The Sani Pass starts at 1544m and rises 1332 vertical meters to summit at 2876m. This altitude gain is almost 300 meters more than its nearest competitor – the Naude’s Nek Pass in the Eastern Cape. The Sani Pass average gradient is only 1:20, thanks to the long easy gradient section in the foothills of the Drakensberg, but certain sections are as steep as 1:4 and it is here that most drivers come unstuck when the going gets slippery. The large number of car wrecks down the ravines bear mute testimony to the dangers.
Many visitors travel from abroad to tackle the notorious Sani Pass in hired 4×4’s. Such is it’s reputation. For most South African’s it remains more of a dream. There has been talk recently of tarring the Sani Pass. There was an immediate rash of objections from a range of individuals and societies interested in preserving the true, raw nature of the area, but I presume that ultimately, progress will have it’s way. Should the tarring project go ahead, the challenge and allure of the Sani Pass will move from a tough 4×4 route to a casual afternoon drive in a hatchback. Whilst it’s still there, make a plan, and drive the Sani. It will leave you feeling like a child – in it’s sheer size and scope. The pass holds an attraction for advertisers too – recently two TV commercials were filmed on the pass for Nissan and Ford vehicles respectively.
The road connects the KZN town of Underberg with Mokhotlong in
Lesotho. Himeville and Underberg are approximately 20 km to the
south-west with Mokhotlong in Lesotho about 60 km to the north-east. The
lower reaches of the pass has several hotels and a wide range of guest
farms, B&B’s, lodges and other self-catering accommodation on offer.
Always check with authorities or local business owners as to conditions
on the pass before attempting the pass. Obviously the pass experiences
its most frequent closures in winter, when snow is the common culprit.
Once you have cleared customs and made use of the immaculate toilet facilities at the border control point, the adrenaline part of your trip begins. The first half is just a casual drive, compared to what is waiting higher up the pass. Very steep gradients of up to 1:3 with loose rocks, mud, ice, and snow can all be encountered on this section.
The Sani Pass remains as the most iconic pass in South Africa and the only factor that has the potential to remove that title is the possibility of the pass becoming tarred. Our take remains positive and even if the pass does get tarred, it will open it up to a vast new audience, which will boost local tourism and benefit the region considerably. Yes, the pass in its gravel form is for the purist and the 4×4 driver and this allure will be higely diluted, but there are more than enough other big gravel passes to satisfy that need.