Instalment 14 – Going loopy in South Africa & Lesotho

Jen – Going loopy in more ways than one…

1)    We’ve taken a bit of a loop down to South Africa before backtracking up north, mainly to avoid the rainy season in Zambia – South and North Luangwa have come so highly recommended we wanted to make sure we could get around and see them at their best

2)    We’ve had a couple of days going round in circles due to the rainy conditions we’ve found down south – Ben will tell you more…

3)    Joburg is a frustratingly ‘modern’ American type of city which reminds me of Redditch… (Mum – a bit like the day I tried to take you to Tescos!) you can see exactly where you need to go but can’t get off the road or in the direction you need to and end up driving around and around in circles… for hours – arrghh!

Ben – We made it to 2am!!  Rock & Roll!!

In our last instalment in Maputo we were off to catch some live music in the Gil Vicente  bar in the city.  The band were from Swaziland and called Spirits Indigenous.  They were simply brilliant.  A infectious mix of something funky & something traditional with two amazing female vocalists, one a little bit crazy, one just beautiful.  I’ve tried to find some of there stuff online, but so far failed to find a good example of the gig we saw, this is the best I can do.

Anyway, since Maputo we changed our plans a bit.  We were going to head down the coast on “the bumpy road”, (a term used by Noel & Ping, a great couple we met at the Maputo hostel who were also “overlanding africa”).  But we decided to take the easy route to South Africa to get to civilisation quicker and give the Disco some TLC.

South Africa, oh my word, a bit of a shock, we felt like we’d left Africa and re-entered Europe.  We spent an hour in a huge “Shoprite” supermarket in Nelspruit bewildered by 300 flavours of yogurt, meat piled to ceiling, all the veg imaginable.  The streets outside look like America, 3 lanes wide, endless shopping malls & fancy cars & pickups.  As soon as we rocked up at the Funky Monkeys hostel to camp up, we met Mo, an Englishman living in SA / Mozambique who phoned-a-friend for us to find a good Landy Mechanic, James Jackson was the man apparently.  The following day we hunted him down and finally met up with him in his workshop to talk about the few issues we had, nothing too worrying, but a couple of things that had needed attention for a while.  His workshop was full of old Series Landys & Defenders, and the years of experience James has in the Landy tinkering business said it was the right place to be.  James was a fantastic source of other info too, he’d spent a lot of time in Zambia & Namibia (we’re heading that way), so we ended up camping in his garden and joining him for a Brai (BBQ!) whilst drinking his beer & wine.

Jen: We had a fantastic evening chatting to James and his friend Val, James couldn’t have made us feel more welcome. Whilst Ben hovered around the workshop during the day, with the guys fixing the landie James opened up his house for me, and I sat on his veranda in the sunshine, with some amazing safari books, my sketch book, binoculars and a guide to South African birds – I had a lovely day whilst Ben had a slighty more stressful day and came back covered in grease. That night we were shown a true South African brai with a fair bit of wine, and beer plus we got to sample biltong (something we didn’t think we liked but we were wrong). James also had some many tips for us plus a bundle of maps that he gave us for our journey.



Whilst in Nelspruit town we also bumped into Marga, Marcel, Tom & Fleur, (the family we’d staying in Vilanculos in Mozambique with).  It just so happened that Ray & Avril (friends from back in Uganda/Rwanda) were also passing, so all 8 of us ended up camping up together for a night which was brilliant.  All in all our diversion to the non-descript town of Nelspruit had been a belter!!

From here we headed south, bound for the mountains of the Drakensberg & Lesotho.  The day we left was a dreary grey cold day of drizzle, much like being at home, and it was a long drive.  We rocked up in the Northern Drakensberg close to Bergville in the rain, had a hot-chocolate before cooking in the drizzle, eating fast & retreating to the hostels lounge & roaring fires.  It was another night of socialising, this time with Brother & Sister due Sam & Kat   They’d come down the West coast of the continent and were starting to head north in the LandCruiser.  The following day we almost joined them for the hike to “the amphitheatre” and the worlds 2nd highest waterfall, but the relentless rain put us off, so we left them to it.  Instead we drove south into the Drakensburg mountains which are apparently stunning.  I say apparently ‘cos the cloud and rain persisted for 2 more days, and we saw very little except ta stunning sun-set that lasted all of 10 mins, and some nice morning views from Hilton (the town, not the Hotel) that lasted all of 20 mins.  We passed through a number of fords that got deeper & faster flowing, before having to back-track for a couple of hours because a one that was simply impassable



