Day 7 – Rest day in Tiffindell

Resting up, washing, attending to the needs of the vehicles, loose bolts etc. Someones tailshaft was loose. I showed our driver the air filter he contributed to filling with dust. A new one appeared and it was changed.

The view is big.

Lesotho on the left, South Africa on the right
A long climb on my legs, no 4wd action here





Ice and the mountains



Day 6 – Semonkong to Tiffindell Ski Resort

Indeed the view was nice across the valley when we woke. I lit the fire – a task allocated to me as the Malaysians recognise they are no good at this.

Hot water for coffee was brought to our hut at 7:30am and breakfast was a bit after 8. It was pleasant inside.

Thatch roof

Full cooked breakfast was served in the restaurant – fruits, cereals yoghurt, then a woman asked me how I liked my eggs, and before long I had a plate of scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, baked beans. I’m eating well.

After bouncing our way past the adjacent Semonkong village, with it’s rough stone/concrete block huts, dusty stony tracks, we found our way to the famous Maletsunyane Falls. It’s a 192m straight drop, and it’s famous because they do abseiling off the cliffs and hold the Guinness Book of Records record for a commercial abseil. For just over 1000 Rand – about A$100 you have a day of training then abseiling. We didn’t have time for this!


Swinging back to the south, the mountains remain completely huge and vast. Many passes means climbs in second and third gear, sometimes first if we encounter a speed bump on the highway next to a village. When these are on a hill, which they frequently are, first gear is needed which is then hard to get out of with a sick engine. We stop when the temp gauge shows signs of water loss, which equates to perhaps three or four times a day and is often timed with a pee stop or lunch break so we don’t hold people up too much.

Once over the crest, then the windy steep descent also means third, and sometimes second gear to hold the bit heavy vehicle at a safe speed without overheating the brakes. I’m a bit over coaching our driver on how to do all this well. A friend of mine used to say – “the teacher will come when the student is ready”. This one is not ready!

The idea is not difficult to me. You have an old style turbo diesel engine with a blown head gasket. This means gently application of power – accelerator  – as this adds heat and pressure inside the already compromised combustion chamber and forces more gasses out the leaky head gasket. So, it is not sensible to push it much more than 2000rpm with gentle throttle, ie not foot to the floor. However, the engine has limited power below 1500rpm, just because it’s a diesel, so there is not much room to play with and frequent gear changing is required. It’s okay to have the engine run faster than 2000rpm especially on a long down hill descent, as there is no fuel going in and this normally helps cool the system down. It’s also okay to drive at less than 1500rpm, but only on very light throttle as your under no load and just puddling along not needing any power.

But when you see the road ahead is rising, the idea is to preselect a lower gear as soon as load comes onto the engine and the revs drop to 1700rpm, and in the lower gear the engine is happy at around 2000rpm and with a light throttle the turbo boost assists carry over the obstacle. If not, then a change back to second is needed and using the revs of the engine rather than just plonking the foot on the pedal is the way to go.

So I become disheartened when a driver doesn’t change gear until 1000 rpm, which if on a hill, means as soon as the clutch is disengaged, the vehicle essentially stops and you need to go down two or three gears to build the revs for the turbo to work and forward momentum to be rediscovered. I also become alarmed when the brakes are used on long downhills and no downshift is made to use the compression of the engine for braking. I don’t think this is a personal preference or style, I think it’s the right way to drive with the engine in the condition it is, in fact anytime really in a big vehicle. Awareness is coming, especially for the downhill. The teacher will come when the student is ready…..

A border crossing was processed. Easy exit of Lesotho. Stamp passport, carnet’s checked for the vehicles. Then a short drive to the South Africa border at Qacha’s Nek. Same process, but this took an hour. A cursory check inside the vehicle, much less than entering Russia three years ago.

More rough roads, very stony, and down onto the plain for refuelling at Matatiele. Dusk turned into night and we headed south on the R56 highway at a good speed until turning off at an ‘adventurous short cut’. This dusty road at night was no fun for me. It was slow going, and our driver took a lot of convincing to drop back several hundred metres from the car in front, instead of sitting 20m and collecting all the dust and being in a white out most of the time due to him using the high roof top lights. Eventually we got him to back off 500m or so. The track deteriorated, with low range used on my insistence at times. What I did notice was that on the highway, the radiator did not boil as easy, because we were at lower altitude. It was also cold outside, so the radiator carried away more heat – a good temporary fix.

