This remote lodge is located just under 2000 meters in the mountains of Southwest Lesotho (the land locked country within South Africa). Because of its isolated location it is a destination in and of itself. It is peaceful here – the wind blows through the pines and the air is fresh. Delicious mountain air becomes even more invigorating to breathe after a heavy rain.
The highlight of a stay is the fact that it is remote – coupled with a number of activities offered for adventurous travelers. Because the lodge is so far removed from an urban setting the local population has not been “polluted” so to speak. The people are genuine and not out to make your acquaintance with hidden agendas. It is important for travelers to preserve this – especially in regards to money, keeping tips for locals fairly small. There are other ways to support the local community and the lodge offers various activities and ideas for this.
Reaching the lodge is not for the impatient. From Johannesburg allow 6-7 hours. The last 7 kilometers is a dirt sometimes rugged road that winds through a very narrow pass. During dry weather the road is accessible via a 2wd car – just take it slowly as there are loose sometimes large rocks and other steep rocky outcroppings. At the summit the phrase, “Wayfarer, pause behold the gates of paradise” – is etched in a metal plaque within one of the rocks. This is certainly the place to stop and absorb the impressive views of the valleys and mountains in the distance.
The first structure built on the site of the lodge was interestingly enough a toilet in 1905. Today it is no longer used but is marked for those interested in this type of obscure history! The lodge has changed hands several times – the current owners are locals who were born in Lesotho. Mick & Di Jones purchased the property in 1986 and opened the lodge in 1990.
Lodging ranges from camping, to traditional round Rondavels, to private rooms with beds and shower. The rooms are clean, comfortable and private. Some are in the pines while some overlook the lawn and valley far below. It is quiet here except for the local peacocks that walk around sometimes wailing loudly or jumping on the roofs.
The weather forecast is merely a rock hanging from a rope. When the rock is wet, its raining, when the rock is hot its sunny, when the rock is white it is snowing and so forth. Oh and when the rock is missing – the dog has it!
Sometimes it can be very difficult to escape the reach of Internet access. Malealea Lodge is one of those rare places. In addition there is no mobile phone service and no electricity other than a few hours in the evening when the generator powers up. A full kitchen is on site serving three meals a day or you can bring your own food and cook it yourself.
There is a relaxed and welcoming feel to both the lodge and its guests. The lodge is a hub for people who have traveled here from around the world – seeking something different and to broaden their own perspectives. As a result this is a great place to meet and share stories with other International travelers.
Day and overnight Pony Treks are a big part of the lodge’s business. A tack room is located on site and same day shorter treks can be arranged quickly. Other activities include 4WD outings, visiting other villages, hiking and multi day horse excursions.
A highly recommended pony trek is to see ancient Bushman cave paintings. The round trip excursion takes about 3-3.5 hours. After riding a small trail through agricultural fields you finally reach a lookout point with vistas of an impressive gorge. There are two different caves you will see on this outing – both have paintings that are between 300 and 400 years old. Fortunately some of the pictorial artwork is situated high up on the cave’s walls so people cannot reach these to touch them. Unfortunately all the lower art work is fading due to the oil from people’s hands.
The lodge sits next to the village of the same name. A number of the villagers are glad to show you around and answer any questions you have. It is nice to be able to talk to many of the locals in English – this is not always something you can do around the world. The village is very spread out and home to about 500 people. The homes are traditional, mostly stone and mud with thatched roofs collected from wild grasses and reeds that grow nearby.
The village is overseen by a chief – he is elected for a lifetime. His first born son becomes chief upon his father’s death. In the case that elections need to be held, villagers gather and votes are counted by the number of raised hands. When the chief takes office he moves his family into a sub set of the village where he has his own homes and land.
Several villagers brew their own beer – they grow their hops on site. These are only grown during certain times of the year because of the large variation in temperature throughout the year. The village is at an elevation of slightly under 2000 meters and snowfall can be plentiful during the winter starting around May.
Cooking is done with a mixture of cow dung and firewood. It is always interesting to see what villagers grow. Here it is a lot of corn, sorghum and some potatoes and a bunch of fruit trees – mainly peaches and apricots. There are even prickly pear cactus growing here – the locals eat the fruit.
Because Malealea Lodge is fairly remote you don’t want to just show up and stay a night or two – it takes time to absorb the slow paced feel of life here and you need time to experience what the surroundings have to offer. If you have the time – a 4-5 day stay would be ideal.
It is best to email the lodge ahead of your stay to make sure they have space and or make a reservation – but even more importantly to have directions emailed to you as well as other useful stay information. For more information visit: www.malealea.com