Not everyone knows it’s possible to drive from Johannesburg to Lesotho in a day, get some snow skiing in, and play in Wild Coast waves the next afternoon. But with the scenery so seductive, why rush it? Biénne Huisman made the journey.
A snowy, Sani, Subaru kind of story: Part 1
PART 1: Where we crossed the border and went skiing
Route: Johannesburg to AfriSki Mountain Resort – 408km
The toughest part of road tripping from Johannesburg to Lesotho is getting out of Joburg. Heck, we got lost in O.R. Tambo’s parking lot. Undefeated, we threaded our way through Jozi traffic, dodging trucks and taxis, gunning our Subaru Outback 3.6 over highways and byways. Finally, the Hillbrow Tower grew small in our wake.
There’s a certain serenity to the N3 forging straight ahead – south, past nothing much – after the grainy mayhem of Gauteng proper. A chance for the senses to recalibrate, to breathe.
Our grey Outback was travelling swiftly, like a race horse finally unleashed. Crossing the Vaal River into the Free State, the sky turned wide and blue over undulating gold. This is potato, mealie and red meat country; the air thick with prayer for next year’s crops. Past Warden, with its sandstone Dutch Reformed Church that seats just under 2 000 people, Travel Companion announced: ‘Here it gets more interesting!’ He was right. Veering left onto the R714, the road now curved around slight hills, dams gleaming like mirrors. A stray dog ambled across the road, bringing us to a dead stop as the local radio station cued a song by Roxette.
After a brief Wimpy lunch in Bethlehem we were on course again, heading for the Maluti Mountains on the horizon. Along the R26 the landscape was now rugged, flat hills turning into escarpments and cliffs with pale eroded tops. From Fouriesburg it’s 10 kilometres to the Caledon’s Poort border post – open from 06:00 to 22:00 – where we joined a small queue to enter Lesotho. (Make sure to bring your passport, and that is valid for at least six months). One man with slicked hair and Ray-Bans truly savoured the moment, sucking on a cigar. We recognised him later at Afriski Resort’s Winterfest – the guitarist of Joburg band Gunshot Blue.
“ A man with slicked hair and Ray-Bans truly savoured the moment, sucking on a cigar ”
‘Khotso!’ is the favoured Basotho greeting. Given that it means ‘peace’, passing a police officer with a casually slung automatic rifle near Butha Buthe was ironic, though not completely out of place. After refuelling for only R11.60/litre, we followed the A1 winding steep and narrow east, the tarmac recently resurfaced and remarkably intact. (Note that the Outback got an average of 8.9 litres/100km over our trip.) Up ahead peace unfurled – shades of gold and green like lush draped velvet, speckled with huts and donkeys and waist-high children in school uniform marching briskly by the road.
From the border to AfriSki is 81 kilometres, but it took us nearly two hours, edging higher and higher, past petrified waterfalls – glimmering icicles and frozen froth against etched rock – then over the Mahlasela Pass at 3 222 metres. The sun’s last rays were melting pink over snow-capped peaks as we arrived; night rolling in swift and black and all-consuming. I won’t lie, those flickering lights ahead were a welcome sight.
At the resort, Sky Restaurant claims to be Africa’s highest restaurant. Its Lesotho trout with grilled butternut and tahini was excellent, and waitress Ponchos swooped down plates with a side of beaming conversation.
The next day we played in the snow. There’s a beginner’s slope and lessons for kids and adults. I hit the 1.7-kilometre slope as trusty Travel Companion watched and chronicled, sneaking shots of whisky in his hot chocolate. The slope is usually open until 26 August each year – perfect for learning to ski or snowboard, or for savouring general high spirits.