After spending a relaxing weekend enjoying the mountain views and fresh air in Underberg, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa we teamed up with Major adventures to take a day trip up the legendary Sani Pass and into the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. Sani Pass is famous for it’s challenging dirt roads, heart stopping switch backs, birding and spectacular mountain scenery.
Going up Sani Pass is a must if you visiting KwaZulu-Natal. As a born and bred South African, this was my first time up the pass and visiting our neighbouring country Lesotho. Lisa has been many times and insisted that it’s something I need to do at least once. It turned out to be an experience we both will most certainly will never forget.
Major Adventures – The Sani Pass Specialist
Major Adventures tour operators, have over 20 years experience driving up the pass into Lesotho. The owners Charles and Gardi Major, together with their team are experts in the industry. Major adventures offer a variety of interesting information and stories during their tours with a passion for what they do.
The Major name has a long standing history with Sani pass and a well known name in Underberg and Lesotho. Charles dad helped build the Sani Top Chalet with MMT and Charles himself has been taking people up Sani pass since he was 19. Today, Major adventures offers a fleet of safe and comfortable vehicles, with a team of some of the best professional tour guides in the industry.
Arriving at the Major adventure offices, we were greeted with a warm smile from Gardi. We completed some basic paperwork for border control (Dont forget your Passport) and were briefed us about what to expect on our adventure. David was our guide and we learnt more from him in one day than we did in any history or geography lesson.
Driving up Sani Pass
Just a few kilometres from the small town of Underberg, we reached the base of the famous mountain range, Southern Drakensberg. As we approached the dirt road to start our 1332m climb up the pass, we realised why a 4×4 vehicle is a must!
As we started our adventure along the pass we couldn’t miss the magnificent Twelve Apostles. It was hard to imagine that we were going to ascend all the way to the top of these magnificent giants and reach a total altitude of 2376m above sea level. The surrounding mountains are breathtaking and around every bend the scenery changed, every time it’s even more incredible than before. Believe me when I tell you that this is one time you do not leave your camera at home, Lisa and I were snapping away every couple of seconds.
The vegetation and wild life is abundant. We spotted some baboons and plenty of bird life and were even lucky enough to spot a Drakensberg rock jumper, a bird only found in this region.
David frequently stopped for pictures and told us stories about the mountains, people, wildlife, history and even a few good laughs in between.
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Border control, no man’s land & the summit
Since Lesotho is an independent county from South Africa, we first had to go through the South African Border control to have our passport stamped. It was a quick and easy process and a good time for a toilet break before continuing our adventure to what felt like the top of the world.
After the South African border, we had another 9km of of “no man’s land” before reaching the Lesotho border. This was the most adventurous part of our trip yet. David’s driving skills in the trusty land cruiser made the drive around the plunging drops and adrenaline pumping hair pin bends look like a breeze.
The final stretch up Sani Pass was very exciting and we loved every minute. We drove around one of the last bends, almost at the summit and stopped to take in the magnificent view. The air was cold and thin but that’s not the part that took my breath away. It felt as if we were on top of the world, in the clouds and there was no one else in sight… incredible!
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Reaching the top – Highest Pub In Africa
We made it to the top! Going through the Lesotho Boarder was fast and efficient. No summit to the top of Sani Pass would be complete without a celebratory local beer at the iconic landmark “The Highest Pub in Africa”. The pub is situated 2873 Meters above sea level, attracting adventure seekers from around the world.
The pub is covered in graffiti and memorabilia from travellers leaving their mark by signing the pub wall, leaving a message, business card or sticking a coin from their country on the wall. We could spend a couple of hours here and there is accommodation available if you would like to arrange a couple of days on the roof of Africa. We put our business card up and toasted our adventure with a local Maluti Lesotho beer.
After celebrating our summit we crossed the Sani plateau and drove across Black Mountain pass which is the highest point of our trip with an altitude of 3246m above sea level.
