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SSani Pass is one of the most spectacular mountain passes in South Africa, meandering over the Drakensberg escarpment into Lesotho. It’s accessed via 4-wheel drive, mountain bike, quad bike or motorcycle – or you can join legions of runners who tackle it on foot each year, if you’re up for the challenge.
The pass is synonymous with adventure because of its remote locale and the white-knuckle rides it takes to get to the top. Peaking at 2 876m above sea level, it is also aptly referred to as the Roof of Africa.
This is a popular mountain-biking destination: it plays host to the annual Sani Pass Transfrontier Mountain Bike Epic every December. Providing two routes – 42km or 26km – the race sees biking enthusiasts charging up and back down the pass in pursuit of glory.
Quad biking is another awesome, if slightly less demanding way to enjoy the pass. Guided day and overnight trails up the pass and into the mountain kingdom of Lesotho are available, with most offering lunch and refreshments at the Sani Mountain Lodge, home of the highest pub in Africa.
Combination packages featuring quad biking and 4-wheel drives (known colloquially in South Africa as ‘4X4s’) are also available. Sani Pass is only accessible by 4X4, so this makes for an exhilarating ride. Longer overnight 4X4 trails are also offered, including trips up some of Lesotho’s highest peaks.
Sani Pass can also be accessed with off-road motorbikes and combined with motorcycle tours of the southern Drakensberg or Lesotho. Lesotho hosts the annual Baboons’ Roof of Africa motorcycle event in November, ranked as the most gruelling endurance event of its kind in southern Africa.
Endurance of a different kind is called upon if you decide to run, or walk, up Sani Pass as part of the suitably named Sani Stagger marathon, which takes place annually in November.
Be aware that before you reach the summit of Sani Pass, there is an international border post and passports are required to access the top. Also, the weather can change very quickly and dramatically in the mountains, so come prepared.
On the topic of weather, the heavy snowfalls that blanket the escarpment in winter offer an added attraction in the form of skiing. A short drive into Lesotho from the Free State side will enable you to access the ski resort.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Central Drakensberg Information Centre
Tel: +27 (0)36 488 1207
How to get here
Fly directly to Durban’s King Shaka International Airport. From Durban take the N3 to Howick, then follow the signs to Underberg. The Sani Pass starts just outside Underberg.
Best time to visit
In spring, summer and autumn, between September and April, especially if you plan to hike or bike in the Drakensberg. Winter usually brings snow and ice to Sani Pass – it’s very pretty, but hazardous.
Around the area
uKhahlamba-Drakensberg National Park and the rural mountain towns of Underberg and Himeville. Skiing in Lesotho.
If you decide to drive, remember that you will need a 4-wheel drive (available for hire at all major car rental companies). You can also get around by mountain bike, quad-bike, off-road motorcycle or on foot.
What to pack
Plenty of sunscreen, a hat and comfortable hiking boots. In winter, add plenty of warm clothing. Even if the weather seems fine, it can change in an instant.
Where to stay
Sani Mountain Lodge at the top of Sani Pass (in Lesotho) or at the Premier Resort Sani Pass or Sani Lodge Backpackers down below (in South Africa).
The Sani Stagger marathon in November and the Sani Pass Transfrontier Mountain Bike Epic in December.
Look out for a traditional Sotho hat, a conical straw creation with three interlocking rings on top.