The Sani Pass to Lesotho

“An assault on the senses as you climb upwards through windy, bumpy and rocky roads, hairpin bends and just breathtakingly amazing views”

Kwazulu Natal, South Africa and The Kingdom of Lesotho

The famous but dangerous Sani Pass is a mountain pass joining the Western KwaZulu Natal province in South Africa with Lesotho.  It climbs the escarpment to an altitude of 2874m and is known as the gateway to the ‘Roof of Africa’

The views from the Southern Drakensberg mountains are awe inspiring and just get better and better the higher you climb.  The pass is not for the faint hearted and if you do not have a suitable 4 x 4 or are not skilled in advanced driving then my recommendation is to make sure you book with a tour company that has drivers trained to get you up safely.  We booked with the aptly named tour company – Roof of Africa!

The pass is merely a single track in most parts, the closer you get to the top you will notice that the roads have been widened in order to get around those hairpin bends.  It is made up of dirt and gravel causing the 4 x 4 to bounce along unevenly, making your teeth and bones rattle.  As you look up you are greeted by towering basalt cliffs, to the left and right luscious vegetation, waterfalls and the Umkomazana River. Look down and you see an amazing valley, mountains stretching ahead and the Sani pass weaving its way down, down, down like a snake.

The vegetation keeps changing the higher you go, with no trees growing at the top of the pass.  As a world heritage site it is not only known for its flora but fauna too!  We were luckily enough to spot a baboon perched high on a rock, a young jackal cowering from the rain and the closest living relative of the elephant, a small furry mammal called the dassie or rock hyrax.  Although wildlife is in abundance you do have to keep your eye out for them, that is if you happy looking down into the steep valley below, with the vehicle being millimetres from the edge.

Our tour took most of the day.  Our guide Sundile was informative and full of local knowledge. He was also well prepared for the border crossing.  In Covid times immigration is a bit more complicated and requires completed health questionnaires for both exit and entry and a rapid “negative’ Covid test which you can get at the crossing – a requirement to enter Lesotho!

The South African crossing is not at the border and one of the reasons is for making sure all vehicles are suitable to make the ascent to the top.  It is from the crossing that you travel the slow 8kms of ‘No Man’s Land’ to the Kingdom of Lesotho.

Upon crossing into Lesotho we visited the highest pub in Africa at the Sani Mountain Lodge for a well deserved beer.  Be prepared for a complete weather change when up at the top. By the time we reached the pub the temperature had dropped significantly and the clouds started rolling in, making the scenery even more dramatic.  Before you knew it we were witnessing a fantastic electrical storm, starting off with hail, thunder roaring loudly across the escarpment and lightening crossing the sky. Thank goodness we were inside the pub, when a bolt from the blue gave an almighty crack as it hit the ground and every person jumped in their seats!  It was a sign to enjoy another cold beverage and keep safe from the storm.

The descent was just as stomach churning as the ascent especially in the rain and mist but our tour guide handled the pass perfectly – just at the right speed never making your worry.  It was the same bumpy, teeth and bone rattling feeling all the way down.

Unfortunately we did not visit a typical Basotho village on our trip due to the weather and slight changes to make sure we all kept up with social distancing practices but we did see a few ‘people of the blanket’ in the distance and maybe one day we will visit again.

Our trip to the Drakensberg started and ended at the peaceful Moorcroft Manor Boutique Hotel just outside Himeville, a stone’s throw away from Sani Pass.  A real special place to relax and enjoy nature.

Notes:
Sani Pass Tour: Booked with Roof of Africa
Roof of Africa tour company was very professional and kept in constant contact with us with regards to who will be meeting us, timings and any changes at immigration control we need to comply with.

Where we stayed:
Moorcroft Manor Boutique Country Hotel, Himeville
Beautiful spacious rooms with a terrace to enjoy the view of the mountains.  Delicious selection of food served at the restaurant and will accommodate dietary requirements – just make sure to confirm when checking in.

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