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The Sani Pass

The only road pass between South Africa and Lesotho over the high escarpment of the KZN Drakensberg, the Sani Pass has become iconic in South Africa’s travel landscape. Originally a mule track, it was pioneered for motor vehicles by David Alexander and his company, Mokhotlong Mountain Transport in the late 1950’s. The road in those early days was characterised by extremely rough sections, corners so tight that it took many attempts to get round and constant damage caused by the elements.

The 8 km between the two border posts, still a tortuous, hair-raising road, gives you a taste of what the pioneers faced. At the top of the Pass (2873m), you find the Lesotho border post where you can cross into the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho and you know you are in a different, special place. The views from this altitude are nothing less than awe-inspiring, with snow and frozen waterfalls in winter, and a blaze of flower blooms in summer. The eastern highlands of Lesotho are accessible from the top of Sani Pass, explore this remarkable area on your own or with one of the local tour operators, many of whom offer a variety of tours and experiences in this part of Lesotho. From Sani Top, the road is tarred all the way to Mokhotlong and across the “roof of Africa” route to the west of the country and the border posts to the eastern Free State.

Under your own steam

Controversy over the future of the road

In 2004, the South African and Basotho governments signed an agreement to upgrade the road from Underberg to Mokhotlong with a hard surface.
On the Lesotho side of the border, the new tarred road from Mokhotlong to Sani Top was built over a 3 year period from 2012 to 2015. 

On the South African side, the project was divided into 3 phases. Phase 1 was from the Himeville Junction to the Good Hope Store ruins and this took 6 years from 2006 to 2012. 

Phase 2 was from Good Hope to the South African border post. An extensive and lengthy Environmental Impact Assessment process was conducted between 2007 and 2012, and when the EIA report finally went to the Department of Environmental Affairs to adjudicate, their decision was that the road upgrade could proceed, but only with a gravel surface. They ruled that this would not totally change the “sense of place” and would not negatively affect tourism in the area while still allowing for much improved access to any type of vehicle. Local people and lovers of the Sani Pass rejoiced that the EIA process had delivered a rational and well considered decision, but this was short-lived as the Department of Transport and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife appealed. Eventually the appeal decision was handed down by the Minister of Environment who overturned a 2000 page EIA report in a 5 page decision giving permission for the tarring of the route. Phase 2 commenced in 2017 and was concluded in 2022.

Phase 3 is the serious 4×4 section of the road where it climbs over 900m in 8km. The KZN department of Transport have commenced the process and is expecting that work will commence on that section in 2025 or 2026.

Experience the Sani Pass NOW before construction begins and the unique experience is changed forever!