A STORY about Lesotho’s tourism is definitely enriched at the mention of Maliba Lodge, deep in the valleys of the country’s highlands.
As you meander on an upward slope the rugged terrain deceives you, maybe even dampens expectations.
Yet the serene environs denote otherwise; a promise of the beauty that lies ahead.
From the entrance, the vegetation thickens and the breathing air suddenly becomes cleaner. Water flowing in a stream that runs at the foot of the mountain range produces a consistent rhythm as it negotiates its way around the rocks. That sound is complemented by that of vehicles passing periodically, honking taxis, bleating sheep grazing in the mountains and chattering birds.
Right at the edge of the thicket as you head into the vast valley overlooked by imposing mountains on both sides, lies another deception and this time it’s the seemingly worn earthy coloured buildings. First, it’s the striking offices and reception area, ‘sternly watching’ over two fountains deftly placed in the foreground. It’s these two features that denote the palpable serenity; so intense you could touch it.
Inside the reception area, the ambiance is enhanced by the rustic looking wall colour that is maintained from outside. While the thatched roof dispenses an earthy scent it also enhances the temperature control in the buildings at Maliba Lodge.
The property that is owned by Stephen Phakisi stands high as an epitome of Lesotho hospitality.
Opened in 2008, the property that has 21 residential units is managed by Jason Katsande, since December 2017. Among the residential units are six five-star rooms; while the rest are three-star.
It’s not anything one would expect deep in the valleys. It has some of the best facilities that one could never imagine with the Midas touch on the rooms being a well-placed balcony that gives occupants unimaginable vantage points of the mountain ranges.
From the fusions of exquisite African tastes of furniture and art pieces hanging on the walls and modern European influences, to untanned leather seats and ornaments, it is a place of captivating beauty. The majority of the buildings, while taking all sorts of shapes, they maintain a domineering circular form which from the outside is just modest but lavish inside.
Maliba is a place where one can create lasting memories on a romantic holiday or even honeymoon. Alternatively, you can lose yourself in thought while gaping in the vast mountain vistas either sun basking or gasp a fresh morning breeze on the balcony.
Beautiful as it is, the resort’s biggest clientele remains foreign. During a recent visit to the resort, Mr Katsande told the Lesotho Times that 50 percent of their clientele comes from neighbouring South Africa while the other half is split unevenly between Europeans, Americans, Australians and at the far end Basotho.
“I think it is just a perception that everything here is costly hence we rarely get locals vising the resort,” Mr Katsande said adding: “This seems to be changing slowly due to increasing social media presence”.
“While we even have some meals that cost as little as M55, I have met countless people in Butha-Buthe which is a few minutes’ drive away, who have never been to Maliba Lodge while others do not even know about it.
“We recently opened up one of our restaurants fondly known as the Maliba Bistro — which serves average meals for lunches for M55 to M150 per person depending on whether one has a wrap or burger with chips or the hearty meat platter.
“Even our accommodation is not pricey. We have four self-catering River Lodges which take eight people each and cost M1 750. For the fifth person onwards, groups have to pay M450.”
Mr Katsande said although the lodge’s clientele is mainly foreign, they work with the local villages in different projects for the benefit of the poor members of the surrounding communities.
The lodge supports St Dennis Clinic in Tšehlanyane with the provision of a mobile clinic which it takes out to different villages weekly to attend to villagers who cannot visit the clinic for different reasons.
“We provide the mobile clinic while the clinic provides nurses and medication. The lodge has supported the clinic since its inception — largely by introduction of Maliba Community Trust which channels donations and funds to the community. The catchment area of the clinic services approximately a 30-kilometre-wide radius and villagers with various ailments have found relief from this facility as some cannot visit the government clinics in the nearby Butha-Buthe for varying reasons ranging from frail health and lack of funds for transport.
“We also engage villagers for pony treks where we provide them with horses which we then hire from them whenever we have pony rides booked by our guests. Each time a horse is hired the villagers, we pay them a set amount that would have been agreed to between the lodge and them. This encourages them to take care of the horses and make an income to help with their families.”
“Over and above all the social projects Maliba has endeavoured in over the years – we still employ the majority of our staff from the surrounding areas. We feel this is one of the best ways of alleviating poverty in the area we are located.
“We encourage and support the surrounding villages in our valley by employing the majority of the staff from with this community. We take this a step further and hire casual short-term labourers for projects we may have – all this in the efforts of trying to uplift this community.
“We are part of this community and even whenever the villagers or schools face challenges, we assist them whenever we can. We have assisted with burials, rebuilding classrooms, replacing windows and our community centre in Ha-Mali which serves as a leisure centre with a library and a garden.
“We also provide internship and learnership opportunities for students from Limkokwing University of Creative Technology, Lerotholi Polytechnic and IBC Business School every six months but to name a few.
“While we cannot get all our supplies from the local villages, we buy selected items like eggs, fruits and vegetables just to ensure that they also benefit from the business.”
The facilities and activities which Maliba Lodge provides include a beauty spa, pony rides, mountain hiking where you will come across some of the most enchanting waterfalls that Lesotho has to offer and a day care dubbed Bana Club which has various activities for children, community visits and dinosaur footprint tours.
Maliba Lodge also houses participants of the Lesotho Ultra Trail, a 38km and 50km marathon which is held in November annually. The lodge has also housed some of the participants of the annual Moshoeshoe Walk and Mr Katsande says they hope to increase their participation in the next edition.
Maliba Lodge is housed within the Tšehlanyane National Park which is, Lesotho’s largest National Park located in the Maloti Mountains in Butha-Buthe and is part of the larger Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation Area. The park is one of the few in the country that still have wild animals. With 30 plus elands, the park charges R40 for local tourists, M50 for foreign tourists and M10 per vehicle.