Hiking in Sehlabathebe National Park

Panoramic - Devil's Knuckles

Situated at the southern end of the main Drakensberg escarpment, just below the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, Sehlabathebe occupies a beautiful corner of Lesotho’s South-Eastern highlands, and is Lesotho’s only national park.  This is a comparatively remote and little known part of the Drakensberg with a very distinctive character, and rarely has more than a handful of visitors at any one time outside of peak South African holiday periods.  

All-year round treks & good for families

One of the great advantages of Sehlabathebe is that it’s one of the few places in the Drakensberg where you can trek high without having to sleep out in tents or caves - although the latter is possible and we thoroughly recommend a night spent out in Tarn Cave, which commands fine views. Sehlabathebe Lodge, which is basic but comfortable, gives hikers adequate shelter in times of poor weather, and makes this an excellent place to trek all year round.  Treks can also be supported by Basotho ponies, which can be used to carry trekking equipment and supplies up from the South African border post at Bushman’s Nek.  This trek is particularly good for families seeking to take their children up in to the mountains for 3 or 4 days with undue exposure, and children thoroughly enjoy riding for at least some of the way.  

Sehlabathebe National Park

Sehlabathebe, meaning "plateau of the shield" in Sesotho, comprises 6500 Ha of sub-alpine grasslands, and occupies a broad plateau at a height of about 2400m.  The plateau sits atop the desert sandstone below the basalt escarpment, and falls off over impressive buttresses into deep valleys within South Africa.  In the north of the park, it’s backed by the magnificent Devil’s Knuckles (3050m), known to the Basotho people as “the Three Bushman”, which make an exhilarating trekking objective on the middle day of a 3-day trek.  The plateau itself features a beautiful “rock garden” of sandstone outcrops, interspersed with small tarns, caves and traditional herdsman’s stone enclosures dating back to times before the park was gazetted. Birdlife can be good, and you may be lucky to see the Bearded vulture, Jackal buzzards, Rock kestrels, Black eagles, Bald ibis, the Orange-breasted rock jumper, and possibly the magnificent Lammegeier. Grey Rebok and Eland are occasional visitors, and the call of Black-backed Jackal is frequently heard drifting across the plateau after dark.

Thamatu Village Extension

Nestled behind the Devil’s Knuckles lies the picturesque and remote mountain village of Thamatu, which can be visited by adding a additional day to a normal 3-day itinerary into Sehlabathebe.  Descent to the village is either made from the top of the Devil’s Knuckles, or from a pass some 300m lower on the escarpment line.  Looking over terraced wheat and maize fields, flanked by 3000m tops, this serene village is built from local stone, and you will be welcomed into a traditional home where you can spend the evening experiencing the unique mountain culture of the gentle Basotho people.

Basics

This trek is can either be run on a self-carry basis with guide and catering, or supported with ponies.  A minimum of three days on trek (2 nights up in Sehlabathebe) is recommended, and the nights before and after the trek are typically spent on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis in a local lodge near Bushmans’ Nek. Treks to Thamatu are normally conducted by a Basotho guide, who can also lead climbs of the Devil’s Knuckles.  Treks focusing on trekking only are lead by a South African mountain guide.  Full-on pony treks are also possible in the area, as are more wide-ranging guided 4x4 tours which venture much deeper into Lesotho.