A public holiday on a Wednesday plus the two days in lieu Jon was owed due to working on a previous public holiday and a Saturday, meant we had five days off. Perfect for a mini-break.
Flights from Dar es Salaam are expensive and there are not many places where you can fly direct, but we found some reasonably priced flights to Johannesburg via Lilongwe (Malawi). From there we hopped into our rental car for the drive to Lesotho, a small kingdom, completely surrounded by South Africa. (It is one of only three countries in the world that are completely surrounded by one other country, can you name the other two?)
Four hours later, cruising on very comfortable tarmac roads, we arrived at the Lesotho border. It was an easy crossing and another hour later we were at Maliba lodge. It wasn’t far, but roads full of cows and people, combined with many speed bumps meant it was dark by the time we arrived at the gate of the national park.
Our first two nights were spent in a river cottage that could have slept 8. It was a lovely place, right on the river which we saw the next morning in daylight. Temperatures in Lesotho were perfect, glorious sunshine during the day and warm enough to walk around in a t-shirt. At night the temperature dropped and it was fantastic to sit by the fireplace at dinner and snuggle up under the blankets and duvet in bed. Single glazing meant it was pretty nippy inside the cottage at night.
We walked the Circular Route on our first full day, enjoying the freedom of walking without a guide, the sunshine, and the views. The lodge is located in the Tsehlanyane national park, and the walks are all through the mountains. It is the largest of only two national parks in the country. The circular route is their longest so we started with that.
Near the end of the route, we came across several birds and even an eland, just before loosing the trail. By the time we discovered we were on the wrong trail and backtracked to the correct turn it was getting dark. Hiking the last section, including two river crossings, in the dark (without a light) was a bit challenging!
The next day we enjoyed a sleep-in, a leisurely breakfast and then a swap to a chalet. The same chalet where prince Harry stayed, and the king of Lesotho always stays we were told. It certainly felt royal, and after enjoying lunch there, we went out for a shorter hike to one of the waterfalls. The rest of the afternoon we relaxed at the chalet, and when we returned from dinner at the restaurant we found our own fireplace roaring too. We sat down in the comfy chairs with some chocolate and a delicious glass of South African pinotage and stared at the flames, just what we needed.
The next day we had hired a guide to take us to the dinosaur footprints outside of the national park. It was a little over an hour’s drive to a village called Tsikoane, where we parked at a church. We picked up another, local, guide and started walking up the steep mountain. They had told us it was a short walk, not a scramble up a steep hill with lots of thorny scrubs… But once we reached the site it was quite spectacular. On the ‘ceiling’ of an overhang you can clearly see the three-toed, negative imprints of the dinosaur that walked there many, many moons ago.
The next stop at Subeng was a short walk, and this time the prints were not on the ceiling but in a creek. We got our feet wet and had a look, some are pretty obvious, others not so, but it was still pretty amazing to see.
It also turned out that our guide was a keen birder, and he helped us identify nearly all the birds we had spotted on our circular route. A huge help, saving us many hours of searching the books when back in Dar.
Back at the lodge we spent the afternoon enjoying our chalet and packing for the trip home the next day. And of course there was another session with chocolate and pinotage sitting by the fire after dinner. Unfortunately our flight time meant we had to leave very early in the morning, no more time to enjoy the chalet with a leisurely breakfast out of wine glasses (the river cottage had a full kitchen, the chalet did not, but we found eating muesli out of large red wine glasses with a teaspoon also works :-)).
It had been a perfect little break from Tanzania, and hopefully one day we can go back with a proper 4wd and explore a bit more of the rugged side of the country, or perhaps we can go skiing at Afriski, Lesotho’s very own (and only) ski resort. One of just two ski resorts in southern Africa.