Most South Africans have holidayed in one or two resorts scattered at different heights throughout the beautiful Drakensberg Mountains – from Drak Gardens in the south to Hlalanathi in the north. But not many South Africans have taken a trip up the stunning Sani Valley – starting out from Underberg and ultimately crossing the border post into Lesotho and its majestic mountains. Driving up the steep and windy Sani Pass road you’ll climb to an altitude of 2874m above sea level – zigzagging upwards beneath towering cliffs and buttresses, past cascading waterfalls and unique flora and bird life.
How to go
There are quite a few tour companies that will take you up Sani Pass in 4×4 vehicles or on quad bikes. Some of the most popular tour companies are Thaba Tours, Sani Pass Tours, Major Adventures and Drakensberg Adventures.
But you can also drive up in your own car – provided it’s a4x4, of course. And if you are feeling energetic and adventurous – get on your bicycle or use your feet!
Don’t forget to bring your passports, as you’ll cross the South African Border Post at the bottom of the pass, and the Lesotho Border Post at the top.
When to go
You can drive up Sani Pass just about any day of the year provided you have a 4×4. In summer sweeping green slopes, vast floral displays and spectacular waterfalls will capture your heart and soul completely. In winter you’ll be able to admire iced falls in every hairpin bend, as well as a dry, rich gold veld. You might even experience a white blanket of snow, if you time your visit right!
For those wanting a hotel atmosphere, head for Sani Pass Hotel – situated at the bottom of the pass. For backpackers, however, the rustic Sani Lodge is also located at the bottom of Sani Pass. Sani Lodge is a peaceful country haven with a laid back atmosphere – allowing guests to simply kick off their shoes, unwind and feel completely at home. Sani Lodge is also the home of Drakensberg Adventures.
If you climb further up and want to stay in Lesotho, at the very top of Sani Pass, there is another rustic lodge available. Sani Top Chalet offers comfortable accommodation beneath a sea of stars at night and breathtaking landscapes by day. It is also home to the highest pub in Africa – serving delicious homemade meals.
There are also places to stay in nearby Himeville and Underberg - such as Arbuckle House, Sani Manor, Umzimkulu River Lodge and Rocky Mountain Lodge. These places are more suitable for those exploring the nearby Underberg area, and just looking to take a quick day trip up Sani Pass.
What to look out for
The Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park offers an incredible variety of fauna and flora. The shaggy Bearded Vulture, a rare and endangered bird that lives around the Drakensberg massif and foothills in South Africa and Lesotho, is just one of the beautiful species you should look out for. It is thought that there are only about 400 Bearded Vultures left in the wild, so if you spot one consider yourself incredibly lucky!
There are plenty of other bird species found in the area as well – such as the Whitewinged Flufftail and the Yellowbreasted Pipit. There are also close to 50 species of mammals – including Leopard, Baboon, Jackal, Black Wildebeest and Eland. The Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park is also home to the largest Clawless Otter population in South Africa.
How to extend your adventure
If you want to explore further once you have reached the top of Sani Pass, venture into the beautiful Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. The rustic Molumong Lodge offers a magnificent view of the Maluti Mountains and radiates a truly magical ambience. The lodge is only an hour and a bit’s drive from the top of Sani Pass, and the road takes you through a beautiful valley full of fluffy sheep, hard-working donkeys and smiling Basotho people. There is no electricity at Molumong, but gas and coal is used to cook and provide hot showers. Remember to bring your own food and drinks, as there are no shops for miles. If you are visiting in winter, and snow has been falling for a couple of days before your arrival, head for Lesotho’s Afriski - very popular amongst skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts.