The Letseng Diamond Mine which is at an elevation of 3100m on a ridge between the Khubelu and Matsoku Rivers, has established two tourist facilities on the Khubelu River in order to provide jobs and income for small and isolated local communities. Both are accessible from Letseng via steep and rocky jeep tracks which have restricted access as they initially cross the mining lease area. The Khubelu River, one of the main tributaries of the Orange or Senqu River rises at Mont Aux Sources at 2,900m and flows south through open grasslands gradually cutting down into steep-sided valleys and canyons until it opens out forming a wider valley at Ha Mapoka at 2,400m, where the first small village and cultivated fields are situated.
Basotho and Expatriate staff working at the mine have for many years enjoyed the trout fishing and hiking which the river offers, and those with experience of other remote parts of Lesotho are unanimous in describing this reach of river as the most beautiful and unspoilt in Lesotho. Climbing out of the valley on the east side brings one onto a ridge separating the Khubelu and the Senqu Rivers, with the Senqu River having its headwaters in a part of the plateau where the south-easterly trending escarpment turns north east to form a promontory – the so-called Mnweni cutback - before turning again to run south-east.
Des Mostert, a “white Mosotho” who has lived and worked for many years in the area was recruited to co-ordinate Letseng’s social upliftment programmes amongst the local communities and to more specifically get these Khubelu facilities up and running.
Moruti Mphatsoe, General Manager of the mine, has a close affinity to the people who live in the valley – our nearest neighbours – and was the driving force in the setting up of the tourist camps. He enjoys hiking the valley with its waterfalls and gorges. Keith Whitelock, until recently the Chief Executive of the mining company, covered all of the rivers draining the Drakensberg escarpment into Lesotho on foot over a period of 12 months whilst prospecting for diamond deposits in the ‘60’s and remembers this cut-back in the escarpment around the source of the Orange, with the spectacular Mponjwane peak at its apex, looming over the high plateau, as being the most rugged and remote area in the whole ‘berg.
And so the concept of using the Mapoka Camp as the jumping-off point not only for hikes and pony treks in the valley, but also for reaching the escarpment at Mponjwane, was conceived.
It remained to find a mountain man who could put this new and exciting concept together and Oliver Esplin, well known for his adventure tourism activities around the Free State village of Clarens on the Lesotho border and for his involvement in the development of the ski resort at Mahlasela in Lesotho, was the ideal man. Ollie is an accomplished mountaineer and horse rider, fluent in Sesotho, and with a love of wild places. He is also passionate about training the hardy mountain-dwelling Basotho to become competent guides on foot or on horseback, with all the necessary skills to look after our guests. In this task he is ably assisted by Mosotho Lebohang (Bongi) Ramonotsi.
Another “white Mosotho” who has worked and travelled on horseback in the more remote parts of this area for many years, Giel du Plooy, will also be joining Senqu Trails to lead pony treks.