Semonkong (The place of Smoke) may be from the funigalore word for smoke; "semoko", although other origins are put forward. This remote village, recently gazetted as a town, is in the southern central part of Lesotho. Semonkong nestles in a large amphitheatre between the Thaba Putsoa range and the mountains around the great Thaba Ntso - Black Mountain, to the west of the great Central range. The road to Semonkong from the north passes through Roma and Ramabanta. It goes no further than Semonkong for most four wheel vehicles. The sturdier four wheel drives, motor bikes and of course horses, can pursue the south eastern paths to the Senqu. Horses and motor bikes only may find their way across to the west via the bridal paths to the Ketane Valley and Malealea.
Semonkong viewed from above on the bridal path to Malealea
Watered by the * Maletsunyane River, (The river of little smoke, where in winter the steam rises from the warmer river?).* The town receives it's electric power from the river and an ingenious miniature hydro-electric station, hosts a monthly horse race, trades in wool, horses and farm produce and is growing it's tourism industry with great pride and a warm welcoming people who inhabit this Tolkein page of Lesotho.
The Maletsunyane River
Semonkong is known all over the world for it's fabulous * Maletsunyane Falls. (Also known as Le Bihan Falls, after Father Le Bihan who first marked the position.) The falls drop nearly 200 meters over a sheer drop into the gorge. You can take the strenuous 1hr walk down a path that would try the talents of a goat or arrange with the lodge to abseil down the highest commercial drop in the world. (Guinness Book of Records). Either way the long walk back out of the gorge is unavoidable and you are left with the feeling of great achievement!
* Maletsunyane Falls
THE TALE OF MALUTI SYD
"The Maletsunyane was stocked with trout in the late 1950s mainly through the effort of the then manager of the store, Jan du Preez, Dick Southworth and a police officer, Ken Short Smith. The site on which the lodge now stands was a favourite camping site from then on for people either trekking on horseback or flying in on Basotho Air which was a fledging airline doing a fantastic job in opening up the then Basutoland. The campsite was ideal for trout fishing visitors to the falls due to its close proximity to the landing strip (and thats literally what it was), store and a good supply of drinking water. The spring on the hill behind the camp always had lovely clear, sweet water winter and summer. It was also ideal in that it was flat and well grassed and situated midway on the fishable part of the river. The fishing in the early days was fantastic, as Yellows could not get up the falls so the water was completely virgin.
I first visited the falls with a party of school friends in 1955 and we camped there. Although we were complete novices we managed to bag at least 8 fish of between 2 and 4 lbs. It was also on this trip that the idea of Maluti treks was born.
A friend and I were sitting on the bank of the river one evening at sunset and Tim said to me. You know, Chappie, people would pay to do this. In 1962, fed up with university, I decided to start a pony trekking and trout fishing safari business; we called it Maluti treks. The site of your Lodge is on the inside page of LUXURY CAMPING. We established a base camp on the bank of the Senqunyane and built 3 rondavels with the help of the Maseru District Council. This is now the site of the Senqunyane Lodge at Marakebei. From this base camp we rode to the falls, taking two days and all our equipment on mules, least two pack mules per guest and then some. The night camp was set on the banks of the headwaters of the Maletsunyane, a beautiful spot leaving an easy and pleasant ride downriver to Semonkong. We camped at the old campsite on the river, which is now the site of Semonkong Lodge. After about a year of operating we decided to build some sort of permanent structure at Maletsunyane to make life easier for all concerned. Again with the help of the MDC we were given permission to erect a wooden hut on the site. This was the real beginning of Semonkong Lodge. The hut was about 10m long and divided into one small room and a larger mess hall. The hut was prefabricated in Maseru and driven to Ramabanta. From there we hired Basuto women, two to a section, who carried it to Semonkong on their heads.
Charges from a Maluti Trek were R10 per day all-inclusive which even included booze. My idea at the time was to establish camps a days ride apart all over the Malutis. My ideas changed, however, when I visited Oxbow and decided to concentrate all my resources in that area. We kept the two southern camps for a few years as with great difficulty we had managed to get the liquor licensing laws changed to allow our lodges to sell booze, but eventually I sold our interests to Frasers who had stores at both places".
Semonkong Lodge sits on the river and on the road to the south west
FRASERS SEMONKONG LODGE (1970 1990) Frasers Lesotho Limited is a very old and established trading company within Lesotho. One of their many stores was in the mountains of Semonkong. Frasers would send a plane two or three times a week laden with stock to Semonkong. The freight would often be items such as blankets or womens clothing, and in the rainy season when the roads were impassable, groceries and toiletries would also be loaded. Building material would be brought up to the mountain store by donkeys. Spars and sheets of iron could be no longer than 6 feet with the timber struts being the only exception. The top end would be strapped to the animal while the other end was dragged on the ground to lessen the weight on the animal. One had to make allowance for an extra 2 feet, which would have worn away on the journey up. A short distance from the trading station, and from the top of the hill, down into the valley below, following the Maletsunyane River, one would find thatched rondavels and an army cabin. This Lodge belonged to Sydney Chaplain who was also known as "Maluti Syd". Knowing that Tabs and Yvette Peacock were managing the Semonkong station, Sydney Chaplain offered the Lodge to them as he had interests elsewhere. The Peacocks declined the offer knowing their stay in Semonkong would not be permanent and the Frasers Company purchased the Lodge. The Peacocks supervised the Lodge and with many ardent trout fisherman still booking accommodation, they were encouraged to improve the appearance of the place and some trees were also planted.
You can contact the lodge directly for more information, as they now have landline telephones and hence e-mail since 2006.
Semonkong Lodge - Jonathan and Armelle - Tel + 266 27 006 037 Mobile + 266 62 021 021
Or visit their excellent web site: http://www.placeofsmoke.co.ls/
Their e-mail address is: email@example.com
* Maletsunyane is an interesting name. The english name here is a local anecdotal version. Could it come from the verb ho lela (perf. letse) = to weep or maybe from the noun tsuane, the chicken, hence; Malitsuanyana = the hen ? The readers more serious contributions are welcome.