A Crown Jewel In The Mountain Kingdom

06/09/2011.

It’s not often that you look at a travel destination on a website and you feel compelled to go there as soon as possible. OK, maybe it is the case for exotic locations all over the world such as the Seychelles or Maldives, South America or the picturesque Alps in Europe, but I never thought such a place existed a mere 4 hour drive from Johannesburg.

After a bit of deliberation regarding the time of the year and our finances, the booking was made to visit Maliba Lodge at the end of July. Our excitement was tangible in the car as we made our way down the N3 towards Warden in the Free State, before turning towards Bethlehem and Clarens. There was a good chance of snow for the weekend as a massive cold front was making its way up to Lesotho, but we didn’t think much of it as the sky was a clear deep blue and there wasn’t a breath of wind.

We entered the Lesotho border at Caledonspoort and drove eastwards past Butha Buthe up the valley towards Maliba Lodge. It’s a meandering 30 km tarred road, taking you through the heart of rural Lesotho.

Sunday afternoon domestic football match in northern Lesotho

After an hour’s drive from the border post we reached the Tsehlanyane National Park and having payed the park fees, we made our way up the last bit of dirt road before Maliba Lodge came into sight.

The photos on their website are quite spectacular and sets high expectations, but still, it can’t prepare you for the first time you see it in real life. Neither does it for all the other times over the next two days your eyes glance over towards those mountains. The lodge’s site is situated on a little mound at the side of the mountain and it overlooks a 180 degree panorama of the Maluti mountains. It is so brilliantly placed that when you stand on the deck of the main building, it literally feels as if you can touch the mountain on the other side of the Hlotse river. You also have  a fantastic view of the valley originating higher up in the mountain and flowing serenely past the lodge down in the valley. The stunning factor is that you are literally surrounded by mountains and that they are very close, unlike almost all Drakensberg accommodation  and camp sites.

Panoramic view from the viewing deck.

For the next two days it not only felt as if we were at a travel Utopia, we were. They looked after and catered for us in a fashion that I have not experienced before. The attention to detail was immaculate.  We were welcomed by the friendliest staff I have had the pleasure to meet and they made us immediately feel at home. Whenever you asked them something, they were not only too glad to help you but in most cases it was already done. It never felt as if they were doing us a favour and they were also very efficient, well dressed and discreet.

The first afternoon we went for a short 6,5 km hike up the valley to a spot called Black Pool. The trail starts from the lodge at 2030 meters above sea level (asl) and follows the contour of the mountain up the valley and is so well maintained that you don’t even need hiking boots. The breathtaking views are never ending and at one stage the trail snakes through a beautiful haunted forest. Because of snow in the area a few weeks before, there remained a few patches of ice in the shaded areas. By 4 pm the sun had set behind the mountains in the west, but those on the opposite side were still bathed in sunlight. Black Pool is at approximately 2080 meters asl and at this time of the year definitely not suitable for swimming. We filled up our water bottles with ice cold crystal clear mountain water and made our way back to the lodge to arrive there at dusk.

View from the valley floor towards the lodge, just off center.

Breakfast and dinner were included for our weekday special. On both days the food was superb and herewith goes my compliments to the chef. Well prepared and presented food might sound like no mean feat for a 5 star lodge, but you must take into consideration that the nearest places to buy food from are either Maseru or Bethlehem and once a month they drive to Johannesburg or Durban to replenish supplies. This necessitates an a la carte menu, but boy oh boy, each one of those options are done to perfection.

There are six 5 star chalets and they are situated next to each other, but privacy isn’t compromised. We stayed in number 3 and heard from the staff that the king of Lesotho had stayed in it just the week before. It’s surprising how spacious they are once you enter them and the layout is expertly designed. It is very spacious but still feels intimate. The main feature of the room is definitely the bed. It’s by far the biggest bed I have ever slept on. The chalet also has a veranda with a stunning view up the valley towards the mountains. They are geared for extreme cold weather with underfloor heating, a fireplace, an electric blanket and towel warmers. The bath also has a big window right next to it from where you can keep an eye on the mountains. Not that they are going anywhere soon, but they do change character as the day progresses.

By 10pm the temperature had dropped dramatically and we hit the bed with the anticipation of waking up to a white wonderland.  We weren’t disappointed…

Waking up to this...

At 6:30am I dragged myself out of a cozy bed, opened the curtains and saw the most beautiful picture perfect scene. The world had been transformed. Snowflakes were silently drifting down onto the ground and thatch rooftop. It was quite amazing to see how dramatically the landscape had changed from the golden winter grass hills of the day before to the pure white snow filled gulleys of this morning.

A photo session of note was due and in order, so I occupied myself with that for the next two hours before breakfast. It was with a tinge of sadness that we packed our luggage into the car and drove down the valley back to South Africa. If you were not allowed to go anywhere but stay only in one spot for the rest of your life, I wouldn’t mind being tied down to Maliba’s viewing deck. Like the ocean, mountains can hold my stare for hours and there is always something new that catches the eye. It’s as if those mountains beckons you to come up and see what they see…hopefully it won’t be too long before I go there again and take the trail to the top of the mountain kingdom.

Looking back towards the Maluti Mountains.


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  • Pingback: Long weekend away treat: Maliba « speurderlinda()

  • wow, this looks so sooo beautiful, I’m jealous! Glad you let us peek over your shoulder though 🙂 Any fireflies there?? hehe

    thea.
    xx

  • Ejacobszuk

    Speaking of fireflies, we once camped in Swaziland and saw a LOT of them. Amazing creatures. Thanks for the positive feedback!