As with so many things though, the disappointment was more than made up for later.  What had been falling as rain in the Drakensberg, was falling as snow in the high tiny independent country of Lesotho.  We headed up the Sani pass with warnings of terrible road conditions & possible closure ringing in our ears.  Lesotho is not like South Africa, or much like any other African country we’ve seen, in fact I’d liken it to Kyrgzstan, It’s simply stunning.  At the foot of the Sani pass the tar runs out, and track begins which gets progressively rougher & steeper as you climb to the summit at 2874m.  As we got near the top we reached the snow and it was just fantastic.  After the pass (and the border formalities in the hut at the top) the track plateaued for a while before climbing further to about 3300m, and over the coming days the landscape just got better and better.



On night 1 we stayed in a lovely “lodge” in Molumong  where we had the place to ourselves to cook dinner when Daniel the guy who looks after it went home leaving us with a box of matches to light the candles (no electricity up here).



The following day we drove 60km in 3 hours (the roads are all steep & rough and snowey in places) towards the Katse Dam before coming to a raging torrent of water that had washed out a major bridge.  So again we had to back track, and with no other routes this meant a return to the Molumong lodge.



Jen – As we drove along we went past lots of people, wrapped up in blankets and balaclavas, nearly every time we got a beautiful smile and a wave from them. We were both quite disappointed to be driving back the way we’d just come but I can’t think of many roads I’d have preferred to do twice (despite the rough and rocky conditions) – something we proved the next day when we had to go along the tar road which was still stunning but not a patch on the day before.

This time we had company though, Farni & his friend who we’d met at the foot of Sani were there with a French Hitch-Hiker called Alex who they’d found en-route.  Farni is a Landrover Technician from Cape Town who was there in a brand new Discovery.  We gave them the bad news that they wouldn’t make it to Katse, and agreed to take Alex with us the next day.  The alternative route was a more major route, and although the tar was pretty ropey, and in places actually gravel, it was way faster.  It was nowhere near as interesting as the previous day though, few sheep herders, or horsemen wrapped in blankets, and the feeling was not that of a completely remote wilderness,  we were so glad we’d taken our 6 hour detour, see some pics below.



We would have spent more time in Lesotho, we loved it, definitely a top 5 country of the trip for me (more top 5’s to come soon), but now we are on a mission to get up to Harare (Zimbabwe) to meet Andy (Jens Brother) who is joining us for a couple of weeks, so we’ll have to go back one day.  We are in Johannesburg now, and planning to head to Zim tomorrow.  Jo’berg is a sprawling urban city that hasn’t excited us much, we are looking forward to going back to real Africa!!  (We did visit the Apartheid museum today which was really interesting, and so well put together)

Anyway, tata for now, Ben

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6 Responses to Instalment 14 – Going loopy in South Africa & Lesotho

  1. Jan Butler says:

    Fantastic stories and pictures you two – keep having the time of your lives and keep safe. Hope Andy has an amazing time with you, too .

    All my love xx

  2. Dear Jen & Ben, loving the blog – brilliant! Nelspruit, a non-descript town?LOL. Following you now – have a blast and sending you lots of yogurt from Sunny South Africa. Bruce from Funkey Monkeys

  3. DIRK bERTRAND says:

    Hey Guys, following your trip off & on for 6 months or so. I’m so envious of your travels,but have truly enjoyed reading about it. We are retiring in 16 months, planning a tour thru southern & eastern Africa for about 8 to 10 months. We are also music lovers & enjoy live music at small venues often. How are you guys finding out about the shows that you have been posting? Awesome! Keep putting out your blog, it keeps the dream alive.

    Thanks, Dirk (USA) Atlanta

    • Hi Dirk, really great to hear you’re enjoying our updates. It sounds like you’ve got some pretty good plans yourself and will have a fantastic time I know. We’ve been finding out about music as we go, Maputo was always on the radar from what the guidebook said then we just asked around when we arrived. We’ve also lucked out with festivals which again we’ve found out through talking to people – the main ones I know of that you should check out are Sauti Za Busara (Zanzibar, Feb), HIFA (Harare, Apr – May), Lake of Stars (Malawi, August time??).

      Good luck in your trip plans – you’ll have to let us know your blog so we can be envious of your trip when we’re back in the dreary UK!

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