The Sani Pass tour is a full day tour with lots of adventure, as you travel in a 4×4 up and down narrow and winding roads with great photo stops in between, and enjoying cultural experiences. The mountain range is magnificent and we only saw 3 other vehicles on the road that day. It really is a photographers dream as the scenary is breathtaking. Around every corner the view changes and the landscape greets you in a new and fresh way. Our guide was very informative and gave us valuable information on what life was before and how it has now changed. The road is really bumpy, so be prepared for that as well. We were grateful that our guide was an experienced driver as many of those potholes were deep and the roads very narrow, no side walks but deep valleys below rub against your shoulders. Just in the last 6 months 2 cars have gone off the road and tumbled down, fortunately only one person did not survive. For those travellers that like to read whilst in a vehicle, this will not be possible. Talking about that, could never understand tourists who pay to go on a tour, and then sit in the vehicle and read a book? But each to their own.
In 1955 this road was constructed to run between Lesotho and South Africa, connecting the 2 countries. At the start of the Sani Pass from the South African side there is a taxi station, where the local Basotho folk wait to get a taxi back into their home country after a day’s work. They come to the South African side to do day jobs or sell their goats. In those early days, it would take a round trip of 10 days to travel on the gravel road with their donkeys to bring their wool and meat and trade for maize (corn) or building materials on fully loaded donkeys.
Driving the Sani Pass we start at 1544 metres and climb 1332 metres until we reach Lesotho at 2876 metres above sea level, It takes approximately 2.5 hours to reach the summit. The Sani Pass is South Africa’s and Lesotho’s highest border and the most beautiful. We pass many sugar bush trees at the start of the pass, which are part of the Protea family. They start flowering early Spring and by summer they have all bloomed. We make a few stops along the way where we can take photos, and from each angle the view changes. The rock formations are incredible and spell bounding. As you drive up, the mountains scenes change as the shadows fall, creating a vastness that is breathtaking.
We stopped at a waterfall which faces South, where the water was frozen in time from the cold, we took plenty of photos. It was amazing to admire and the first time I had seen this in my life. It was unbelievable to see ,and my favourite stop of the day. The scene was equivalent to a photo that had been taken, and that photo was now visible to our eyes, still and unmoving, so that you could admire every bit of frozen water. Large frozen buckets of water at the top and frozen sheets coming down to drops of frozen water as it has splashed, to the frozen ice on the ground. The guide has to pull me away from the spot, I felt like I was frozen in time as well. While on the north side of the waterfall the water streams down clear and fresh and full of life.
One of the bends is called suicide bend, and you can really feel close to danger as the bend comes without any view of where you are going. I was glad to hear no suicides had taken place.
In the summer there are lots of sheep on the pass and the shepherd stays with them in the night to protect them, as the distance is too far to take them back to the kraal. A kraal is a place made with rocks and mud to form an enclosure where they keep their animals and livestock. We saw a local Basotho male walking down from the top of the pass to go and collect firewood, on our way back going down he was coming up with his stack. A full day’s journey to keep warm.
We reach the top and go into Lesotho to visit a living Basotho village. A small village of people live at the top, the highest point in Lesotho with a few mud huts and a few goats. The average life expectancy is 47 years. The children of the Basotho people only come to the families in the school holidays and some week-ends They stay with family members in the central part of Lesotho. No schools or clinic or shops are available in this little village. We met a local where we were invited inside to taste her homemade bread. The fire/stove is in the middle of the hut, where they keep a circle open to bake and cook. The bread was freshly made in a big round black cast iron pot and still warm and delicious, and was not heavy at all, but well risen and light. She doesn’t speak much English, but she had some items that we could purchase from her. We sat in a big circle around the edge of the hut inside, and only one bed is in each hut for the main person of the house to sleep on. The rest of the family members sleep on the ground on cow mats and lots of blankets, with the heat of the fire keeping them warm. We learnt a lot about their culture and saw some traditional dancing. The guide explained some of the language to us, to how the huts are made and what each of the items represented. It was an awesome experience.
From there we went to the Highest Pub in Africa for a well deserved meal. At this stage everyone was excited to reach the top and we had an hour and a half to enjoy lunch and take lots of photos. The meals on offer was large in portion and very tasty. We managed to get a table outside with the sun shining on, the shade was very cold, and we moved from table to table to chase the sun as we ate our meal. They had all the sauces and condiments that you could expect. The bar was sufficiently supplied with any drink you could think of. They had some donkeys to keep the children amused and donkey walks was also an option. The views were amazing and some of the mountain tops were snow capped and we could feel the chill in the air. The bar and lounge area was nicely heated from the fireplace. They also offer accommodation for those wanting to spend the night. I felt a day trip was sufficient and worthwhile.
We were also very fortunate to see the male Drakensberg rockjumper or orange-breasted rockjumper (Chaetops aurantius) quite close. We had an avid birder nearby and trust me they know how to attract the birds to come close to get the best shots possible.
After lunch we made our way stealthy down the narrow and winding roads with blood chilling hairpin bends with no stops until the border post at the bottom. The border post crossing is by the Makhaleng Bridge and is open from 8am – 16h00 everyday. We arrived back at the office just after 16h30. It was a great day full of photo opportunities, cultural interaction and being able to tick off being at the highest pub in Africa.
You meet at the office, otherwise they collect you from your accommodation for an extra fee, unless it is en route. At the office you can leave your car in the parking lot. You get to meet your guide and your adventure starts from here. The office also sells some souvenirs, scarves, gloves and beanies if you forgot yours at home. Make sure you have lots of battery and enough memory card to capture all memories. Also don’t forget to bring your passport as you will cross from the South African side to the Lesotho border. If you think you have brought too much clothes with, trust me you haven’t, as you travel higher into the mountains, the colder it gets. Beanies, jackets, gloves and plenty of clothing is a necessity.