In December 2013 I flew with my bike to Johannesburg. I had 6 weeks of leave and decided it was a good time to explore Lesotho, Swaziland, and see some more of South Africa.

Ethiopia had been the original plan. I hadn’t cycled there before and it was high on my list of countries to visit on the continent, but flights to Addis Ababa, despite being closer to me in northern Tanzania, were significantly more expensive than the return fare offered by Fastjet, (East Africa’s new budget airline) from Dar-es-Salaam to Johannesburg.

Aside from that, the weather promised to be significantly warmer in Southern Africa than when I cycled through the northern and western Cape in June 2012. I also realised that the British pound, then worth around 11 Rand, would now get me over 17 Rand. Bad luck for South Africans going on holiday to the UK….

And so here is Part 1 of a much-delayed photo-blog of that tour – about 2250km altogether. All pictures here were taken with either my Nikon D90 or smartphone (Samsung S4).

Looking down on Joburg city centre.

Johannesburg was the starting and finishing point for the tour. Leaving the city by bicycle wasn’t as bad as I had expected, although it quickly became apparent that very few people cycle here. In terms of road safety South Africa is one of the most dangerous countries I have cycled through.

Long flat road in Free  State

The first few days south from Johannesburg take me through the Free State – a fairly flat monotonous expanse of agricultural land. The road is well-paved, but it’s a shame the hard shoulder isn’t.

Campsite in Heilbron

My first night on the road is spent at the municipal camp-site in the small town of Heilbron – 135km south from Johannesburg. For £1.50 I have the place to myself, a hot shower and a lovely view. This tent has been with me throughout Africa. It’s still strong,  but that rain-sheet is not nearly as water-proof as it once was!

Free room for the night

“I own a Guest House down the road. You’re welcome to a free bed for the night”. There aren’t many countries in the World where a random stranger would greet you on the roadside and make such an offer. South Africa is one of them. In the small town of Reitz I happily took up the offer and slept very comfortably in this room pictured above.

Approaching Lesotho

The landscape starts to provide a taste of what’s to come as I approach Lesotho (mountains in background). My bike was fully-loaded for this tour, but the panniers were half-full. Rear panniers alone would have sufficed, but I like to balance out the load and leave space for throwing in food. This was morning of day 4 out of Johannesburg.

West from Clarens

 A short distance from where the picture above was taken. Quiet roads, blue skies – happy days.

Campsite in Ficksburg

 Ficksburg is known for its Cherry Festival, but I’m 1 month too late and the municipal camp-site is more or less empty. I pitch the tent and pack it away the next morning without paying. The border with Lesotho is less than 1km away. Altitude is 1750m here and the temperature perfect.

Map of Lesotho

The map of Lesotho clearly shows it to be the Kingdom of Mountains. It’s hard to choose a route, but from the capital, Maseru, in the west I decide to cut straight across the country. Paper maps will always accompany me on my tours, despite having a GPS and a smartphone with google maps.

Morning coffee

A day of cycling should always start with coffee. Proper coffee. Before leaving Johannesburg I buy a cheap Espresso maker, which sits well on my Primus stove and fits perfectly into mug and cooking pot, as pictured below.

Perfect fit.

New country, new flag.Before leaving Maseru I’m able to find a small flag sticker of Lesotho to join the many other African ones on the bike.

East from Maseru

 The landscape in Lesotho is never dull. Mountains loom on the horizon as I head east from Maseru.

First day out of Maseru

Fortunately the road is paved to begin with and traffic very light. Lesotho has some of the steepest climbs in Africa so it’s a good thing my bike isn’t too heavily loaded. This picture, like many others of me on the bike, is taken with camera on mini-tripod and set to self-timer mode, leaving me to free-wheel downhill, turn, then pedal back towards the camera while counting to 20, at which point I hopefully pass the spot upon which the camera was focused. The process would be much simpler with a cycling partner!

God help me pass

Most passes in Lesotho are between 2000-3000m in altitude. The summer months here are the best time to tour (day time temps  20-25C) unless cold weather cycling is your thing.

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Sweat-breaking climbs were frequently rewarded with stunning vistas from the top. This is just before descending to Setibing, where I would camp on my first night out of Maseru.

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Leaving Thabo Tseka

The tarred road ends in the small town of Tsabo Tseka, giving the landscape a wilder feel as I continue east through stunning mountain scenery. Lesotho ranks as one of the most scenic countries I have cycled in Africa.

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The long and winding road

Slow gravel climb

The road is more or less free of vehicles and surprisingly well-surfaced. The terrain is never flat and I’m happy to cover 70-80km on most days.

Above the Malibo Matso River

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Up in the mountains the weather could change quickly. It added to the wildness and made for some great changes of light in the sky.

Shepherd boys

I was rarely alone on the roads of Lesotho. The sight of a foreign cyclist slowly inching his way up 10%+ gradients provided plenty of excitement for roaming shepherd boys to leave their cattle and race to the road. Wrapped in weathered blankets it was never long before calls of ‘give me sweet’ and/or ‘give me money’ were heard. The demands were never aggressive and I usually had little energy to do more than just ignore or reply with a simple ‘yes’ to everything that was said, which usually created great confusion.

Lush Lesotho

Shepherd boys

Shepherd in Lesotho

Shepherd boy

Village church.

Under darkening skies and strong winds a village church makes a good place to rest during one night.

Bed for the night

Safe and dry. Once permission was sought from a village elder I slept comfortably knowing I wouldn’t wake up in a puddle of water the next morning. Village churches and schools make for good overnight camp spots in Africa.

Lesotho's National beer

Lesotho’s one and only national beer, Masuti, comes in sensibly-sized 660ml bottles.

Road towards Sani The further I went into the country the more dramatic the landscape became. This is en-route to the Sani Pass, which marks the eastern border with South Africa.

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      There is little motorised traffic on the high roads in Lesotho.

Lesotho in the rain

Sani pass sign.

The Sani Pass divides Lesotho from South Africa and marks one of the highest points in Southern Africa. The skies are kind to me on Christmas day morning as I receive my exit stamp from immigration and prepare for a steep but stunning descent back into South Africa.

Descending the Sani PassDownhill all the way! A stunning view over South Africa’s Drakensburg mountains before a very steep descent back into South Africa. The tour still had some mileage in it yet.