They’ll be coming around a mountain?

Text and photographs: Chadd and Kate Bain

Chadd and Kate Bain run Izulu Orphan Projects in Zululand, an organisation that looks after orphans and HIV positive widows. Chadd is also a 4×4 instructor in Empangeni, with a comprehensive 4×4 trail, called Bainage, on his property (that was featured in Leisure Wheels in issue 54, October 2008).

Earlier in 2009 Chadd was approached by one of Izulu’s most helpful donor’s, Lucy Caslon, from the UK. Lucy runs an organisation in London, Msizi Africa, that feeds orphaned children, and as part of her work, she supports three organisations in Africa: Izulu Orphan Projects; Street Kids, in Durban, and Mants’ase Children’s Home in Lesotho.

Lucy needed help to get to Mants’ase Children’s Home, in the south of Lesotho, and the trip sounded like great fun to Chadd. But instead of just driving in and dropping Lucy off, Chadd thought he’d make the trip a bit more interesting, by circumnavigating the Mountain Kingdom at the same time, taking the outermost road possible and starting and finishing at the famous Sani Pass.

So in August 2009 Chadd, his wife Kate and their two children, Jedd and Kadde, left their home in Zululand in a Toyota Fortuner, bound for Lesotho. Also in the car were Lucy, two of her friends, and a film-maker.

Day one:
Our group departed from Zululand on Saturday 15th August, heading for Sani Pass and a night at the Sani Top Lodge, at the very pinnacle of the pass. Since it was August, and therefore the middle of winter, cold weather was on the cards. And since a big cold front had passed through a week or so earlier, snow was virtually guaranteed. And it wasn’t only the kids who were excited, with Chadd (also known as Mr Adventure) packing his snowboard, which normally only gets used on the sand dunes of the north coast.

Sani Pass was spectacular, as it always is. The mountains were covered in snow, and with eight people in the Toyota Fortuner, and towing a trailer, it was hair-raising at times.

We made it to the top of the pass without any trouble, but disaster struck later that night. Five of the group went down with food poisoning, picked up at lunch at a popular establishment in the small town of Himeville. So nobody got to enjoy an evening around the fire in what is claimed to be the highest pub in Africa.

Day two:
We got off to a slow start, with three of the ladies still ill. To make things worse there had been no running water because the pipes were frozen. The English weren’t impressed, especially when they had to pay the full price for accommodation, which they thought was a bit over the top.

But we finally got on the road at about 11am, with a journey of 200km ahead of us. As we drove the altitude rose from 2800m to 3000m, and when we passed Thaba Ntlenyana, the highest point in southern Africa, we found snow for the first time.

The snow meant a short break, to play with the boys, but Chadd had his mind set on getting to the Oxbow Lodge as soon as possible, so he could get in an afternoon of snowboarding at Afri-Ski.

After our brief jaunt in the snow it was back in the Fortuner, and we soon passed Mokhotlong and then made it onto a tar road. In the past this road was badly potholed, but the diamond mine that uses (and damages) this road has made some rudimentary repairs to the road surface, and we were able to make good time.

At 2pm we reached our destination for the night, and by 2:30pm Chadd was already on the ski slope! After a few runs he got the hang of it, and was soon having a blast, while Kate and the kids played on the children’s slope, having the time of their lives.

All too soon it was time to finish up and head back to the lodge, but when Chadd joined his family he found the boys crying their eyes out. What was the problem? It turned out that Kate and Chadd had forgotten to give them gloves, and their hands were frozen solid.

But, frozen hands aside, the second day of our trip was fantastic, with wonderful scenery, and the chance to snowboard! After a good meal back at the lodge, and a cold Maluti lager or to, we called it a day.

Day three:
It was our third day, and we woke to -3 degrees! We had about 350km to cover on the day, through the more urban part of the country. We were travelling through the western section of Lesotho, through Butha-Buthe towards Maseru, the capital, and onto Mafeteng.

In Mafeteng we bought supplies for the night, as we would be staying with the children at the Mants’ase Children’s Home, and not in a fancy lodge. Once we’d got our provisions we carried on going towards Mohales Hoek, turning off 20km’s before the town to the children’s home.

