and headed via Peka Bridge border post to Semonkong Lodge for lunch. The route which we took via Thaba Bosiu, Roma and Ramabanta is just about all tarred now except for a short stretch just before Thaba Bosiu, nonetheless the sights of the high mountain peaks in the distance gave the convoy constant reminders of where we were heading.After what has become a tradition over the years now of a tried and tested hamburger and chips at the Semonkong Lodge(which never fails to kill the biggest of hunger pains), we soon went off the tar and onto a reasonable dirt road heading for our first night stopover in the Senquyane valley. From the view point at the top of the pass, we could see where we would be setting up camp way down in the valley below. We had 2, 4 kilometers to go to the camp site and it was now 5.00pm, knowing we should in theory safely be able to get down before dark. At 21h30 however,after a challenging four and a half hours later, it was a tired and battle wary bunch of adventurers that now started to set up camp for the night.Our battle over the last four and a half hours covering the last 2, 4 km’s was exacerbatedby an extremely rugged and rocky pass with big drop offs into the valley below which unfortunately included a puncture in my Hilux.We had all put our best off road skills to the test on a number of occasions, including jacking up the Hilux. The cold Maluti Lagers were exactly what was required to wash the dust down. Packing rocks, removing rocks, guiding one another, shining torches and jacking up a vehicle on the edge of the pass had taken itstoll on all of us, and we went to bedstraight after a late dinner.
The next morning, our fist obstacle for the day was a few hundred meters away, walking the Senquyane River and displacing rocks from our intended line of travel. Following this was the climb out the valley on a track that had not seen a vehicle across it in many months. Between road building and guiding each other once more, the sights in that remote area that we were passing through, was simply mind blowing and just so difficult to capture on camera. Needless to say, the 4×4’ing was fantastic too! We had a strict code of conduct between us in the group, keeping to existing tracks and not making new ones,keeping conscious of the fact that that the environment comes first. Soil erosion in Lesotho is a major problem and making any new tracks will open up new waterways in the rainy season. After another exhilarating day of sight-seeing and 4×4’ing, we arrived at our campsite just below the Katse Dam wall at around 16h30, another 8 hour day in the saddle covering roughly 150 kilometers. So far the vehicles were all performing admirably after two days of hard driving with alot more still to come. The Kats Dam was unfortunately atthe lowest that I have seen it in many years, and it was evident that it is going to take a lot of rain to top up the levels once more.
The camp site on the banks of the Malibamatso River is a pleasant one, with enough room to spread out and not camp on top of each other. There is not much to beat an early morning splash in a crisp mountain stream to clear your head and kick start you day into action. It was after all,going to be another tough day for man and machine in the mountains!
We were now heading for Mapholaneng, roughly 140 kilometres away fromwhere we would be camping on the banks of the Khubelu River; the Khubelu being the source of the Orange River. Although the 4×4’ing that we were able to do along these worn and broken up roads is outstanding, it is sad to see how there is simply so little maintenance taking place on the road linking up the smaller villages to one another. The subsequent lack of accessibility to so many of the remotest mountain villages becoming virtually impossible, especially for the local population in their older and broken 4×4’s. The supply lines are becoming extremely difficult for the mountain folk. New tar roads in Lesotho are numerous, but to date only link up main towns to one another.
The final day of off-roading had the convoy once again packing rocks and road building in a few places between Seshote and St Martin’s mission. From St Martin’s mission the road improved quite a bit,meaning that we were able to reach our camp by around 15h00, giving us all time for a swim and a bit of R&R before nightfall. As usual, we had a group of locals watching us, but no harm was meant by them. At times they do seem to get a bit close, however, they do humbly retreat a little when asked. They are also very respectful, referring to us as either “My Father or My Mother”. No harm meant, but it does take a bit of getting used to. Gratefully, our vehicles were all still in one piece and going strong, ready for the drive home in the morning. Those from Gauteng exited via the Caledonspoort border and the KZN’ers via the Sani Pass.
Probably one of the strangest things that I have seen in a long time, is when three cattle herders arrived on foot during our lunch break. Once they got close, one of them opened up his blanket that he had wrapped around himself, and out popped a chicken! The chicken was clearly very friendly, and proceeded to peck for food around our feet. Anyway, it turned out that this chicken was their long time pet and not destined for the next pot. Once they decided to move on, one of the herdsmen picked up the chicken and put it on his shoulder, and this is where the chicken stayed as they walked off into the distance. Strange indeed.
As always, the Lesotho mountain folk are very friendly, and once you wave at them you are greeted with big smiles and waving hands. Sadly, there are still just so many folksbegging for sweets along the way, however we did have one isolated incident of stone throwing near the end. I put the stone throwing down to the fact that the locals become frustrated with a convoy driving through without handing anything out to them, they know that we have so much and they haveso little.
Youngsters will often visit the camp each afternoon,however come night fall, theytend to leave. I find to best not to give them anything, but rather tell them that we will give them whatever is left over, on our departure the next morning. They seem to accept this and tend to do nothing more than stand and watch us in fascination as we go about our activities with so many weird and wonderful pieces of equipment.
The convoy covered around 350 kilometers with roughly 28 hours of time on the road, around 12, 5 km/h.The new 2.8 Hilux that I was driving averaged 13.3 l/100km.
For a trip of this nature, it’s advisable to remove any unwanted cosmetics such as Nudge bars, side steps and rear drop plates, and perhaps even the removable portion of the tow hitch.