A four star overland adventure that focuses on two tiny landlocked African kingdoms - Lesotho and Swaziland.
Guests are met and welcomed at 07H30 sharp at a location of their choice in Johannesburg. After taking care of a few formalities, your privately guided ’Tiny Kingdoms’ tour begins. We’ll immediately head off in a southerly direction, following the national N1 route and crossing the open Highveld Plains, a huge expanse of grassland that once teemed with wildlife. After crossing the Sand River, where in January 1852 Great Britain signed a treaty formally recognizing the South African Republic, the tour turns eastwards. The first highlight of your day is a visit to Aldam. After stopping for an early lunch we’ll take a game drive through the adjacent Willem Pretorius Nature Reserve. The central plains of Southern Africa were once home to vast herds of animals, in particular black wildebeest, springbok and quagga, a now-extinct sub-species of the common zebra. In the mid-1800’s, because of great demand for their skins in Europe, the sometimes comical-looking black wildebeest was almost hunted to extinction. By the late 1800’s, a few farmers had intervened, effectively saving the species, and today the largest herds may be seen in this 12,000-hectare protected area. Other species you might encounter include eland, blesbok, springbok, white rhino and giraffe. The reserve also boasts 220 recorded species of birds, including martial eagle, blue crane, Orange River francolin, blue korhaan, ground woodpecker and melodious lark. After your game drive, we’ll make our way towards our luxury farm-style accommodations at Moolmanshoek. The remainder of your first day in South Africa is at leisure.
The folks at Moolmanshoek are committed to sustainable tourism and, by extension, a renaissance of the eastern Free State. Your second relaxing day is dedicated to country pursuits. Horse riding is a popular activity and Moolmanshoek is home to two award-winning studs and more than 100 horses. Other activities include day walks and hiking trails, and game and night drives, where animals such as black wildebeest, zebra, springbok, blesbok, mountain reedbuck, steenbok, duiker, fallow deer, caracal, mongoose, meerkat, red hartebeest, eland, gemsbok, ostrich, porcupine, hare, spring hare and jackal might be seen.
Note: Activities are not included in the price, and might require a minimum number.
Today you’ll experience typical Sotho countryside. After a late breakfast we’ll make our way south to Ficksburg, where we’ll enter the landlocked country of Lesotho. Called ‘Basutoland’ until independence in 1966, the Sotho people emerged as a single polity under King Moshoeshoe when, in 1822, he and his followers settled in the Bhuta Bhute area after fleeing the Zulu king Shaka. The country is the only independent state in the world lying entirely above 1,000 meters above sea level. After entering the country at Ficksburg, we’ll join the main ‘ring road’ and turn north, traveling through a variety of country and tribal villages and subsistence farmland.
On reaching Boribeng we’ll turn east towards the high mountains. The road winds its way through typical tribal countryside, gradually increasing in altitude and remoteness until we reach our ‘destination in the sky’ at Maliba Lodge. The lodge is located in a pristine national park and surrounded by mountains on all sides. During winter, these snow-capped mountains are a special treat indeed, as snow occurs only sporadically and for short periods of time in Southern Africa.
Today is devoted to a tour of the Lesotho Highlands. After making our way to the Hlotse area, we’ll turn east towards the village of Pitseng, from where the altitude increases rapidly. As we climb into the high mountains, we’ll make several roadside stops to enjoy the spectacular alpine views. After traversing several mountain passes and the intake tower near Ha Lejone, our route reaches the concrete-arch Katse Dam, Africa’s second largest after Tekezé in Ethiopia. The 606-foot high Katse Dam in the Maluti Mountains is 6,560 feet above sea level, and is an integral part of the Lesotho Highlands Project, supplying water to South Africa and in particular the Johannesburg metropole. Katse is considered the most efficient storage dam in Africa because of its great depth and relatively small surface area. While at Katse, we’ll visit the info center as well as enjoy a guided tour of the dam wall itself. Later, after lunch at the local lodge, we’ll take a one-hour boat cruise on the dam before returning to our overnight accommodations.
Today is devoted to various activities at Maliba Lodge. Activities on offer include hiking, bird watching, archery, horse riding, a dinosaur footprint tour, and village and community visits. Your guide will gladly assist in booking your activities. Maliba also offers spa treatments, which include facials and foot treatments, hot stone massages and full body exfoliation.
