From Horse Trails Lesotho

Lesotho Horse Trail Adventure labelled second best Adventure in Southern Africa

Best adventure travels in Southern Africa
Steve proudly proudly exhibiting the Wild Weekends guide
Adventure guide in Southern Africa
The Drakensberg entry and Khotso’s Lesotho Horse Trail gets the honours

2013 was a very good year for Khotso Horse Trails. The trail into Lesotho received two outstanding guide book and newspaper referrals for their Lesotho Horse Trail. The one was included in the “Wild Weekends: Places to go, things to do” book, and also consequently got placed in the Sunday Times as the second best adventure to experience in Southern Africa.

Claire Keeton (Sunday Times Adventure Traveller and writer) and photographer Marianne Schwankhart spent the first two months of 2013 taking part in some of the exciting adventures that South African countries have to offer. It was a matter of days before their book “Wild Weekends” was to be published that they found themselves in the company of Khotso’s guides, heading off for a horseback adventure into Lesotho that they would simply have to include in the book. And so it was that the original edition got recalled to make space for Khotso’s Lesotho Adventure in the front pages of their guide book.

An adventure of this magnitude, entering lands so remote that many villagers have never laid eyes on a white man does not get orchestrated overnight. It takes years. And so it was that Steve Black, owner of Tre-Tower sheep and horse farm, headquarters of Khotso Adventures (complete with self-catering accommodation) first started his journey into the worlds of Ultra-Endurance trail running in 1989. This extreme form of running in the high altitudes of the Southern Drakensberg took Steve to all the corners of Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. It didn’t take long before the village people hidden in remote valleys accessibly only by foot and horse became familiar with Steve. It was this experience of running 40 kilometres a day in the mountains that gave Steve the knowledge to offer guided trails into the wilderness. Steve wouldn’t mind running these trails but for the majority of people going on horseback is a much more viable mode of travel.

In 2002 Steve started promoting his love for Lesotho, starting the adventure from the Bushman’s Nek border post in South Africa and then entering Lesotho into the Sehlabathebe National Park via a winding hardly discernable game track. From there it’s up to what the clients would like. Traditionally Khotso stick to offering two and three day trails, but Lesotho is a very big Kingdom when you’re travelling from one valley to the next, so it really does depend on what the client would like. The tours are very dynamic and can be changed to suit a photographer’s schedule, or that of a fisherman wanting to explore the trout inhabited rivers of Lesotho’s water.

Winner of our 2013 Liking competition

Finally we managed to get a winner AND a photo to go with congratulating Douglas Nelson on winning the opportunity to come enjoy Lesotho on horseback with us! We are eternally grateful for the excellent response and feedback we got and will hopefully be hosting the same competition sometime in the near future.

Emma choose a name from the hat: Douglas Nelson!
Emma choose a name from the hat: Douglas Nelson!

Wild Weekends book gets recalled to include Lesotho Adventure

This book was already en route to the publishers by the time Marianne and Claire from the Sunday Times came to do our Lesotho Tour – they immediately called a stop to the publishing so this Lesotho Horse trails adventure could be entered and included in it.

Wild Weekends book gets recalled to include Lesotho Horse trail adventure Need to get out of the city? Looking for an exciting weekend adventure? Wild Weekends brings you a collection of 34 weekend destinations where you can try out adventure activities from mountain biking to bungee jumping.

Visit Waterval Boven and try rock climbing, a mountain bike trail or learn to fly fish. Take your children on a hike to explore the pools and sandstone pillars of the Cederberg, or go horse riding in the Drakensberg. You could take to the skies over the Karoo or tackle an urban adventure and bungee jump from a cooling tower or swing above a soccer stadium.

Decide where you want to go and we’ll tell you what adventures are waiting for you; or decide what activity you want to do and we’ll tell you the best places to go. And when you really can’t get away, we’ll give you some new ideas for adventures in the city.

There are weekend destinations from all over South Africa, as well as Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe. You could go rock climbing, cycling, hiking, caving, horse riding, scuba and shark diving, snorkelling, sea kayaking, surfing, sailing, whitewater rafting, croc diving, paragliding, skydiving, microlighting, sandboarding, desert 4x4ing, rollerblading, fishing, snowboarding, skiing and ice climbing.

Horse riding in the Mountain Kingdom

By Rosh Sewpersad | nirvanafynbos@gmail.com | www.nirvanafynbos.co.za

Traversing the southern Drakensberg into Lesotho is one of the great horse treks in Southern Africa.1

The Kingdom of Lesotho is a small, mountainous country located in the heights of the Drakensberg mountain range that forms an escarpment dividing the east coast of South Africa from the interior. These majestic rolling hills and mountains reveal varied landscapes from gently-swaying grasslands to rocky cliffs and plateaus to giant boulders and overhangs and, always, the all-encompassing sky.

Winters are bitterly cold, bringing much snow that turn into many water courses, steeps and rivers in summer. At this altitude, the air is bracingly pure, the landscapes loom large, and the feeling is one of wide open space, where time stood still.

