Sani Pass and The Highest Pub in Africa
Sani Pass. Sani Top. Lesotho. The highest pub in Africa and one of the world’s best mountain pass drives. I was shaking with excitement when I passed through the border post at the bottom of the climb and set off towards one of the most talked about routes in South Africa. The Sani Pass.
Driving my own safari camper through South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Swaziland one was one of the very best adventures I’ve ever had, almost as good as riding my motorbike around the world. <iAlmost.
Namibia was sensational. Botswana was breathtaking. Lions, elephants, deserts, shipwrecks, sand dunes. For overland adventures it just does not get any better than Africa.
Nearing the end of my journey there was one last challenge that I’d been anticipating since day 1: The legendary Sani Pass mountain road up into the Kingdom of Lesotho.
The Sani Pass. A 90 minute, first gear drive up to over 9000 feet on the roughest little track, with tight hairpins, steep climbs and big drops. Parts of the road are falling down the side of the mountain. The photos don’t do it justice because I could only stop on the wider flatter bits. Stop on the steep stuff and you’ll struggle to get moving again.
At the start, it’s a relatively gentle climb, and it goes on for longer than you expect. it’s quite a long way from the South African border post to the start of the really steep part of the climb.
And then it gets steeper, and you start climbing into the clouds. The track gets narrower, and rougher, and the drop off the side gets steeper and more intimidating.
There are only a handful of vehicles that pass you coming downhill, but when you see one coming you do have to pick your passing spot carefully to avoid putting a wheel into the ditch. There are plenty of big rocks lurking to take out anyone who makes a mistake, leaving you stuck halfway up a mountain, best part of a day away from mechanical assistance.
You never think you’re going to fall off the edge, but when you go round some of the really steep hairpin bends you completely lose sight of the road. You see bonnet (hood if you’re American) and sky, nothing but empty space out of your side window, and all you can do is hope that the road is still underneath your front wheels.
Parts of it really are very steep. Maybe the next picture does a better job of showing how steep it is. You can see the slope up to the right, where another tight little hairpin swings it back round the left and another steep little climb.
First gear, engine labouring hard. It always feels like you’re going to make it, but it’s always feels like the vehicle is struggling. And this is in the dry.
In fact it’s bone dry. The surface is rock hard dried mud, but you can see where it gets churned up in the rainy season. Just one night of rain will turn it into a quagmire, and even with four-wheel drive it would be a real struggle on the steepest parts right at the top.
I’m sure experienced off-roaders consider this route an easy one. As a novice, you’ll wonder what it would be like to lose traction in wet conditions, lose momentum, and to start rolling backwards.
Backwards towards an unseen hairpin bend and a thousand foot tumble and roll down the side of the mountain.
And so we climb:
Eventually to emerge through the clouds, into the blue skies on top of the mountain. It’s the steepest, narrowest, tightest part, and a reversing manoeuvre here would be simply terrifying. There was snow here a few days before I drove up the pass, so I got lucky with the conditions.
At last! Sani Top. The sign post is an irresistible photo opportunity, but it’s still very steep. Take my word for it, even though you’ve left it in gear, you will pull the handbrake harder than you ever have, and when you open the door to step out, you will take your foot off the footbrake very gingerly…
After an exhilarating drive, what could be better than a nice cold beer? Thankfully Sani Top is home to the highest pub in Africa, a place where you can even stay the night.
Driving up Sani Pass is a true bucket list adventure, entirely worthy of a place on your bucket list, and a night at the highest pub in Africa is a very special experience.
And we’ve still got the drive down to look forward to!
In the next part, I’ll show you the highest pub in Africa, and after that I’ll tell you all about how you can do this drive yourself, in your own 4×4 or safari camper.
And that’s just the start of all the incredible adventures we’re going to have with our Ford Ranger in Africa. Keep coming back for more!
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