Everyone enjoys a tipple every now and then – but when it is on the first day of the year, at the highest pub in Africa….now that is an experience second to none!
On a sudden whim, K decided that we must go on a trip for the New Year. Last minute hunt for accommodation, pet friendly at that, is not an easy task. So after much calling and internet surfing, we managed to locate a pet-friendly self catering cottage on a nice little farm in Underberg, a picturesque farming town located in the foothills of southern Drakensberg.
Drakensberg is the same mountain range we went to a few weeks ago and I wrote about it here. This was our second visit to Underberg (you can read about the first here), but having found no accommodation anywhere else, we decided to make the trip anyway. And boy, was it a good call! We knew the drive would be long – at least 6-7 hours from Joburg, but the breath taking natural beauty that awaited us at the end of the drive and the nice cool weather was enough to off-set the distance.
We arrived at the Blackbrook Farm, which was to be our home for the next three days, late afternoon on the 31st. So relaxing and welcoming was the sight of the cottage surrounded by the lush greenery, compete with grazing sheep and prancing farm dogs, that we could not get ourselves to leave the place for the rest of the day! Our New Year’s eve was spent playing board games and sipping bubbly whilst listening to the welcome patter of raindrops.
The next morning, New Year’s day, we decided to drive up the Sani Pass, which is known to be the mother of all South African passes. Located between the border posts of South Africa and Lesotho (a tiny landlocked country in the middle of South Africa!), the altitude of the summit stands at 2876m and can only be approached via a steep gravel road. The high gradient of this road (1:4 in some sections), along with several sharp bends and the ever changing weather conditions, makes driving on this road treacherous as well as exhilarating. It is for this reason that by South African law only vehicles equipped with 4×4 capabilities are allowed on this road.
We had not been able to drive up the pass the first time around because of two reasons: the first was for not having carried our passports. Although Sani Pass lies entirely within the South African border, to traverse the road, one must cross the SA border post where a passport check is conducted. And second was that our car was not a 4×4. But this time we were prepared on both accounts! What we weren’t prepared for were the gorgeous views throughout the drive. Rolling hills, steep gorges and misty peaks; every turn was prettier than the first.
Online research had prepared us well for the drive. Loose rocks, rain and snow (even in late winter) are quite common here, making the road even more difficult to manoeuvre. Luckily for us, the weather did not play a spoil sport and our ascent was uneventful. It was only upon reaching the Lesotho border that grey clouds suddenly appeared and a massive thunderstorm ensued. But by this time we were safely ensconced inside the ‘highest pub’ in Africa. A part of the Sani Mountain Lodge, the pub, at 2874m above sea level, has a great viewing deck that is perfect for a pint or two!
`Having spent an hour or so at the pub, it was time for us to head back down. Although the rain had also almost stopped, it had resulted in several small waterfalls to appear on the mountainside, making for good photo ops! The drive down although a little tricky given the mud and slippery conditions, was sans any incident and thus ended our first day of 2016, hopefully setting the pace for the rest of the year!
PS: There have been talks recently about tarring of this road. Did not see any signs of this yet, but if and when this does happen, Sani Pass will become just another pretty road. The thrill of the drive will have gone. So in case you have been thinking about it, now is the time to go!
Important information on Sani Pass:
- Remember to carry your passport – no passport means no drive!
- Your vehicle must be a 4×4. If not, it is possible to hire one in Underberg.
- If you don’t feel upto driving up the pass yourself, you can book a tour. There are several operators in the region.
- You must stop at the SA border post for a mandatory passport check on the way up as well as down.
- If you want to cross over into Lesotho, you may need a visa. Please check this link.
- If you need a visa and don’t have one, it is still possible to enjoy the pass. Just stay on the South African side of the border post!
- Don’t drink and drive. The drive is pretty tough and you need all your senses to work.
- Both the border posts open at 6am and close at 6pm. So make sure you have plenty of time to drive back down.