We arrived at the children’s home at 3:30pm, having left Oxbow at 9am, and were warmly welcomed by the kids. They know Lucy well, and have also learnt that when she visits, she normally arrives bearing gifts and food! The evening was a quiet one as Chadd had a long day driving, so when the ladies tucked the kids into bed, we all turned in.

Day four:
The next morning we departed from the home, our escort work done. We were about half-way through our circumnavigation of the country, and after today we wouldn’t see tar for the rest of our trip.

Our plan was to spend the night at the Sehlabathebe National Park, which meant a day full of big mountain passes. On the way, though, we stopped at Mohales Hoek for more supplies, as the following two days would be very rural and we would have to be self-sufficient.

Leaving Mohales Hoek we passed Moyeni, also known as Quthing, where there are dinosaur footprints not too far outside the village. But we had a long day ahead of us, so we didn’t stop. Instead we pressed on towards Thaba Moorosi. Words can’t explain how beautiful the landscape is there, and we took some fantastic photographs.

At Patlong the tar ends and the dirt begins. We had crossed the Senqu or Orange River outside Quthing, and now we made our way along the mighty river, heading north up the eastern side of the country. It was getting late and we still had about 120km to go, on dirt.

Our late start this morning was due us visiting the preschool at Mantsase Children’s Home before we got going. And, when we were there, Chadd saw a broken bicycle and couldn’t leave without trying to fix it!

As we drove along the eastern side of the country we looked down over the Matatiele mountains in South Africa. Once again the view was unbelievably spectacular. We were driving in Lesotho and looking into South Africa, but every now and again the GPS showed us crossing the border, into South Africa and back again. At times we were completely blown away by the view.

Finally, just as the sun started to dip behind the many mountains, we arrived at Sehlabathebe National Park. It was 10km to the lodge, along another amazing road that winds through and around the mountains to get to this rustic old-school colonial style lodge.

It was barely light so we rushed to get a fire going. A cold front was forecast and the wind was howling. This lodge is mainly used for hikers who hike from Bushman’s Nek in the Drakensberg, and is apparently not very busy nowadays, but we found it very comfortable and well equipped. There are hardly any trees at these high altitudes so firewood is very precious. Bear this in mind if you come this way, and maybe bring your own. We spent the evening playing with the kids, and then we played a game or two of backgammon.

Day five:
The wind was still howling and the cold front was definitely on its way. We had a long way to go so we got an early start. From where we were to Sani Pass is only about 50 km, but there is no road. We learnt this the hard way. We followed a track that looked positive, with roadworks being done on it, but after 10km the track petered out into a cattle path and then ended at a school.

But good came of this delay: Chadd had been looking for something in Lesotho and this school could be it. The small stone building of about 10m x 5m has to d
o for 125 students, some of them at high school, and others in junior school. Many of the students are orphans, and hopefully the Lord will take us back soon so we can help.

We backtrack, but by then it was almost 11am, and we needed to make the border by 4pm. There was probably 250km, and many mountains, to cross before then. The day ended up being challenging, but great, and once gain the landscape was absolutely mind-blowing.

Kate held on for dear life, refusing to look over the sheer edges, and we navigated some incredibly steep ascents. Eventually we made it back to Mokhotlong, having taken a big loop, but now we had just 45km to the border, and an hour to do it in.

We don’t make it, arriving at the border post at 4:10pm, but Kates literally begged and cried to be let through. We were granted permission, and headed down the pass. But 2km down and disaster: we got a puncture!

We quickly changed the wheel amongst the rocks, mist, and at a cold 5 degrees, and reached the South African border post at 5:30pm.

Luckily the border police were having a meeting, and so were still there. Being stuck on the pass with two babies and no food was not our idea of fun! We carried on going, spending the night in Durban, and then reaching Zululand the following day. We had driven 1929km, including 1111km circumnavigating Lesotho from Sani Pass to Sani Pass. What a sensational trip, with scenery like nowhere else on earth! We will definitely be back soon.

Kea Laboha, Lesotho