Sani Pass is the highest mountain pass in South Africa, although considering the road ends in Lesotho, there is some debate as to whether it counts. The pass begins northwest of Underberg in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, and swiftly climbs over a kilometre in altitude before topping out near a small dilapidated building that serves as the Lesotho border post. The altitude at the summit is 2,876 m and the views at the top are magnificent.
The views are spectacular all along the pass. From the bottom looking up, the rough track ascends into an increasingly narrow valley, with no discernible exit and grassy cliffs looming in from three sides. As you climb, the views back down become and more impressive – especially in the early morning as dawn light fills the gorge. The landscape changes substantially from season to season. In summer the mountains are covered in lush, green grass, which by winter dries to a golden tan, regularly blanketed in snow. Sani Mountain Lodge is located immediately after the Lesotho border post and has a great little pub and restaurant, with fantastic views. Chalets, dorm beds and camping are available.
You’ll need your passport and a 4x4 to drive Sani Pass. The South African border post is in the valley and the Lesotho post at the top. The lower section of the pass is relatively easy-going. There are some washouts and the track is rocky, but nothing too difficult. It’s the final few switchbacks near the top that can cause trouble, especially in wet weather. Up near the top, the pass can be icy and snowbound in winter, and summer thunderstorms can dump rain with little warning. If the weather is particularly bad you may need to postpone, but if it’s dry, and you drive cautiously, you should be fine.