Lesotho is a country within a country, it is landlocked by South Africa which belongs to the Basotho people. The borders have land boundary of 1,106 km . The landscape consists of tall mountains and narrow valleys, not much grows at such a high altitude but the land is farmed and grazed by local cattle. It is no surprise why Lesotho has been called “The Kingdom in the Sky”
Culture and traditions are still highly reserved amongst the Basotho people and a simple way of living is still practised. Modernisation is slowly starting to filter into the tiny villages and many of the gravel roads have recently been replaced with tar. Men on donkeys and herdsman with their mohair sheep in tow is not an uncommon sight along the quite roads.
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Lunch at Sehonghong Valley
We drove to Sehonghong Valley and had a wonderful packed lunch at the base of a waterfall. We were once again rewarded with more surreal views and the waterfall has such a calming effect. All we could hear was water flowing and the bird life from our surroundings. If I’m not mistaken the half an hour we were there, one taxi had passed us commuting passengers to the border.
Visiting Makhapung Village
Our next stop was Makhapung, a local Bashoto village. We met Mapaseka Makoqe, who was our local village guide. Mapaseka has a vision to connect the people of the world to her countries culture and heritage. She has such a passion for Lesotho and she taught us so much about the village life of the Bashoto people. The people in the village were very welcoming and friendly. We were greeted with a series of traditional dances and beautiful songs from some of the local woman. They really made us feel at home with their wonderful hospitality and friendly smiles.
We sat in a stone rondaval (a replica of a local homestead) and learnt how to grind flour from the wheat. Bread is a big part of the Basotho peoples staple diet. A home made bread was prepared for us the traditional way, in a pot on coals in the middle of the rondaval. The bread was delicious and we even got to taste some local home made beer. The beer was very bitter, many believe it is an acquired taste like red wine or whiskey – you either love it or just cant drink it.
Coloured flags and a blessing from a Sangoma
Something that really caught our attention were the different colour flags seen outside some of the village homesteads. Each flag represents something that is available for locals to purchase or where to find a traditional healer. The green flag symbolises that vegetables are for sale, red flag is for meat, yellow is strong home made beer and the white flag made of sack is where bread and light beer is available.
While visiting the village we had an opportunity to meet a Sangoma/traditional healer. The Sangoma we visited had a white material flag outside her rondalval. She invited us inside and it was fascinating to listen to the stories of how she came about healing people and how she connects with her ancestors. We listened in awe at stories from far and wide about herbal medicines, treatments and blessings. When Mapaseka told her about our upcoming travel adventures she gave both Lisa and I a special blessing.
The final stop before our journey back down Sani Pass was another 10km from the village. We drove through the town of Mokhotlong, which means “Place of the Bald Ibis”. The town has a population of approx 100 000 residents and the way of life is still very simple in the small town.
It’s a wrap
We loved every minute of this tour, it was full of adventure, culture and history. Our guide, David was enthusiastic, friendly and professional. It was refreshing to visit a country we knew nothing about. It reminded us why we love to travel and meet different people and cultures of the world.
It is possible to drive up the pass on your own if you have a 4×4, however we would suggest a tour instead. The roads can be very challenging and there is so much more to learn and discover behind the adventurous dirt roads and incredible scenery. The experience, wealth of knowledge and peace of mind will not only make your trip a safe one but will leave you with memories that will last a life time.
Book a tour with Major Adventures
We would highly recommend booking a tour with Major Adventures if you looking for a safe and exciting adventure, enjoy discovering new cultural experiences, want to capture phenomenal views and learn about Sani Pass and Lesotho as a whole.
Major adventures offers Sani Pass day tours, birding tours, self drive tours and over night tours. If you would like to make a booking you can contact Major Adventures on +27 33 701 1628, check out their website or email [email protected]
Have you ever been up Sani Pass? Let us know if your stories and thoughts in the comment below.
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