Underberg and Sani Pass May 2021

After our month at the various beaches of the Kwazulu Natal north coast (part 1,2,3,4) , it was time to head inland, towards Sani Pass and the Drakensberg. We had done the Sani Pass a few years ago with the Jeep and it had always been on the bucket list to do it with our truck too. Sani Pass has a big reputation of being quite a challenging road, hence a serious test for Trokkie.

We left Durban and headed towards Underberg and Himeville… the gateway to Sani Pass. Having spent the past month on the coast with its coastal bush and still fairly summery feel, we now passed through the hinterland landscape where the seasons had started to turn and the fields were dotted with trees in their autumn glory.

We checked the weather as we definitely didn’t want to take on the pass on a rainy or cloudy day and decided to stay put for two days prior to the challenge. We found the coolest camping spot just outside Underberg at Khotso Overlanding and Camping next to a field with sheep and horses. We had the place totally to ourselves and chilled in the beautiful and colourful surroundings.

Then D-Day arrived and, understanding that the trip with the truck would take a bit longer than  it would take other (smaller) cars to do, we got on the road fairly early in the morning. It was a bright and sunny day and the fields and trees were decked in an amazing range of greens and oranges alternating with dams reflecting the azure skies.

When we had been here a few years ago, road works had started to improve the access road to the South African border post. We could see now that huge progress had been made. Only the last part just before the border post enclosure was still pretty bad.

We parked and got our passports stamped. The officials checking for temperatures outside the office had mentioned that we needed a covid test if we planned to have a drink at the highest pub in Africa on the top of the pass. So we decided to be rather safe than sorry and qeued for the test. This was a first for us and we hoped we wouldn’t need another one any time soon: the swab being pushed up your nose is definitely not a fun experience! But a few minutes later we got our negative results and were good to go.

Leaving the border post enclosure prepared us for what was to come: a very bad road!

We presume that the road between the two border posts will be maintained (as a gravel road) but won’t be tarred all the way up as it would lose its iconic status of “challenging and dangerous”. And that it was! 

As said, our trip was a bit slower than other cars and again and again I gripped the door handle till my knuckles turned white, when we had to negotiate parts of the road that had been carved deeply by heavy rainfalls and resulting erosion. As before though: the landscape is just amazing and impressive and we made a few coffee-stops to enjoy the views.

The first part of the road is a reasonable slowly winding uphill. But the last steep uphill, which consists of a continuous sequence of hairpin turns, is pretty challenging and Stefaan regularly needed to make a 3 or 4 point turn to get around the bend. And believe you me… a 4 point turn with a 12 ton truck on gravel and loose rock can be a bit scary!

But… we eventually made it to the top, got our passports stamped at the Lesotho border and treated ourselves to a nice meal in the pub. We wisely decided NOT to have a beer in the highest pub of Africa, because Stefaan realised that the road had been more challenging than he had expected and wanted to have all his wits about him for the return trip.

Keeping in mind our timing, we left the pub straight after lunch and started our way down. I got out of the truck before we started the descend to photograph and video tape Trokkie driving down on the series of sharp hairpins and, all in all,  that went fairly ok. From my higher point of view I could follow the progress and negotiating of the bends and was reasonably relaxed.

Until the one bend where Stefaan took the first part of a 3 or 4 point turn and slid backwards on the loose gravel with Trokkie tilting at a dangerous angle. I think my heart jumped into my throat and I might have used some colourful language! I realised that, if he would move forward further, the truck would tilt even more and all sorts of possible and horrible scenarios flashed through my head. Luckily he’s a much better driver than I and he obviously realised that particular risk and decided to rather reverse before trying to continue the turn. I didn’t realise I had held my breath, because the moment he reversed and I saw the truck levelling out again, I relaxed and expelled my breath in a huge sigh of relief! That was a very tense moment and – when getting back to the truck a bit later- I was glad to hear that he also got a scare at that moment.

I got out of the truck one or two more times when the bends sloped too much for my liking and my imagination took me back to the situation just minutes before. No way, Jose!

As we took it real slow down the hairpins on the top side of the pass, time moved on and when we eventually hit the more gentle winding downhill it was already late afternoon. Autumn had started and we had realised that the days were much shorter than a month ago at the beaches. By the time we got to the South African border again it was half past 4 and that meant that the sun was just dipping behind the mountains.

Enjoy our scary moments!  View more video’s here.

The last 30-odd kilometer to Himeville and Underberg, the sun set completely and we arrived in Underberg in the dark. We parked in the street close to a 24hr petrol station and called it a night.

Tomorrow we would venture to our next destination in the Drakensberg.

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