South Africa’s 4x4 adventure - The Sani Pass

by Asako Maruoka /
Asako Maruoka's picture
Aug 13, 2012 / 0 comments

Known to be one of the most treacherous mountain passes on the planet, the Sani Pass ascends through the sheer cliffs of the Drakensburg Mountains in zig zag curves.  It links the South African province of KwaZulu Natal with the small, independent mountain kingdom of Lesotho.

The road is notoriously dangerous and one can only ascend by 4×4 vehicle, quad bike, mule, off-road motor bike or for the very fit, on foot. The pass is approximately 8km long and takes you to ‘the roof of Africa’ with a summit of 2873m. The scenery en route is breathtaking, taking in spectacular towering peaks, some of which are 3200 metres above sea level.

Sani Pass. Photo courtesy of flickr Creative Commons:

Photo courtesy of flickr Creative Commons:

Once a rough mule trail, The Sani Pass was opened up to vehicle traffic in 1955 by David Alexander, who used 4 wheel drive vehicles he had seen on service in World War 2. His company Mokhotlong Mountain Transport was the first to operate on the pass, only to be followed by many more.

To drive the pass in your own vehicle one would need above average driving skill and experience, if you don’t own such qualities stick to a company that employs drivers that do and put your life in their hands instead. Whether you are an experienced driver or not or even if your guide is an expert, accidents can still happen.

The Pass is often closed due to adverse weather conditions, particularly in winter, where one risks the dangers of ice and snow. As you ascend you can occasionally see the remains of vehicles that have not succeeded in navigating the steep gradients and poor traction surfaces of the Pass. But it’s all worth it for the spectacular views.

What’s more, when you reach the top, as if by magic, a pub appears! At 2874 metres above sea level, it is the highest in Africa. As long as you don’t plan on descending that day or journeying onwards, a cold glass of the local Maluti Lager should calm any rattled nerves as you enjoy wonderful sweeping views.

Photo courtesy of flickr Creative Commons:

Photo courtesy of flickr Creative Commons: