Category “Johnie does Lesotho”

Johnie does Afriski, Lesotho

Wednesday, 15 August, 2012

Johnie does Free State & Lesotho

By JJ Jonker

Like a fair number of other people, we also thought that the present spate of severe weather conditions throughout the country should guarantee decent snow at Afriski.

The weather conditions, of course, spread quite a bit wider than Lesotho. My friend Charl was rained in on his farm in the Aberdeen district. (That’s now Aberdeen in the Karoo, Eastern Cape, not the one in Scotland.)  Similar weather conditions were last seen there in 1968.  (Not in Scotland, in the Karoo).

We got some pointers as to what may happen in terms of pass closing, and I also had a look on Google Earth where this Moteng place was.

Other than the pass that may be closed, we really had no idea of the fun and games – not at the ski resort, but on the way there – which would develop.

In hindsight, whereas we had fun, clearly the people on their way back the day before, could not share our joy. For some insight into the aftermath, watch this video clip of the last 800m of Moteng Pass on the way up the next day.

[Note: The video is shot in 720HD but defaults to a lower resolution when play starts. Select the highest resolution for the best image.]

OK, but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

We headed for Glen Reenen from Pretoria on Sunday 15 July, arriving in good light.

[Source:   Map data ©2012 AfriGIS (Pty) Ltd, Google]

Booking was made online via the Sanparks website, and being outside school holidays – on the first day – we managed to find place in one of the family cottages via their site.

Unit 25 turned out to be superb, as this has been kitted out for disabled people. We did not really need the ramps which linked all unlevel surfaces, but as far as we could see, this was the only unit with a double carport. This was great for unpacking the car and would be ideal for someone towing a trailer.

While reading through the web page I also saw reference to the Highlands Mountain Retreat –  which I had never heard of before, so after settling in we took a drive up to this log cabin camp.

What an incredible hideaway! The units are dug into the hillside


You cannot see another unit from inside any other. And the view goes on forever. Definitely a tick on the future “to do” list.

The two game viewing loops provided a nice road and good views – just none of game. As per usual.

We took some wood along from home just in case there was none for sale – there was, at R27.50 a bundle, but the shop closed at 6pm – so at least we had some backup. Once back at Glen Reenen, the fireplace really made it a welcome place.

The next morning we started – rather too leisurely for my liking – towards Afriski via Caledonspoort.

[Source:   Map data ©2014 AfriGIS (Pty) Ltd, Google]

But we need not have bothered about an earlier departure, as we – together with around 30 other cars – were pulled up short at the second hairpin of the pass due to it being closed and de-icing being in process.

An ETD of around 1 hour was rumoured when we parked, but turned out to be closer to 2 hours before the salt was scattered and the grader eventually arrived from the top of the pass, 3 km away.

After an initial group of “down” cars, we went up, meeting another similarly sized convoy, waiting to start their downward journey. This was around 1pm, but these motorists were making sure they did not spend aNOTHer night on that mountain.

We were told by the driver of a local recovery truck queuing just ahead of us during the wait – which rather seemed like a social event, as no one seemed to be agitated by this delay – you had to be through the pass the other way at around 4pm, before the water started icing again.

An observation I made was that the cemented concrete channels on the mountain side of the road should keep the melting ice away from the road, thus preventing re-icing. Only this does not happen, as the channels are filled with rocks. So the icing problem is perhaps caused by lack of maintenance?

So, only 3 hours left to do Afriski – is it even worth it?

But of course!!

My kids being semi-English due to their mother’s tongue – but being accustomed to going to Afrikaans holiday places like Hermanus, Gourits, Forever Resorts and the ATKV due to their father’s wallet – have at times asked us “but where do the English people holiday?”

Well, I heard a lot of Afrikaans at Afriski, but I thought this was pretty much as “international” as it was going to get.


The music being played suited the atmosphere exactly, with a sort of “quiet” holiday vibe being present. Almost as if you do not need loud blaring music to artificially create a “holiday feeling”. Who ARE these people?

OK, so not enough time for ski lessons, but I did manage to fit in a Gluhwein – a bit heavy on the cinnamon, though. Afriski was fully booked, so on the way back – to meet the advised 4pm pass deadline – we stopped at Oxbow to enquire about accommodation with the view of returning from there the next day for some skiing.

They still had space available – R2200 for an ensuite room with 4 beds. But by then the sunburn on my wife’s cheeks from the reflection of the snow started to bite, and now looked more like a rash than mere over exposure. So we decided that a future – better planned – visit would be more advisable to fully gain the benefit of Afriski. We’ll also pack the SPF 30 next time.

So we headed back to Glen Reenen. Again Unit 25, us being the only people in the resort.

The next morning we headed down to Drakensville – where the Afrikaans people holiday.

Ai, nothing beats some lekker warm water in the middle of winter, leaning your chin on …

Lesotho – Katse Dam

Wednesday, 28 September, 2011

By Johnie Jonker

Over an Easter week-end our family of four visited the Katse Dam in Lesotho, entering at Caledonspoort.

We had grand plans to also head towards Sani Pass from there, and went on a (very) brief recce out on the road to Thaba Theka. If that first 3 km was anything to go by, you could possibly average 40km/h. Taking the distance to Sani Pass into consideration, this would turn out to be quite a trek.

We subsequently gave that idea up, due to it predicting to be a much more major outing than anticipated; a treatMENT rather than a TREAT.

The plan was to stay over at the self-catering guest houses at the dam. This used to be the constructors’ village, and is now available to travellers for a very reasonable R750/night, sleeping four people. There are also larger units which sleep six.

The first obstacle was to telephonically get through to the Katse Lodge, which is part of the Orion Hotel group. After trying many numbers, this one – 00268 28910202 – worked. But also only sometimes, as it seems that the connection is via satellite. With the poor weather conditions leading up to the week-end, this was a hit and miss affair at best. It just rings.

But we eventually managed to get hold of Violet and Mats’ele at reservations, and via email at could reserve and pay for the booking.

It is often cliché’d that the journey is part of the holiday, but in this case, very true. The scenery is spectacular, even though it rained intermittently all the way there – Caledonspoort, Butha-Buthe, Hlotse, Pitseng, Lejone, Seshote and eventually Katse.

[Source: Imagery ©2011 TerraMetrics, Map data ©2014 AfriGIS (Pty) Ltd, Google]

We reached a view point at 3098m ASL, but as we passed through the cloud base 98m earlier, found nothing much to see.

At the time we thought that perhaps on the way back the weather would have improved and we should be able to see down into the valley, 1.4km below.

And yes, the weather was good second time round, and NO we still could not see – same cloud base problem.  We were wondering why they bothered to call it a view point, being a waste of a perfectly good signpost.

Arriving at Katse, we were pleasantly surprised regarding the accommodation.

Under-cover parking, two bedrooms – each with built-in heater, lounge with DSTV (limited bouquet) and oil heater, and a north-facing kitchen – fridge, stove, microwave – with great mountain views.

The bedroom heaters were turned on when we arrived, making us feel very welcome. The bathroom was also up to scratch. Watch out for the hot water though – it seems to be just below boiling point.

If you did not feel like self-catering, you could have your meals at the lodge, with the bonus of a fire going in the lounge every night. The pub will also sell you beers to take home – at lounge prices.

Other than the very worthwhile (and cheap! – R10/adult, children half-price) dam wall tour – daily at 9 and 11 am, you can do a boat trip – although the price here depends on how many people, as the comPLETE boat is for rent – a guided village walk and visit the botanical gardens.

“Botanical Gardens” leans somewhat heavily on poetic licence, as rather than an image of Kirstenbosch, it is more a nursery – housed chiefly in plastic tunnels – to grow seedlings for the gardens around the hotel.

There are two tennis courts – with nets AND lights – and also two squash courts. The latter has been nicely renovated lately – floors, lines, walls – but failure to remove the pigeons nesting on top of the ample neon lighting, requires some bird-crap cleaning off the floor of Court 2, prior to playing.

There is really not much else to do – unless you bring it along yourself – and something which the hotel group could definitely improve upon to attract more visitors. Mind you, they were fully booked for the Easter period a week in advance.

But then again, if you were looking for a place to chill, you’ve found it. There is no cell phone reception there, in spite of claims: Only MTN. Not even.

Hence most visitors stay only the one night, leaving the lodge deserted from around nine – via a dam wall tour and then onwards – until 4 pm, when the next batch of travellers start arriving.

The next morning we also went on said tour.


Having had to (and still) attend countless boring presentations in my career, I can confirm that the lady doing THIS presentation, was absolutely top-notch. Even though she had a PR background, she could also give good explanations of the technical features within the dam wall.

Posters in large print formed a story-board in front of the lecture hall – which most people had read prior to the start of the information session. So, no, she did not read it off, or consult any notes, for that matter. Neither did she simply convey the information as it appeared on the panels from left to right. She also shared a lot of new information.

Some random facts – mostly in response to the visitors’ questions – are:

  • The cement was brought in pre-mixed from Ficksburg, a truckload every 40 minutes. It took us 2:30 to do that stretch, the trucks took closer to 8 hours. Doing the sums, beggars belief how anyone could even THINK this dam could be built, considering its remote location.
  • The wall is of double-curvature design and the second highest in Africa at 85 m. The highest wall was built 2 years ago, at 88m.
  • If the Vaal Dam was always at maximum level, it would hold more water than Katse. But as it is not, this is not the case. The dam at this stage needed an additional 40cm of water prior to overflowing, but this requires a huge amount of rain, as the catchment area stretches back for 54km behind the wall. But in January – peak rain season – this regularly happens.
  • Why is water let out now? This is to fill the coffer dam, below. Should the dam overflow, the