4X4 up the Sani Pass

© Roger de la Harpe
Sani Pass in the Drakensberg.
Go on an adventure, twisting and winding on KwaZulu-Natal's Sani Pass, from the Underberg in South Africa up and into Lesotho.The Sani Pass is a twisting and winding, 9 kilometre (5.5 mile) long mountain pass that connects South Africa to Lesotho. Situated in the western region of KwaZulu Natal, the start of the Sani Pass is found in the quaint town of Underberg and it is the only road through the Drakensberg into Lesotho.Navigating the mountain pass can become treacherous with the gravel road becoming very narrow and steep at certain parts. A 4X4 vehicle and 4X4 driving skills are required should you wish to drive the pass on your own esteem. Alternatively visitors can book guided tours through a number of tour companies.Our tour began promptly at 09h00 when we met by our friendly local guide. We were told in advance that we should bring a warm top, as it can become fairly chilly at the top of the pass. As we were going to be exiting South Africa and entering Lesothowe needed to have valid passports with us for the border control. The required visa is purchased at the border control post.With a happy welcome and an introduction to the pass, the guide, my partner, our two fellow adventure seekers and I climbed into our 4X4 and began the journey. The Sani Pass was once an old mule and donkey trail that the locals used to transport wool and mohair from the Basutoland farmers down into the city. The produce would then be traded for essential items such as maize meal, blankets and clothing and the donkeys would then make the return journey back up the pass.

The 2.5 hour journey along the short 9kilometre (5.5 mile) trail, from the base to the summit, climbs to a massive height of 2 874 metres above sea-level. We stopped at a number of spots along the way to allow us to stretch our legs and take in the magnificent scenery surrounding us.

The mountain is covered in a wide array of different plant species and there were a number of beautiful flowers to photograph. We also had to stop at one point along the road to allow a farmer and his herd of goats to pass.

Once we reached the top we enjoyed a delicious lunch and a refreshing beverage in the Highest Pub in Africa, an aptly named establishment. From the pub's balcony we were able to look down the pass and take in the route that we had just completed. It was freezing cold at the top and looking down at all those twists and turns really drummed in how extreme the journey we had just taken truly was.After lunch we visited a nearby Basotho village and were able to meet some of the local people. A friendly old lady beckoned us into her home, a traditional rondavel, (round house) with a toothless grin and a deeply lined face and we all sat around the central fire as she offered us traditional beer and homemade bread and our guide gave us some insight into her way of life and the local cultures and traditions.Soon it was time of us to wave our new friends good-bye begin our descent back into South Africa. Heading back down the steep path was almost scarily and more adrenalin pumping than the way up and at one point we had to hold on to our seats as a 'gung ho' local sped up around the corner we were tentatively navigating. Our guide showed off his impressive skills maneuvering perfectly, keeping us all safe and once again making me very aware that I was happy not be driving.Along the way we saw a troop of baboons sauntering across the slope on the other side of the ravine and were also lucky enough to spot some beautiful birds. Filled with excitement and a greater appreciation for the history of the area and the natural environment we eventually returned to South Africa and to our comfortable accommodation near Sani Pass.

By Katie Edge
KwaZulu-Natal Hotel Accommodation
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