The back road to get to the Sani Pass is already a lovely journey as it meanders through the Drakensberg towards Sani. Sani Pass out distances, out climbs, and out performs all it's competitors with ease to have become the most iconic gravel pass in South Africa.
Situated between KZN and Lesotho the Sani pass was built circa 1950 and remains a challenging drive in 4x4 vehicles with all the drama, scenery, bad weather and treacherous conditions expected of a pass with a summit altitude of 2876m ASL. Go prepared for bad weather at any time and expect snowfalls as late as October.
The Sani Pass starts at 1544m and rises 1332 vertical meters to summit at 2876m. This altitude gain is almost 300 meters more than its nearest competitor - the Naude's Nek Pass in the Eastern Cape. The Sani's average gradient is only 1:20, thanks to the long easy gradient section in the foothills of the Drakensberg, but certain sections are as steep as 1:4 and it is here that most drivers come unstuck when the going gets slippery. The large number of car wrecks down the ravines bear mute testimony to the dangers.
Many visitors travel from abroad to tackle the notorious Sani Pass in hired 4x4's. Such is Sani Passes reputation. For most South African's it remains more of a dream. There has been talk recently of tarring the Sani Pass. There was an immediate rash of objections from a range of individuals and societies interested in preserving the true, raw nature of the area, but I presume that ultimately, progress will have it's way. Should the tarring project go ahead, the challenge and allure of the Sani Pass will move from a tough 4x4 route to a casual afternoon drive in a hatchback. Whilst it's still there, make a plan, and drive up the Sani Pass. It will leave you feeling like a child - in it's sheer size and scope.
The road connects the KZN town of Underberg with Mokhotlong in Lesotho. Himeville and Underberg are approximately 20 km to the south-west with Mokhotlong in Lesotho about 60 km to the north-east. Obviously the pass experiences its most frequent closures in winter, when snow is the common culprit.
Make sure you have your passport with you and that is valid for at least 6 months. You will also be required to produce proof of vehicle ownership and insurance. The South African authorities may refuse you permission to drive the pass if they deem your vehicle unfit to tackle the conditions. This is for your own safety. Note that both border control points close at 18h00. Allow yourself a good two hours to complete the pass and you don't want to find yourself marooned between the two border control points by not making the cut-off time as there is a considerable distance to cover (almost 80% of the pass) between the two control points.
The Lesotho authorities are far less concerned about safety and allow normal vehicles through, but for the descent only. However, if it's raining, a normal vehicle will be sorely lacking in traction and you could well end up going over the side. The Sani Pass is strictly a 4x4 only route.