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Published: August 14th 2016
View from the top of the Sani Pass over the southern Drakensberg ranges. Photo: Di Robinson
Matt stopped the car at the side of the road, on a sheer slope near the edge of an unfenced drop to a smudge miles below. 'I can't do this,' he said.
I don't know whose bright idea it had been to drive up the Sani Pass, the only 4WD track into Lesotho from the Drakensberg region up an unsealed and ridiculously steep road that zig zags for 21 kms to the Lesotho border. The unsealed road is in appalling condition with twists and turns up near unbelievable gradients. One skid and you're over the edge saying goodbye to the world in true Thelma and Louise tradition.
You are not allowed to drive up it unless you have a 4WD. Companies do tours in buses with mega-grip tires, and locals in shonky trucks crawl up and down the pass looking worried. There's not much traffic but what there is of it generally breaks down.
We had set off from our hotel, driving for some kilometres on a sealed road that abruptly ended, plunging us into a pothole a mile wide. I was surpised the air bags weren't activated. We then rattled along over ruts, potholes, boulders, rocks, going
Chacma baboons strolled along the road to the pass. Photo: Matt Feierabend
at about one kilometre an hour past stunning peaks, grassy at the bottom where we were, rocky at the top where we were going. A pretty stream wound over pebbles, bordered by trees.
After about 20 minutes, we stopped at the South African border, a hut in a pretty location by the river. A laid back gentleman stamped our passports, meaning we had left South Africa. We were now in a no-person's land until we reached the Lesotho border at 2,876 metres (9435 feet), climbing 1,332 vertical metres (4370 feet).
We had thought the road was bad: it got far worse. There were sheer hairpin bends, practically 1 in 1 gradients, and more ruts and potholes. As we got higher, the drop from the narrow road down to the stream below got greater. Our lives flashed before our eyes.
Waterfalls cascaded over rocks onto the rocks on the road and chacma baboons strolled past us, obviously wondering what we were doing.
Near the top, the road turned abruptly before a sheer ascent and the wheels spun. We nearly went over the edge.
Matt stopped the car and freaked out. I didn't blame him. To make
Dramatic Sani Pass
Peaks, spires, rugged rocks, Gormenghast terrain: it's all part of the Sani Pass. Photo: Matt Feierabend
matters worse, the sun was shining in our eyes, nearly blinding us.
'If you don't want to do it, don't,' I told my husband. 'I'm terrified too. I won't think any the worse of you for turning back.'
We decided, as we were so near our destination, to go for it. The car shuddered a bit but made it to the top. Wow.
The summit was boring: a deserted border post, a closed pub, lots of rocks and boulders. We turned and went back down.
There were plenty of places to get off the road and look at the views which were stunning. Peaks descended abruptly to the valley floor. Massive buttresses vied with rocky outcrops in grey, pink and orange. The setting sun highlighted the sharp angles of the rocks.
A local bus had broken down in front of us but a van filled with fruit had stopped to help with jump leads, and we were soon on our way again, jolting back to the South African border. We got 'stamped in' and drove to the hotel, our hearts filled with relief.
We had made it.
Enoy the video, that also includes
The Drakensberg ranges from the Sani Pass. Photo: Di Robinson
the gorgeous sunrise at our hotel.
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