Adventure Travel

Drive through the Spectacular Sani Pass, South Africa

Sani Pass
Written by Jane Sophia

Sani Pass, South Africa is one of the most challenging mountains passes for adventurous drivers who test their strength, fitness, and tolerance power by navigating treacherous mountain roads in the world.

Sani Pass Road sign

Sani Pass in South Africa is a very dangerous route, especially during winter when the ice and snow act as villains by claiming many lives. It’s a dramatic drive through a very high mountain on un-tarred roads. Nevertheless, what exactly entices the driving buffs whose feeling of elation, when the destination is reached safely cannot match any other kinds of happiness you get.

Let us now climb the Sani Pass, South Africa.

Location of Sani Pass.

The Sani Pass connects Underberg, KwaZulu-Natal and Mokhotlong, Lesotho.

Sani Pass, South Africa

KwaZulu-Natal is a province in South Africa and Underberg is a small town in KwaZulu-Natal province from where the Sani Pass starts. Underberg is situated at an elevation of 6246 feet in the Drakensberg Mountain 1904 m Hlogoma Peak (place of echoes) in the foothills of the southern Drakensberg, KwaZulu-Natal.

Lesotho is a separate country in South Africa with its capital Maseru. More than 2 million people live in Lesotho.

Lesotho’s landscape.

Sani Pass Lesotho

The length of the Sani Pass.

When I first heard about the challenging drive through Sani Pass, I thought it will be a long drive running to a few hundred kilometers. However, the distance between Underberg and Lesotho is only 9 km.

Why then is the Sani Pass drive treacherous?

Forget about the length of just 9 km between the starting and ending point of the spectacular Sani Pass but you have to navigate your four-wheeler (preferably a jeep) up on an unpaved road, nearly a vertical 4400 feet climb! Oh, even thinking about it, I feel suffocated.

The drama starts at 5000 feet from the town of Underberg and ends at over 9400 feet in Lesotho.

Sani Pass Lesotho

So, what awaits you when you drive through the Sani Pass?

You can visualize every possible scene that a mountainous route offers such as:

  • Deep gorges
  • Green valleys
  • Waterfalls
  • Exotic birds
  • Mountain wildlife
  • Tall and giant trees
  • Fantastic view of South Africa below.

 

Birds that you can spot in Sani Pass.

  • Orange-breasted Rockjumper

Orange-breasted Rockjumper

Since it lives in Drakensberg mountain, it is also called Drakensberg Rockjumper.

  • Sentinel Rockthrush

Sentinel Rockthrush

  • Bush Blackcap

Bush Blackcap

Sure, there is a cap on this cute bird’s head and it is black. The orange beak and claws is a lovely contrast.

  • Drakensberg Siskin

 

Drakensberg Siskin

It looks like a house sparrow but with a pale yellow breast.

  • Mountain Pipit

Mountain Pipit

Another sparrow-sized bird and almost resembles the house sparrow.

  • Blue Swallow

Blue Swallow

What a lovely blue shade!

  • Cape Parrots

Cape Parrots

A mini Macaw?

 

Giant’s Castle

Giant's Castle

There is no real castle, folks! Giant’s Castle is actually a peak on Drakensberg mountain in South Africa’s Zulu region, on the way to Lesotho in the Pass.

From this Giant Castle peak, there are several hiking trails such as:

  • Berg View

A two hours hike will take you to the Berg viewpoint from where you have a spectacular view of the Drakensberg escarpment.

  • Langalibalele Pass Hike

Langalibalele Pass Hike

It is a 14 km hike and your fitness level should be quite high to finish this hiking trail.

Sani Pass Giants Cup Hiking Trails

This walking trail is only for youth because the distance to be covered is 60 km and the trail is situated over 6500 feet! The maximum duration in which people cover this 60 km Giant’s Cup hiking trail is 5 days. For overnight stays, bunk rooms are arranged in huts. Since the duration of the walking route is running into several days, you are likely to spot several wild animals that include:

  • Baboon
  • Black-backed Jackal
  • Reedbuck
  • Antelopes
  • Bearded Vulture
  • Black Eagle

Black Eagle

  • Cape Vultures

Note: You must be lucky and vigilant to spot this wildlife in Sani Pass on your Giant’s Cup hiking expedition.

Some more hiking trails of Giant’s Castle peak, Sani Pass:

  • Lotheni Hiking Trails
  • McKenzie’s Caves Hike
  • Tarn Cave Hike
  • Garden Castle Nature Reserve

Finally, there is a marathon 200 km trail called Drakensberg Grand Traverse that takes nearly two weeks to complete.

Is there any organized and guided tour of Sani Pass?

Yes of course. The starting point of Sani Pass tour and the duration varies and accordingly, the price also differs. You can contact Lonely Planet for a range of  day trip and more.

From what I gathered, all the Sani Pass tours start from Durban which is about 210 km from Underberg, the starting point of the Pass.

For details regarding papers to cross the border, places to stay in and around Sani Pass, contact: http://www.sanimountain.co.za

About the author

Jane Sophia

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