Authentic experiences await on South Africa-Lesotho border

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Hiking in the northern Drakensberg Mountains around the Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge.
Hiking in the northern Drakensberg Mountains around the Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge. Photo Credit: Boundless Southern Africa

Southern Africa has a number of what are known as transfrontier conservation areas -- TFCAs for short. These areas overlap two or more countries and usually offer beautiful landscapes, fantastic culture and some of the most authentic experiences on the continent.

One such areas is the Maloti Drakensberg TFCA, which straddles the eastern border of the landlocked mountain kingdom of Lesotho as well as the Drakensberg area in South Africa. The area is known for its incredible nature offerings and rich culture.

Boundless Southern Africa, a regional marketing and investment promotion initiative that supports and facilitates sustainable tourism development in the TFCAs, recently launched a campaign to put these beautiful areas in the spotlight. Travelers can complete a quiz, which helps determine what kind of traveler they are and then offers suggestions for activities that fit their profile.

Those determined by quiz results to be "trail chasers" and nature lovers are offered suggestions of some incredible hiking trails in the mountain range around Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge, where hikers will be treated to breathtaking views as they traverse rocky terrain. This area has some spectacular caves with excellent Bushman's paintings. A local guide can accompany visitors on hikes and provide knowledge into the area and surrounding communities. Should the group encounter shepherds while hiking, the guide has the ability to speak the local language and communicate with them.

One of the most unique experiences suggested in the Maloti Drakensberg is a stargazing hammock camp built by Mlendeni Sitole and can be booked through Antbear Lodge. Sitole is a young man who looks after the horses at Antbear but decided to build the hammock camp to share the stories of the night sky with guests. He will point out some of the major constellations of the southern skies, but it's the traditional Zulu stories of myths and legends that really stand out.

Sitole will regale guests with Zulu legends about how the sky became so high and how the moon and the sun got into the sky. He explains how the Milky Way arcs over people like a giant swathe of smoke, reminiscent of the African tale where a strong-willed girl became so angry when her mother would not give her any of a delicious roasted root that she grabbed the roasting roots from the fire and threw the roots and ashes into the sky. The red and white roots now glow as red and white stars, and the ashes are the Milky Way.

On the Lesotho side of the TFCA, visitors can experience the Basotho way of life. From Maliba Lodge, they can visit one of the local villages or schools and see the simple, everyday life and culture of the Basotho people first hand. The villages and their thatched and stone rondavels (round huts) make fantastic photo opportunities, but the real highlight of the visit is the warm and friendly people often dressed in traditional Basotho blankets. Travelers can even visit the local Sagoma (witch doctor) or shebeen (local pub).

From Semongkong Lodge, visitors can also enjoy a traditional blanket presentation at the home of Me Masetho, a local artisan who lives and breathes blanket-making and has a wealthy of knowledge about the subject. Visitors will learn all about the designs and different meanings of these patterns of the likobo (blanket).

Another fun activity is the Donkey Pub crawl, where guests experience traditional entertainment sites in a unique way: riding a donkey. They can visit a traditional beer-brewing home and local bars while enjoying Basotho music and dancing.

A visit to Lesotho wouldn't be complete without experiencing an overnight pony-trekking trip on the trusty, sure-footed Basotho ponies. Known for their endurance and used by the Basothos as one of the main modes of transport in the rocky terrain, visitors will find that these reliable, good-natured animals take the foothills and rugged mountain paths with ease. Pony treks will take guests past local villages, waterfalls and some amazing viewpoints. The mighty Maletsunyane Falls is one of the highest single dropping waterfalls in Africa, plummeting more than 600 feet into the gorge below. At Mount Quang, the highest mountain in the area, travellers will find the national flower of Lesotho, the spiral aloe.

Accommodations in the Maloti Drakensberg TFCA are as diverse and unique as the area itself.  There are treehouses like the Bahati Tree Lodge; eco-stays in a luxury cave at Antbear Lodge; or luxury resorts such as the Cavern or Cathedral Peak Hotel.

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