Sani Pass 4x4 TrailEnquire Now
20km from Underberg
45km, 3-4hrs, Grade 2-4
+27 33 702 0330 www.sanilodge.co.za
Configuration: A return route to the Lesotho border and back.
Terrain: Gravel, rocks, boulders, rock falls, snow, ice, mud.
The pass can be tackled throughout the year, but the weather can change from sunny to freezing in minutes around here and you're sure to get snow in winter. The pass can be tackled throughout the year, but the weather can change from sunny to freezing in minutes around here and you're sure to get snow in winter. The Sani Backpackers Lodge offers accommodation from dorms to en suite rondawels and self-catering cottages. There is also a camping site and restaurant. The Sani Pass leads to a maze of tempting 'roads' in Lesotho. Your choice of activities here is amazing, from organised packaged hiking and/or pony tours to mountain biking and trout fishing.
Experience the white-knuckle pleasure of negotiating Sani Pass, rated as one of SA’s most spectacular mountain drives. It might not test your 4x4 skills to their utmost, but zigzagging into the low clouds along this vertiginous dirt road snaking along the plunging cliffs of the Drakensberg escarpment is certainly exhilarating.
The Sani Pass was first opened to public traffic more than 50 years ago, and today the route serves as one of the best-known entry points into Lesotho. The road has seen huge improvement since the early days when one took one’s life in one’s own hands to get up there, but it still remains extreme and challenging. This is especially true during heavy snowfalls or sub-zero temperatures when ice forms on the road, or after heavy rains when rock falls needs to be crossed and sections of the road get washed away. The first 16km climbs gently to the SA border post. From here you hit a very steep 8km to the Lesotho border before the final 2km that are just exceptionally steep. The track is narrow and the air is thin but when you eventually summit at 2 874m to experience spectacular panoramas you won’t want to go back down again. And don't forget to stop at southern Africa's highest pub for an ice cold beer or a hot toddy, depending on the season.
The Black Mountain Pass awaits only 20km further on and if you're really a bit of an adrenalin junkie and feel like roughing it for a few days, you can always carry straight on to the Katse Dam. This will take your trip to another dimension. If you are a South African citizen, no visas are required at the South African border post that you will reach just before the start of the main climb (1 900m). Normal hours apply (6am to 6pm daily) and the same goes for the Lesotho border post at the top of the pass.
Several accommodation options are available at the Sani Lodge Backpackers. You can opt for self-catering or with meals included and you can also go camping. Apart from all the activities like hiking, fishing and mountain biking, the lodge offers a very good array of packaged tours to experience the region to its full potential. Pony treks into Lesotho, a high altitude hike up Hodgson's Peak, rock art and community tourism are all available.
The easiest approach to the Sani Lodge Backpackers is via Underberg and Himeville. Coming from Underberg, go straight through the village of Himeville and carry on another 4km until you reach a four-way junction where the tar road ends. Turn left here onto the Sani Pass road and continue for 10.5km until you reach the Backpackers.
The Drakensberg mountain range begins its rise in the Eastern Cape, running along the length of KwaZulu-Natal’s western border. It also extends in fits and starts into Mpumalanga and covers a vast area stretching into the mountain kingdom of Lesotho.
It is generally agreed that the ‘Dragon mountains’ got their name from their ragged, irregular silhouette that looks like a dragon’s back from a distance. It was so-named by Dutch settlers. Another, albeit less popular, explanation is that early settlers were told by the locals that dragons lived in the mountains. This theory was given a bit more credence when numerous dinosaur footprints were discovered in the Eastern Free State.
The Zulu tribe has given the mountains its own, equally descriptive name – Ukhahlamba, or ‘the barrier of spears’. Whatever the language and whatever the explanation, there is no argument that the Drakensberg mountains are evocative and mysterious. It is a wild and beautiful area that can change from sunny to snowy in mere moments.
In 2001 a park was established that encompasses a huge tract of the mountains. Known as the Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation Area, it covers 13 000km² of Lesotho and KwaZulu-Natal. It includes the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park, a World Heritage Site that by itself covers some 2 400km² and is 150km long.
The Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park is a place of immense beauty and enormous spaces. It is one of the few true remaining wildernesses where hikers can walk for days without encountering other people.
It is no surprise, then, that this place is as dangerous as it is beautiful, and one must be well-prepared if tackling it on foot.
In the very north of the park is Royal Natal National Park. It is one of the jewels in the crown of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the proud guardian of the world famous ‘Amphitheatre’. This can be easily viewed from the road to the main camp of the park. A short walk along the river gives amazing photographic opportunities. The attractions of this park are many, from pleasant walks to fly-fishing and swimming in clear mountain streams. It is also home to the 850m-high Tugela Falls, the highest waterfall in Africa and the second highest in the world.
Other notable parks within the greater Drakensberg Park are Giant’s Castle, Kamberg and Loteni Nature Reserves. Each has its own attractions, capable of keeping the tourist busy for days on end.
The Drakensberg was declared a World Heritage Site for a number of reasons. It is an area of incredible natural diversity with over 2 100 plant species, more than 200 of which are endemic to the area. It is also home to over 60 species of mammal, including the threatened oribi and herds of eland and black wildebeest. It has nearly 50 species of reptile and more than 300 bird species. The naturalist will definitely find a visit to the Drakensberg incredibly rewarding.
No less interesting is the human history of the area. A prime drawcard is the San rock art. Excellent examples can be seen in Giant’s Castle. There is also a recreation of how these people prospered in the mountains until they were ruthlessly hunted out of existence by both black and white settlers.
Look out for
The Bushmen paintings are a unique art form that shrouded in mystery and deserving of at least an afternoon’s attention. The fact that they are almost always to be found in remote, beautiful caves adds to their allure. And the walk there adds to the attraction.
Hiking is one of the most popular pastimes in the Drakensberg. Depending on fitness and time, hikers can choose from short but beautiful walks to multi-day hikes. On the latter one needs to be entirely self-sufficient and equipped for inclement weather - including snow - no matter what time of the year it is.
The Giants Cup Hiking Trail is the premier ‘Berg hike, totalling almost 60km and usually taking five days to complete. It runs from Sani Pass to Busman’s Nek in the south.
The Amphitheatre in the Royal Natal National Park is one of the first things that should be put on the ‘To Do’ list. You haven’t really been to the Drakensberg until you’ve viewed it from below - and then again from the top. Here you will encounter one of the most breathtaking views in South Africa.
Fly-fishing is another excellent reason to visit the Drakensberg. KZN-Ezemvelo has a collection of very good trout waters in their reserves. Other dams and rivers are privately owned, but many are accessible to fisherman for a day fee.
The Lammergeier Hide at Giant’s Castle is an amazing place from which to get incredible sightings and photographs of birds. Highlights are the bearded vulture, Verreaux’s eagle, white-necked raven, lanner falcon and Cape vulture. Many smaller species can also be spotted. Booking is essential.
Sani Pass is one of South Africa’s great drives. In winter the pass is often closed due to ice and snow and can be a very hazardous drive. Remember that a passport is necessary to get onto the pass and a 4x4 vehicle is required by law.