Sani Pass snow squealing, Southern Drakensberg

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I’m sure I say the same thing every time I do Sani Pass; I vow to never to never scare myself mercilessly out of my wits by slipping and sliding up a mountain to 2873m above-sea-level.

And on this trip 18.8.18, I squealed the same words at one of the final corners on ascent. Myself, Wolfie and Craig (experienced Monique & 4×4 driver), were the first car going up the Pass on this snowy Saturday morning. The Southern Drakensberg peaks were already all dressed in white and it was snowing heavily most of the way.

You really need to experience big snowflakes tumbling from the sky and settling on your windscreen…with a backdrop of the Kwa Zulu Natal Drakensberg Mountains, of course.

Soon, the road up to the South African border control will be tarred the entire way (see below link for more), but on this day we navigated through wonderfully muddy road, skidding to the border at 08:30am. About 2 minutes later, we were through into the “no-man’s land” of Sani Pass, a stretch of about 8 kilometres ending at the Lesotho border. We were the first vehicle to go up the Pass and saw 2 vehicles descending, the whole time it snowed heavily.

The benefit of being early ascenders is the snow is not yet turned to mud, BUT you also cannot see a mapped out “safe way” to proceed.  Just note that at such an altitude (at this point we were roughly 2700m above sea-level) engines don’t function normally, so 4×4 driving experience is essential here.

After passing a herd of snow cows and a dog (much to my continued delight, I’ve been waiting for snow cows for 2 years in KZN), we began to ascend the very steep and twisted section of Sani Pass.

Near the top we came to halt on a particularly steep corner, wheels spinning in new snow and water-soaked sand, making a thick mush. We had to roll back a few times to re-attempt the corner in low range.

There is almost nothing more terrifying than looking behind you to a sheer drop, and rolling slowly towards it on slippery terrain (you can imagine the squealing and whimpering). I couldn’t look and had to fight the urge to spring from the vehicle with my Wolfie and leave Craig, with his calm disposition to his manly adventures.

Having freed ourselves from the sludge corner (yay for Toyota Fortuna once again), we proceeded up the pass reaching the Lesotho Border control at about 10am. We passed an abandoned bakkie, leaning dangerously over the edge, only saved by solidly wedged between some rocks (insert spine-chill).

As we arrived at the border crossing, a descending driver enquired as to the conditions of Sani Pass. He had the unfortunate job of assessing &/ retrieving a stuck vehicle near the top of the pass. Behind him on foot, the shrewd Basotho fellows rather take their chances walking behind the vehicle, instead of drive the treacherously steep & newly snowed section of the Southern Drakensberg Pass.

At the top, the best views down the pass are from Sani Mountain Lodge “The highest Pub (and accom) in Africa”. Wolfie’s joy at the thick blanket of untouched snow was only matched by my own excitement.

From the top we saw the predicted flow of snow-chasers ascending the pass, it was time to head down. In such situations, the ascending vehicles have right of way; simply put, because it is more difficult (if not impossible) to get started again once you are stopped on ascent. Therefore it often takes longer to get down a mountain pass than up. The current dirt road section of Sani Pass is about 22 kilometres (from Premier Resort Sani Pass to Sani Mountain Lodge); this took us 3.5 hrs to drive in the thick, newly settled snow. As time and fellow travellers pass, so does the stability of the newly fallen snow. Travellers reaching the top look more like muddy hippos and less like 4×4 vehicles.

I’ve only done it 3 times, 2015, 2017, 2018 and each time I do this Drakensberg mountain drive, I’m once again like a child, in every way. Each time I am more joyous yet more vulnerable, happier in my weakness and insignificance…and you can see it on my face.

Book a Sani Pass Tour: Roof of Africa Tours, Sani Pass Tours, Major Adventures

Some places to Stay on Sani Pass: Premier Resort Sani Pass, Sani Lodge Backpackers (4 star & Fair Trade Tourism Certified, Mkomazana Mountain Cottages, Seaforth Country Lodge, Sani Valley Lodge, Dieu Donne Cottage, Glencairn Farm. See additional places to stay near Sani Pass on SA Venues…and of course my Cottage Imvana (35 kms from Underberg)

Road development & more about Sani Pass from Umzimkulu River Lodge

Mountain Pass Driving from Arrive Alive

 

 

 

 

Timeless KZN Travels: Bulwer – Ard Lui BnB

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I’m writing a feature article on my new hometown of Bulwer for Travel Chat SA. So while I dash around the KwazuluNatal (KZN) countryside compiling content, I will share what I find with you.

In my last post via Tourism Guide Africa I shared top things to do in Bulwer‘s area, now I will share a series of posts specifically focused on the town itself, where to sleep, eat and play. So when you head this this way, be sure to keep your eyes open for this magical place to stay.

Bulwer is at the end of the KwazuluNatal Midlands, and the start of the Southern Drakensberg region, also called the Southern Midlands (yes, it confuses me a little too).

On the west side of the village is Ard Lui B&B, a haven of tranquility, tinged by a personal touch that puts it in a class of its own. The designer, owner & operator is Loretta, who having come to Bulwer in 1959 returned to retire 13 years ago. But retire is far from what she has been doing!

‘Ard Lui is just my hobby’ Loretta humbly describes the historic Victorian stone farmhouse that has clearly had years of attention, making it the inviting Bed & Breakfast that is today.

The gardens are breathtaking in beauty, a seamless blend of  experience and a natural eye for flow & functionality. Twice Loretta has allowed her arm to be twisted into hosting  ‘I Do’ ceremonies on the lawns nestled below Bulwer Mountain.

The dining room and lounge area is decorated tastefully with old and new pieces. The overall feel is homely, welcoming and really just calls you to linger, perhaps take a look through the guestbook.

What struck me most about the bedrooms was the Nightcap tray on the dresser; so beautifully old-fashioned I felt like I was in an Audrey Hepburn movie. But yet the room’s decor is funky and fresh, the bathroom fitted with modern design.

After coffee and red velvet cupcakes we viewed yet another piece of history found at Ard Lui. The shell of an old vehicle, most likely from the ’40s, that was discovered on the property buried under years of underbrush.

What was barely a 2hr visit at Ard Lui B&B left me with a timeless feeling, I had traveled on a tarred road through history’s dusty byways. I saw through another’s minds eye; and like all trips in KwazuluNatal, the scenery was exquisite!

 

Top things To Do in Southern Drakensberg

Ever wondered what there is to do in the Southern Drakensberg? Well, let me point you in the right direction to find your perfect blend of country serenity and outdoor adrenaline.

Written & pictured by Monique van der Walt

The Drakensberg (Dutch – Dragon Mountains) is the largest and highest mountain range in South Africa, described best by her Zulu name “uKhahlamba” which means ‘barrier of spears’. The mountains majestically span…read more