Tony and I, both experienced horsemen, first heard of Khotso Horse Trails from our fellow horse lovers Isabel and Lloyd, who successfully undertook a cross-continental horse ride in aid of horse welfare. We mentioned our love of trail riding to them, and that all our holidays, when we can afford to take one, involved horse riding. Lloyd immediately recommended Khotso. This idea was put on hold for at least 2 years due to our own constraints running our nature reserve on the West Coast when, by chance, we came across an article in the Sunday newspaper mentioning Khotso again. Serendipity.

From Cape Town, it’s a 2 hour flight to Durban, and then a straightforward, ever-upward drive to Underberg. At Khotso, we were welcomed by our engaging host – strapping, young English adventurer Adrian, who is brimming with interesting anecdotes and facts. The sense of excitement was palpable as the penny dropped for Tony and me – we were here and we’d be setting off in the morning!

TThe following morning, clear and warm, saw us driving to the South Africa-Lesotho border with Eric, our local guide, and horses in tow. Excited to meet our horses nose-to-nose for the first time, I must admit we were initially a tad disappointed at first sight. But our opinion of these hardy Basotho ponies would soon change. After our passports were stamped, we mounted, secure in trail saddles, with our belongings packed in saddlebags, and off we set.

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The change in landscape and sensation was immediate. A paved and fenced off border control point gave way to grass-covered hills ringed by mountains, with no signs of other humans in sight, save for our well-worn footpath. And the horses knew exactly what to do – crossing fast flowing streams strewn with loose boulders and tackling steep ascents and descents. It soon became apparent to us to entrust the decision-making to our sure-footed, hardworking, honest horses.

Our first day saw us following steep trails, hugging mountain contours with sheer drops and, at some points, dismounting to lead the horses over boulders, literally jumping from rock to rock and scrambling over shale paths. Photo opportunities abound, although pictures cannot do justice to the multi-layered, depth of landscapes. We also encountered antelope, baboons and a multitude of birds.

A bracing canter through grassy hills dotted with lunar boulders led us to our beautifully-located home base, Sehlabathebe National Park. Welcomed by a large herd of resident horses, we allowed our horses a well-deserved rest and settled in for a night at the gas-powered king’s chalet, reflecting on an exhilarating day with Eric, our guide. We fell asleep surrounded by the sounds of horses, with our thoughts galloping wildly imagining what the next day held in store. What was to be found on the other side of those beckoning hills?

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A few splutters of rain didn’t deter us after a sustaining breakfast of Jungle Oats. A quick fry up of bacon and cheese sandwiches packed into our saddlebags, and we were away. We swopped horses for fun. Myself on Jackie, Tony on Storm and Eric on HP. Vast swathes of burnt veld on either side of the mountain passes had our noses and eyes protesting. Icy wind sweeping up the mountain side carried the smell of burnt earth and a sense of primeval desolation. I found myself in a meditative state, in tune with my horse, and truly felt a connection with generations of Basotho who had worn these trails. Soon the landscape gave way to hair-raising yet spectacular and exhilarating shale ledges, across which our brave steeds skilfully picked our way. The distant lowing of cow bells in the depths below us, finally gave way to natural terraces where, in a pastoral scene, herdsmen clad in traditional blankets, accompanied by their sheepdogs, drove sheep across the river, amongst whom we also crossed.

Breathtaken by the quality of the experience, we arrived at a rock overhang for lunch. Amongst goats and ancient Bushman rock art, accompanied by the sounds of braying goats and bubbling streams, a better repast of bacon and cheese sandwiches, followed by tepid tea, could not be had.

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Numerous rock overhangs feature dry stone shelters built and used by shepherds in adverse weather conditions. Unfortunately some of the rock art has been severely damaged by successive generations of fire made in these shelters. Nonetheless, this may truly be the highlight of the trail for me.

Lesotho is a country where herds of Basotho horses roam the landscape, grazing freely along with sheep, donkeys, goats and cattle. Small villages with rock and adobe houses were an opportunity to meet and mingle with locals. Friendly dogs usually heralded our approach. White flags flapping in the breeze indicated the availability of the traditional brew, tasting of fermenting porridge, but packing a lingering kick against the cold and our re-ascent of the ledges. Incongruously, we came across a Chinese shop, the only trader, in the remote village of Mavuka, where Tony distributed lollipops to local schoolchildren.

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A welcome coal fire and handmade bread back at the chalet tempered the bitterly cold nights. Joy was lying wrapped in blankets on plush couches contemplating the misty peaks, with book and Old Brown Sherry in hand.

Our final day saw us criss-crossing the landscape at various paces, with numerous river crossings, eventually leading to a spectacular waterfall where we had lunch. A few fast canters over rolling grassy rises, snug in my coat, had me feeling like a Mongolian on the steppes. Passing the abandoned Lesotho border post in the middle of nowhere truly brought the isolation of the area into focus, and the privilege of having been able to traverse this land in such a down-to-earth manner.

What goes up, must come down, and that is what we did – rock-hopping and scrambling in places, as we descended back to the South African border. Troops of baboon hailed our passing – a delightful end to a memorable experience.

TIPS:

–          Ensure you have a valid passport.

–          Pack a warm, wind-and-waterproof jacket, hat, scarf and gloves.

–          A sunhat should have string to prevent it from blowing away.

–          Travel light.

–          Your riding shoes must have grip.

–          Pack munchies – you can always distribute leftovers to children you pass.

–          You can stock up beforehand at the Spar in Underberg.