This se­cret de­tour across the top of Le­sotho is a per­fect mix of 4x4 magic and high-al­ti­tude fun. TYSON JOP­SON drove it in a Toy­ota Fortuner

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The idea goes: see if we can add a bit of gravel travel to a drive across Le­sotho’s north. Its main artery, the A1, is a spec­tac­u­lar rib­bon of road. But it’s all tar now and, with Toy­ota’s top-of-the-range Fortuner 4x4 at my dis­posal, I’m look­ing for an of­froad route that’ll ask it some tougher ques­tions. The cof­fee comes: bot­tom­less from a top-shelf buf­fet break­fast at Afriski Moun­tain Re­sort. Out­side, snow canons fire fun pow­der onto the slopes and groggy ski in­struc­tors shuf­fle around look­ing for their lu­mi­nous 8am flocks. I pour milk and my driv­ing part­ner, Glenn Jones, pores over a map. On it, some­where be­tween two of the Maloti’s north­ern­most folds is a lit­tle marker that reads ‘Chalets in the Sky’. So that’s where we head. Snow­fall the pre­vi­ous evening means we hit the first chal­lenge be­fore we even hit dirt. Black ice on Tlaeeng Pass. There’s a de­liv­ery truck al­ready in the ditch ahead of us. ‘Locked up and slipped off,’ is the word on the street. We put the Fortuner into L4 (low-range, four-wheel-drive), en­gage the DAC (Down­hill As­sist Con­trol) and let the en­gine crawl us down the pass, keep­ing off the brakes to avoid a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion. Past Let­seng Di­a­mond Mine, we turn left onto a gravel road, prompted by a sign that reads ‘Malo­raneng Chalets & Camp Site - 9km’. It’s an easy half-hour drive be­fore we reach the vil­lage of Malo­raneng and, just past it, Malo­raneng Chalets, or ‘Chalets in the Sky’. They’re re­mote, sim­ple and beau­ti­ful, but we learn the camp­site, ‘not far away’ is even bet­ter. We steer back past the vil­lage, through a shal­low river and onto a 4x4 track that cuts its way along steep moun­tain­sides, over rocks and into golden dry val­leys. For ev­ery ob­sta­cle, the Fortuner has an an­swer. It’s com­fort­able, sure-footed in H4 and L4 and gives feed­back through the steer­ing wheel that makes creep­ing over loose rocks and along steep precipices more ex­hil­a­rat­ing than har­row­ing. Turns out ‘not far away,’ in Sotho means ‘more than an hour’ and fi­nally we reach a spec­tac­u­lar camp­site on a bend on the Khubelu River. Aside from the river’s gen­tly gur­gle, it’s so quiet here, it might as well be in outer space. With a note of its lo­ca­tion (S28° 58.827’, E28° 55.522’) and a sigh that we can’t stay, we track back into the bright sun­shine to com­plete the loop to Tloko­eng. And my what a loop it is. First we criss-cross

the Khubelu River (seven times), then climb and de­scend a slew of splendidly un­kempt moun­tain roads, past herd­boys and cow­bells, over rocks that crunch and tum­ble to the earth be­low. Five hours later, we emerged onto the A1 and stretch the Fortuner’s legs to Mokhot­long. At cruis­ing speed, it’s a dream: a long, re­laxed gait, quiet en­gine and power when you need it. We tip the wheel south, onto Kot­sisephala Pass and past Thaba Ntlenyana, the high­est peak south of Kil­i­man­jaro, to Sani Moun­tain Lodge for a hearty meal be­side a roar­ing fire on a crisp, cold Le­sotho night.

CLOCK­WISE, FROM ABOVE Stone-clad ‘Chalets in the Sky’; hit the slopes at Afriski; the road to Malo­raneng; the Fortuner’s cli­mate-con­trolled cub­by­hole keep­ing my in­verter cool.

FROM TOP One of the Khubela River crossings; this is the turn off to Malo­raneng. Keep your eyes peeled for the blue sign. Its co­or­di­nates are: S29° 1.358’ E28° 51.385’.

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