Sani Pass is located between KwaZulu Natal in South Africa and Lesotho and it winds its way 1332 vertical metres up the Drakensberg mountains, reaching an altitude of 2876m above sea level. It’s a classic Adventure Biking ride – a must do if you are into this sort of stuff.
We decided to spend Friday night at the Himeville Arms in the little village of Himeville, close to Underberg. We had set off early with the intention of checking out a few geocache points and taking a short afternoon ride to nearby Cobham Nature Reserve. It was later than we had intended. Food orders take a while to happen at the Himeville Arms but the wonderful afternoon light more than made up for it.
Saturday dawned bight and clear. Freezing though, the temperature registering just 2 degrees Centigrade on the car’s thermometer, but by the time we has finished a spectacular breakfast at the tiny and delightful Rose and Quail Coffee Shop (right next door to the Himeville Arms) the mercury had risen to very cold. We topped up the tanks and headed out of town, turning left onto the P318-1 to Sani Pass. It was glorious, the air crisp and fresh and the twisty turnies of the first part of the ride bringing a smile to the face.
Soon we hit the rather rough gravel and things slowed to a crawl. There was quite a bit of 4X4 traffic, the larger organised tour groups rather taking over at some of the viewpoints. I guess this is to be expected on a Saturday – a weekday would mean fewer vehicles but as soon as things got crowded we moved on… We waited for Sharon and Pat to catch up in the little Landy – they were playing “backup” as the Honda CRF250l’s were a little under powered for 2 up riding at the high altitudes we were heading for.
The staff and the South African border post were pleasant and efficient and in no time at all we were on our way again, up and onwards.
There was no rush at all and so we took it easy, stopping to take in the awesome views, mess with the cameras and wait for Sharon and Pat to catch up. The riding was actually quite easy but you do have to keep and eye open for the rough spots, the golfball size stones waiting to catch you and the occasional hole hoping to eat your front wheel. The thing that was concerning us though was Ice Corner near the top. As we remembered it, in winter, ice forms from a waterfall flooding the road that could get quite tricky when one considers the rather high drop-offs at this point. As it was, all these fears were groundless as the road maintenance people have done a fine job of diverting the water underneath the road – no ice at all on the road. We did stop for pictures and a chat though.
It was here that the little 250’s began to battle a bit. We were down to first and second gears but they soldiered on, cresting the top of the pass and on to, wait for it, a tarred road again. It must have been a very welcome thing for the Basotho but for us intrepid explorers, a little too civilised. The Lesotho border officials were just as helpful and quick as those on the South African side and we paid our R30-00 road tax and headed for the Sani Mountain Lodge (previously known as Sani Top Chalets) and the highest pub in Africa. The weekend traffic had arrived and it was wall-to-wall people so we hiked along the edge of the escarpment for a few hundred metres and enjoyed a picnic with just the eagles and vultures soaring on the ridge lift for company. The views were simply stunning.
The ride down was uneventful, although the 1:3 gradients caused the rear wheels to lock up occasionally as we rode against compression. Still, we took it easy and made it back to Himeville in one piece. We loaded the bikes on the trailer and headed for the Lemon Tree Bistro in Underberg for a celebratory cappuccino and chocolate brownies and cream (You simply have to try these). They come with a free angiogram! No, just kidding but man, they are spectacular.
An epic day! This is one of the adventure rides you simply have to do!
Roger de la Harpe and Bruce Houghting.
Do check out our movie below:
Interesting Facts about Sani Pass
- The pass is approximately 9 km in length.
- It starts at an altitude of 1544m and climbs 1332 vertical metres to 2876 m.
- Both the South African and Lesotho border control stations open at 6:00 and close at 18:00.
- The South African/Lesotho border is at the summit of the pass and not at the South African border control point as many think. Sani Pass lies within South Africa.
- According to South African Law, only 4X4 vehicles my use the pass. (The border officials seems quite happy with the motorbikes though).
- The pass is often closed due to bad weather, this is especially the case during winter.
- The road is steep gravel with gradients up to 1:3.
- Sani Pass was built in about 1950.
- The Sani Mountain Lodge (previously known as Sani Top Chalets) boasts the highest pub in Africa!