Following breakfast, we’ll say goodbye to Maliba and head off in the direction of Bhuta Bhute, and then South Africa via Caledonspoort border control. After clearing immigration we’ll make our way to Clarens, an eclectic village on the edge of the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. After some time spent exploring the village we’ll continue eastwards to Golden Gate. Named in 1875 by farmer J N R van Reenen and his wife as they moved through here, they named the area ‘Golden Gate’ after witnessing the sun’s last rays reflecting off the surrounding cliffs. The park is home to a number of unique animals, including eland, mountain reedbuck, oribi, black wildebeest, springbok and blesbok. These mountains are also home to the only population of bearded vulture in the southern hemisphere. The park’s geology provides very visual ‘textbook’ examples of Southern Africa's geological past. The sandstone formations form the upper part of the Karoo Supergroup. The oldest dinosaur embryos ever discovered were found here in 1978. The eggs were from the Triassic Period, 220 to 195 million years ago, and had fossilized fetal skeletons of Massospondylus, a prosauropod dinosaur. More examples of these eggs have since been found. We’ll arrive at our overnight accommodations at Three Tree Hill during the late afternoon.
After breakfast, we’ll head south towards the Kamberg Nature Reserve in the foothills of the Drakensberg. Kamberg is home to Game Pass Shelter, known as the ‘Rosetta Stone’ of rock art sites, as archaeologists studying these paintings uncovered a vital key to understanding the symbolism of San rock art. The paintings at Game Pass Shelter enabled archaeologists to learn about the San’s belief that they could draw mystical powers from animals, depicting images seen by shamans during trance-like states. The eland, one of the most significant symbols in Khoi-San culture, occurs throughout, along with various therianthropic figures. The guided trail to the shelter departs from the Kamberg Rock Art Center and it generally takes around three hours to reach the extraordinary site.
Alternative activity: After breakfast, we’ll head off to the Lammergeier Bird Hide in the Giants Castle Nature Reserve. This is the only location in the southern hemisphere where the Bearded Vulture exists and where one stands a reasonably good chance of photographing them. Other large raptors seen here include the Cape Vulture (Griffon) and Jackal Buzzard. Occasionally, black-backed jackals are also seen.
Departing Three Tree Hill, your tour continues in a north-easterly direction towards the Kingdom of Swaziland, the last absolute monarchy in Africa. Our first stop of the day, just a short while after departure, is at a prominent local hilltop, where in January 1900 the Battle of Spioenkop took place between British and Boer forces. The British, commanded by Buller, were hoping to relieve a force under siege in nearby Ladysmith, and attempted a frontal assault on Boer forces which were encamped on the hilltop with its commanding view. They were successfully rebuffed by the Boers under General Louis Botha and suffered heavy losses. With the impressive Drakensberg Mountains as a backdrop, we inspect this historic site at leisure. Later, we’ll pass through the towns of Dundee, Vryheid and Piet Retief, before entering Swaziland at Emahlatini. From there, we’ll make our way to Malkerns and our overnight accommodations, set in a renovated colonial house built on a ‘koppie’ in the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, from where sweeping views of the Ezulwini Valley may be enjoyed. The lodge grounds themselves are a haven to a number of tiny antelope, including suni and blue duiker, and there are a number of established hiking trails in the surroundings hills you might consider if you wish to stretch your legs.
Today is dedicated to various cultural pursuits. First on the agenda is a visit to King Sobhuza Memorial Park in Lobamba. The memorial was established as a tribute to the late King Sobhuza II, who led Swaziland to independence in 1968. Later, we’ll visit the Mantenga Cultural Village and Nature Reserve. Our visit includes a guided tour of the reserve’s cultural village with authentic beehive huts, a cultural and dancing display, and a visit to Mantenga Falls. The possibility exists that you might also see the Southern Bald Ibis at Mantenga, an endangered bird of the region. A mid-afternoon stop is made at a popular local candle factory. Here you’ll see a great variety of unusual candles of all shapes, sizes and scents, as well as the folks who manufacture them. Later, a visit may be made to a local curio market before returning to your accommodations for the evening.
This morning your tour traverses the scenic Komati River pass towards Piggs Peak. En route, we’ll make a stop at the country’s main water catchment supply, the Maguga Dam, before reaching the border with South Africa at Jeppe’s Reef. Located right at the border with South Africa and the tiny kingdom of Swaziland, Matsamo Cultural Village was established as a community effort to showcase Swazi customs, tradition and language. Participants from surrounding villages, all part of the Shongwe clan, offer visitors the opportunity of experiencing a touch of their ancestry, first by enjoying a guided tour of the working village and later ending with a truly impressive traditional dancing display as their drums echo throughout the valley. In fact, their dancing has proved so popular that in previous years the team has toured Europe with great success. Later, your tour joins the national N4 route to Johannesburg, bringing to an end a comprehensive tour of the tiny landlocked countries of Lesotho and Swaziland.
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