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Expert Reviews – Ts'ehlanyane NP
Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.
Lesotho’s Most Accessible Hiking & Wildlife Destination
Although Ts’ehlanyane National Park doesn’t cut it as a conventional safari destination, it makes for a rewarding and comfortable stopover for those travelling through the west of Lesotho. Ts’ehlanyane is far more accessible from the capital Maseru than Lesotho’s other national park. It is also serviced by arguably the best hotel anywhere in the kingdom, the lovely Maliba Lodge, set on a steep hillside above the Holomo River.
Ts’ehlanyane’s main attraction is the mountain scenery and flora. Although the park is only 56km2/22mi2 in extent, altitudes range from 1,940m to 3,110m (6,365ft to 10,203ft), and it is flowed through by four substantial rivers. Maliba Lodge, the main tourist focal point, is accessible on a good gravel road, but the rest of the park can be explored only on foot or horseback along a network of well-marked hiking trails.
We hiked the longest of these routes, the six-hour, 16km/10mi Circular Trail, which is relatively easy underfoot and took us past some lovely spring flower displays. A few steeper sections of the trail can be quite demanding, especially if – as happened to us – you’re doused in a summer rainstorm complete with squalls of hail.
An early highlight of the Circular Trail, Lets’a Lets’o (Black Lake) is a pretty natural swimming pool set above a waterfall on the Ts’ehlanyane River. This river, like the park itself, shares its Sotho name with the berg bamboo Thamnocalamus tessellatus clumped along its banks. The only species of bamboo to occur naturally in Lesotho or South Africa, the berg bamboo is endemic to the Maloti-Drakensberg Mountains, where Ts’ehlanyane National Park is now its main stronghold.
Another highlight of the Circular Trail is a viewpoint across to the Matsa Mararo Falls, which cascade down a tall soaring vertical face in three tiers, each with a large pool at its base.
Of the 20-odd mammal species protected in Ts’ehlanyane National Park, we had some good sightings of the majestic eland (the world’s largest antelope) and also saw plenty of rock hyraxes. I found the park’s most rewarding birding habitat to be the dense tract of low riverine forest comprised almost entirely of Leucosidea sericea, a gnarled evergreen tree known locally as Ouhout (Old Wood). Birds to look out for here include bush blackcap, southern boubou, Cape batis and malachite sunbird.
Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.
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A luxury retreat in a wild mountain setting
Ts’ehlanyane National Park is one of Lesotho’s top attractions. Its center is Maliba Lodge, one of the best hotels in the country. The combination of great hiking opportunities and a lovely place to stay makes this a winning destination. The trails are well marked but guides are available upon request. We set out early to tackle the 16km ‘Circular Route’ which takes in a cascading waterfall, a forested valley, bubbling mountain streams and several spectacular viewpoints. The cherry on top was a small herd of eland, which ran for cover as soon as they spotted us. The rugged high-altitude mountainous terrain makes for challenging hiking conditions, and the massive thunderstorm, which came out of nowhere, added to our adventure. Back at the lodge, we enjoyed a hearty dinner and a good bottle of wine in front of a roaring log fire. I further rewarded myself with a therapeutic massage treatment at the outdoor spa nestled amongst indigenous forest. I left rejuvenated and knew I would be back one day to discover more of this stunning park, perhaps on horseback.
Average Expert Rating
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