It’s 6 am as sleepy eyes pile into the car. We are in Durban, Kwa Zulu Natal located in the southeast of South Africa. Today we are heading inland to the Drakensberg Mountains where we will ascend the challenging Sani Pass jeep track into the Kingdom of Lesotho. The drive is about 2.5 hours to our next destination and despite the early start we are kept awake with sights of vast countryside, small towns and rural homesteads – Kwa Zulu Natal is a beautiful province!
Sani Pass is one of the most iconic passes in South Africa. The summit sits at 2874m above sea level and this pass has seen vehicles climb its’ winding roads through all weather conditions with the goal to reach the top.
As the sun rises while we travel, the land rises with it. We arrive before 9am, in time to fill out indemnity forms and make our way to our 4×4 jeep that is waiting for us. Our driver and guide, Viv, has been navigating this pass since 1993 and he will be taking us to the summit today.
The journey towards the mountain pass is quaint yet expansive – a pretty paradox that unfolds as we pass various sights: a beautiful stone church in the town of Himeville; striking southern red bishops dancing between reeds; and of course, the towering Drakensberg Mountains that offer a majestic backdrop as we make our way to the base of the mountain.
Before the gravel road was built, the mountain’s only travelers were the Basotho locals and their pack animals who carried food from Himeville to the secluded town of Mokhotlong in Lesotho. Later, in 1948, Godfrey Edmonds (an ex RAF Spitfire Pilot) became the first man to conquer the pass by vehicle – a feat that took him over five hours and was likened to that of climbing Everest! By the 1950’s the road had been constructed and adventurers have been enjoying the views since!
After some time, we reach the South African border post where our passports are stamped and we enjoy a quick toilet break! (This is very important if you are a tea drinker and about to embark on a bumpy drive for the next two hours).
The whole way up the pass Viv is outstanding. From his driving skills to his knowledge on the region, fauna, flora and history of the pass. And let’s not forget his patience! You cannot ascend Sani Pass and not take photographs at all the viewpoints – the vistas are extraordinary, yet ironically the photographs never quite do it justice.
The Drakensberg Mountains stretches for 200km’s across the country and the largest portion of it is situated in Kwa Zulu Natal. This area is known for its exceptional hiking trails, ancient San Rock Art and diverse population of wildlife and bird species. The Zulu name for this mountain range is “Ukhahlamba” meaning “Barrier of Spears” – referring to the jagged pointed peaks of the escarpment.
We reach the Lesotho border after 12 midday. Viv takes us to a Basotho village where we have the privilege of entering one of the stone rondavels (circular-shaped houses). The lady who welcomes us speaks Sesotho and Viv translates back to us. She teaches us about their culture, makes us bread and offers us a taste of their local beer.
Three symbolic words of the Basotho culture are “Khotso” meaning “Peace”; “Pula” meaning “Rain; and “Nala” meaning “ Plenty”. These words are represented in the colours of the nation’s flag, which are white, blue and green.
Our final destination before descending the summit is “The Highest Pub in Africa” where we are having lunch. The deck overlooks the mountain’s rifts and valleys and colourful flowers are sprinkled like icing on the peak where we sit. Lunch is simple yet delicious and tastes even better for having had such a unique and adventurous experience!
Thank you to Viv and the Team at Major Adventures for such a wonderful trip!