High mountain passes, rocks and a track that was hardly discernible in the night. Fortunately we followed our leader, and I had accurate mapping too, so this gave confidence as the hours went by.

It was certainly an adventurous route that tested the vehicles and the drivers. One car, a stock standard  but completely overloaded nice Landcruiser Sahara – kept it’s city weight springs and every small undulation had the rear axle hitting the bump stops – an awful experience for the passengers. Yes, Landcruisers are strong but they don’t come from the factory to be ready for expeditions like this – soft springs, soft tyres…..  Just doesn’t cut it.

Tiffindell Ski resort
Maize is the commonly grown crop

We arrived at 11:30pm with no dinner, and a closed reception. I eventually went to bed around 1:00am and there is a promise of a second nights stay here tomorrow.


11 hours 37 mins travel time


Day 5 – Bush Camp to Semonkong

Breakfast of mushroom soup and bread, more visitors this time on donkeys. I came across a couple of young men carting sticks for firewood. Not sure what time they had started work but their village was at least two kms away and they had a full trailer of sticks and wood. One spoke reasonable English and after I took his photo, he asked for a copy of the photo to be sent to him. He wrote his name and address, no email here, and I intend to do so. He was 20. He told me he had learnt English at school but the school had closed as there was no money.

Lunch was cooked up and carried to be eaten later. Eventually Thaba-Tseka appeared. An outpost rambling town. A fuel stop appeared with a queue of twenty cars for petrol. Fortunately the diesel queue was shorter. Taxi’s had appeared on the road. Toyota Corollas, traversing the same roads our big Landcruisers. I wonder if Toyota do product testing with a Corolla loaded with five people  climbing steep mountain passes and negotiating pothole the size of a wheel.

Lunch was had after driving off the road near a farmers pen. Our arrival brought all the dogs out, pups galore. All skinny and seeking food. And herders arrived from somewhere on donkeys, watching from a distance. Food was shared with them to take away, and the dogs.   They use a sheet of kitchen paper on a plate to minimise washing up. Neat idea.

After Thaba-Tseka the road was bitumen as we headed towards the capital Maseru. Up and down through the ranges, climbing to 2800 or 3000m then down to 2300m for a little bit, but then up again for the next pass, one of which was called ‘God help me pass’. Sometimes we followed the Senqunyane River as it looped around.  Eventually we came to the edge of the plateau and flatlands laid our in front of us. Road speeds increased, but so did the danger of people and cars. A turn off at Mafikeng and through the National University of Lesotho. I wonder if my 20 year old friend up in mountains knows about this place. On the road to Semongkong, our destination for the night with plenty of driving in the dark, climbing back into the mountains. Herders with 100 sheep or goats on the road in the darkness and no lights. One goat was hit, not sure by who.

So here we are at Semongkong. Chalets built onto the side of the hills, should be nice views in the morning.   Today was Thursday 20th April


Day 4 – Sani Pass to Bush Camp

A pleasant midday departure was planned, but confirmed when some of the carnet paperwork was not collected by the South African Police on the exit of South Africa last night – in their rush to close for the night.  So 1$ with others had to exit Lesotho, drive down the pass, hand over the sheets, then drive up again. It is a distance of about 7 km, but quite slow and time consuming, no doubt with extra stops for photos.

Lesotho border post

Long rolling hills with bitumen highways where pleasant driving, it’s high arid mountainous landscape. Our aim was to get to Thaba -Tseka and the highway would take us around a long route of over 300km. The alternative was a short cut of around 100km on dirt roads, which we took.

Small villages of round huts, straw roofs are everywhere, and similar huts spread across the landscape. Herders tending their stock, sometimes sheep, sometimes goats with a few cows. Donkey and bullock carts collecting timber for the upcoming winter. Men wearing long heavy robes to keep the chilly wind out, and menacing looking beanies that when removed would reveal young cheerful faces.

Corolla negotiating the holes


Windy roads, plenty of rocky sections and potholes, this is an unmaintained track.

At some point we came across more and more cars and people  and found ourselves in the middle of an election rally. There was the team wearing red, then there was a team wearing blue with a clock as a symbol – Lesotho version of ‘It’s Time’ I guess.  I think there may have been a yellow and a white team too. As we arrived the two teams were coming together, traffic was at a standstill and chanting people all around us. Loud music from a PA system on the back of a ute. It was a heady experience. We never felt unsafe, everyone was happy, great to see. The thing that interests me is that all these people seem to have pretty similar lives. Some are living in open farms, some are in villages. Some villages have schools with kids with uniforms. But I’m not sure how you could get four different political groupings our of what appears to be a mono culture.

