A Journey to the Source of the Senqu

The source of the mighty Orange River fittingly has it’s headwaters in probably the most dramatic place in this country, the head of the Mnweni Cutback. The Mnweni Cutback is in my opinion the most dramatic part of the Drakensberg Mountains, and I have hiked pretty much all of it. For the first few hundred kilometers of its course through Lesotho it’s known as the Senqu River.  I have been to the source of the Senqu several times but this particular trip was my first fishing trip. 

This story is going back a few years but it’s worth it. Our group consisted of two fisherman, myself and Richard Stanford, and then the non-fisherman were his sister Robin, and Marlie Ellis, aka Bob. It was an 8 day journey up the Khubelu River.  We started below the Lestseng Diamond mine and fished up the Khubelu for 3 days. On day 4 we walked over the mountains to the source of the Senqu (Orange) River for 2 days of fishing there. We then spent a few nights on top of the escarpment before hiking down the Rockeries pass to where the Mnweni cultural centre now stands. 

My idea to explore the headwaters of the Senqu came from a school hike back in 1997. We hiked from the Sentinel car park, along the top of the Berg and down the Rockeries Pass. We had one rest day in Mponjwane cave. On this rest day some of us walked down the Senqu River to a waterfall about 5 km from the top of the Berg. I never knew it at the time but that waterfall was the last barrier to trout going any further upstream. The sight that greeted us a was something I will never forget! The deep pools below the waterfall were full of trout, and not tiddlers either. There were literally hundreds of fish of between a pound and 3 pounds! Their migration upstream to spawn had been blocked by the waterfall. After having a swim in the iced up pool, we ventured downstream a bit. Still more pools full of fish! There were so many fish that we even managed to catch one by hand and cook it. This was my memory of the Senqu River and I had to return to fish it one day.

It was April 2008 before I managed to return. I had previously fished the Khubelu River in 2002, and had some great fishing below the Letseng diamond mine. Nothing big, but plenty fish of 10 to 12″ which made for a good fun day on the river. Unfortunately 2008 was a very different year and the fish size in the Khubelu as well as the Senqu were tiny. I have found that these Lesotho rivers vary hugely from one year to the next mainly on account of the current rainfall and the previous years rainfall. The biggest fish we caught in the Senqu was about not more 8″. We fared better in the Khubelu and as we went higher upstream the fish got bigger, but it just wasn’t a good year in Lesotho. The Sani River was the same, much smaller fish than in previous years. I have yet to fish all the way to the source of the Khubelu River, but it’s a spectacular river with fantastic water clarity, and great holding water. It does have some very big fish in it, but for whatever reason they sometimes are just not there or not showing themselves. The Tourettes guys wouldn’t take guys fishing on a river if it wasn’t special, and this is the river where they used to often take clients before they discovered the Bokong River.  Either the fish migrate, or die out in a dry year.I have learned that when it comes to a Lesotho trip, you need to realise that it’s not about the fishing, it’s about the adventure. 

The Khubelu River is one of the best looking of all the rivers flowing from the top of the Drakensberg. 
Bob getting some casting lessons on the Khubelu River
These big pools on the Khubelu seemed devoid of fish. We spent a lot of time watching them and prospecting their depths, but not even a tiddler was caught.
The waterfall on the Khubelu. We camped our first night here. Again nothing in this pool.
Richard throwing a line into the crystal clear waters of the Khubelu.
Walking over the mountains into the headwaters of the Senqu River. The Rockeries are sticking out above the escarpment with Mponjwane to the left of the Rockeries. The Khubelu River is behind us over another range of hills. The source of the Senqu is in the valley in the foreground.
Walking along the escarpment towards Ledges Cave with the Mnweni cutback behind us. A violent storm brewing behind us. We just got to the cave in time before the heavens opened.
Standing in Ledges cave looking out over Natal and the Mnweni Cutback to the left.
Hiking up the Senqu River. It was low and very difficult to fish.
Richard on the Senqu.
The first of the plunge pools below the Senqu waterfall. These were the pools teeming with big fish 10 years earlier but on this occasion we only saw a few tiddlers.
The biggest fish I caught in the Senqu over two days of fishing. It’s amazing where you sometimes pull a fish from!

We don’t usually take much food on these hikes and we try eat fish at least once a day. These were the little tiddlers we had to eat on the

Fooling around to try get a perfect picture in front of Ledges Cave
Looking North West along the Berg at sunrise.
Starting our descent of the Rockeries pass. Looking East towards Cathedral Peak in the distance.


  1. Epic – yet again…as with your Sehlabathebe adventures, will I be following in your footsteps! Going to Hike the Khubela river in a week’s time! Any advice with regards to fly patterns?


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