Sani: Mother of Passes in South Africa

The locals call the Drakensberg massif that separates South Africa from its tiny neighbour Lesotho it encircles, the ‘uKhahlamba – barrier of spears. It is easy to understand why when standing at the foot of the mighty crags. What began in forgotten memories as a footpath shepherd ponies trod, gradually developed into the torturous Sani Pass route where it can be safest to travel with a tour guide.

Driving Sani Pass South Africa: The Amphitheatre
The Amphitheatre: Photo Phillip N / CC BY-SA 3.0

Driving Sani Pass South Africa

Sani Pass: Drive with Care

Driving Sani Pass South Africa – the coordinates are 29°35′17.3″S 29°17′33.8″E – can be a mother of a test for inexperienced drivers in bad weather and treacherous flooded conditions. At its toughest point, it rises 1.3 vertical kilometres along 9 kilometres of intensely winding road before it reaches the Lesotho Highlands. At an overall height above sea level of 2,876 meters at the top, this is only twice the length of a rugby field less than the point where aircraft require pressurised cabins.

Sani Pass Hairpin Bends
Hairpin Bends on Sani Pass: Photo on Flickr by Vaiz Ha / CC BY 2.0

Not for Sissies, Sani Pass

Although the average gradient up the Drakensberg is a ‘mere’ 1:20 on poor gravel, this shrinks to 1:3 on tight bends. Remember, the road is rough finished, and hangs over immense drops with just a few judiciously placed rocks as crash barriers. Stones occasionally crash down from the crags above. Driving Sani Pass South Africa is not for sissies, as least for a while longer.

Sheep on Sani Pass
On Top of My World: Photo on Flickr by Vaiz Ha / CC By 2.0

The South African government decided to upgrade the road as part of an initiative to encourage cross-border trade with Lesotho. The first phase across meandering terrain with the best places to stay was complete in 2012. The second and final phase is due for finishing by 2019. At the bottom of the pass, the South African emigration authorities limit access to suitable vehicles. From the top, it is a virtual free-for-all where you never know what to expect as the bottom.

Sani Pass Traffic Lesotho South Africa Border Post
Traffic Arriving from Lesotho at South Africa Border Post: Photo on Flickr by Jacques / CC BY-SA 2.0

About Richard Farrell

Richard FarrellI tripped over a shrinking bank balance and fell into the writing gig unintentionally. This was after I escaped the corporate world and searched in vain for ways to become rich on the internet by doing nothing. Despite the fact that writing is no recipe for wealth, I rather enjoy it. I will deny I am obsessed with it when I have the time.My base is Umtentweni in South Africa on the Kwazulu-Natal South Coast (30.7167° S, 30.4667° E). I work from home where I ponder on the future of the planet, and what lies beyond in the great hereafter. Sometimes I step out of my computer into the silent riverine forests, and empty golden beaches for which the area is renowned.

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