Safely exiting the rally, we kept our progress and as the sun was setting we came across a river with wide floodplain and after due investigation, this was to be our campsite for the night next to the Dinaking river.

Tents appeared from the back of the cars, 10°C rated very light tropical sleeping bags were issued to those who had requested them. Even stretcher camp beds and self inflating mattresses had all be stacked away inside the cars. Combined with ours being a food carrying vehicle, you can see how is would become fully overloaded very quickly.

Keen photographer Nora, also the trip chronicler, and I set up our cameras to capture the night sky. She had taken an awesome shot of the milky way last night and I was keen to do the same. She has a mirrorless Sony with full frame sensor which takes a variety of lens and has all the features of my camera, I think. I was happy with the shots, but it did get cold.


Locals gathered. Locals came with a truck to collect sand for building from the river bed, tents got moved. More locals came and watched the tent city grow and more lights than they had ever seen turned on. Dinner appeared and was consumed and discussion after dinner turned to the need for a two hour sentry roster. I didn’t volunteer.

I was warm enough, but mislaid my nice possum fur beanie, so my head was a little cold at times. I had four thermal tops and one bottom and two liners inside my down sleeping bag that it is zero rated. The Malaysians on the other hand, were all completely unprepared and not acclimatised. Their light weight gear was no match for the 0°C overnight temps. It probably got colder than that as my drink bottle was frozen.


Day 3 – Durban to Sani Pass

Looking out over the Sani Pass down off the plateau of the Drakensburg Mountains and I feel very fortunate to be able to experience this. They do say that high altitude brings a certain euphoria, maybe it does, but so does the scenery.

From the bathroom window

Taking you back a day, we spent Easter Monday at a shopping centre in Durban, doing a bit more site seeing to the beach and packing up the cars.   None of this was very interesting to write about!

Our convoy eventually left our accommodation at Mandalay in the northern suburbs of Durban and we headed to a spot next to a big stadium, name to be inserted later, that hosted the World Cup several years ago. However the place we parked for a photo seemed to be against the rules and we needed permission to be there. Permission was eventually sought and granted and photos taken. All the run around kept us there for at least twice as long as if they’d just let us do our thing and be on our way.

Too much barbed wire


From our accommodation


We found our way onto a major motorway heading to Pretoria, the capital of South Africa up through ranges and steep climbs with plenty of traffic.

Traffic jam caused by some incident

I was comfortably squeezed into the back seat along with heaps of gear and noticed the temp gauge rising. After a stop at a big service station we turned off and found ourselves on lesser roads looking for a lunch stop. By accident, we turned off into what turned out to be a pretty little community of herders and subsistence farmers. Lunch of noodles was prepared but I was still full from yesterday’s lunch, so declined.

The old car
After having their photo taken with some of the group, this couple were checking it out on their phones.


More of a delay was the discovery of a significant problem with the car I was in – no doubt a head gasket has blown. After a refill of water and plenty of concerned looks, I was placed in the drivers seat and told to drive gently. This I did and although we couldn’t keep up with the convoy we didn’t do too bad. We had 1$ and mechanic Jackie following us in my old car so refilled the radiator a couple of times – hot cup of tea anyone?

Pressure was on to reach the South Africa border post before they closed at 6pm and we made it, just. Before then the tar road had petered out and we were on the rocky dirt track that went all the way up the side of the mountain, so I had fun driving that in low range. Engine seemed to stay cool enough with care, not revving too much, low pressure on the accelerator and changing down gears to reduce the fuel needed – fuel = heat and pressure which aggravated the problem. Slow progress at times.

The border control was very happy to stamp us our really fast with no formality, they wanted to go home. Better than 8 hours from Mongolia to Russia!

After entering no mans land between the two border crossings, Eddie drove again and we climbed through the Sani pass at night which was a wonderful experience. Seeing the lights of the cars leading us way up and up and up ahead of us, and watching the altimeter on my mapping app climb and climb through 1500m to 2000m then to 2872m at the Mountain Lodge. The entry to Lesotho stayed open for us and again it was a quick stamp and away we go.

The poor Malaysians I am travelling with are freezing in the cold mountain air, and I do admit that I felt the cold in my shorts too. 8°C when we arrived and dropped to a low of around 2°C. Camping is planned for tonight…. eeeek.

A chilly start was worthwhile to get the light on the plateau soon after sunrise.





Sani Pass



Sheep herder