Lesotho, mountain kingdom awash in streams and waterfalls, place of Basotho ponies, blankets, donkeys and gumboots. Just as picturesque as Switzerland when it’s green in summer or white in winter but with a lot fewer tourists. It’s impossible not to fall in love with Lesotho, especially if you venture into the highlands to Semonkong Lodge.
The small low shacks gave the impression of some kind of children’s village, but accommodated everything from a hair salon to a fruit seller or cell phone kiosk. A sprinkling of brick-and-mortar buildings included the general store and blanket shop. There were also shops selling gumboots, just what’s needed for getting down and dirty in the summer mud.
When we returned late in 2018, nothing much had changed. There was a new tar road that went all the way from Maseru to Semonkong and then on to Qacha’s Nek in the east, and a drought meant that the summer streets were dusty rather than muddy. But everything else looked just the same.
For our Semonkong accommodation, we chose Semonkong Lodge on the outskirts of the village, its stone-and-thatch huts lending an authentic touch in this rural setting. From the deck we could watch a clutch of bald ibis nesting on a ledge in the rock cliff on the other side of the river. The highlights were people-watching on the bridge that crosses the river – a busy ‘highway’ for sheep, donkeys and blanketed men on ponies – and waking to the sound of cow bells in the morning.
Pop in at the Activity Adventure Hut beside the main lodge buildings and you’ll quickly realise how much there is to do around Semonkong, from hiking and pony trails to cultural activities and – the star-turn for the brave of heart – an abseil down a waterfall. You’ll run out of days long before you run out of things to do.
1. Maletsunyane Falls and abseil
It’s down these falls that Semonkong Lodge operates a 204m abseil. According to the Guinness Book of World Records it’s the longest commercially operated single-drop abseil in the world. The day before your abseil, the guides will give you some training about the techniques and equipment on short cliffs near the lodge. You may get wet from the spray during your abseil down Maletsunyane, so wear quick-drying clothes or bring a change otherwise you’ll be hiking out of the gorge in soggy pants.
2. Mountain biking
Bring your mountain bike or hire one from the lodge to enjoy some thrilling rides into the surrounding mountains. Choose from gravel roads for the less experienced or take to the horse trails and contour tracks for something more technical and challenging.
3. Pony trekking
The mountains around Semonkong Lodge beg to be hiked. Routes vary from easy to more difficult, like to the bottom of the Maletsunyane Falls, where you can swim in the pool, or to the Matsoku Falls. Talk to the guys at the Activity Adventure Hut about overnight hiking options too. Although you don’t have to hire a guide for your day hikes, it’s a way to invest in the local community and show the value of tourism.
5. Blanket presentation
6. Donkey pub crawl
Climb onto the back of a donkey and head up the hill to the village to visit a Basotho home that brews traditional beer, and some of the local shebeen bars. Interact with the locals (your guide will help to facilitate this) and experience their music and dancing. This activity is most fun if you’re part of a group.
7. Semonkong town tour
8. Rock climbing
Given all the mountains surrounding Semonkong the area offers lots of rock climbing opportunities whether you’re looking for something easy or challenging. Bring your own climbing equipment and hire a guide to accompany you to one of the sheer basalt cliffs that range from small up to 200m.
9. Fly fishing
10. 4x4 drives
Take to the hills if you want to put your 4x4 through its paces. If you’re worried about getting lost, take a guide in your own vehicle for a few hours as you visit places of interest like Phororo viewpoint, Tsenkeng or Ha Seng.
11. Visit the local wool shed
12. Watch the passing parade
13. Spot the Semonkong Big Five
On your hikes, pony treks and 4x4 drives in the mountains, see how many of Semonkong’s Big Five you can spot: the spiral aloe (Aloe Polyphylla), bald ibis, bearded vulture (lammergeier), grey rhebok and of course the Maletsunyane Falls (see point 1).
14. Visit the Duck and Donkey Tavern
15. Horse races in winter
If you visit in winter, you may have two treats in store. First, you might experience snow at Semonkong. Second, ask if any traditional horse races are scheduled so you can experience the thrill and excitement of the races in a country obsessed with horses for both sport and transport.
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