The Roof of Africa – Sani Pass


Sani Pass, one of the most dangerous roads in the world, winds up a steep gradient for 9 km from Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa to Lesotho. Lesotho, the highest country in the world, is like a high-elevation island. It’s surrounded by South Africa and the border is at almost 10,000 ft! Sani Pass, which is part of Drakensberg National Park, ¬†is a thrilling adventure and requires a 4×4 vehicle. Border patrol in South Africa will not let any unfit vehicle attempt the Pass due to the high number of failed attempts and fatalities. We never would have made it in our heavy 2×2 camper van.

Looking down on the hairpin roads of Sani Pass. Just a few switch backs away from the top.

We hired Stuart, a local guide and bird expert, to truck us up the intimidating Pass. We took our time ascending the hair pinned gravel road, stopping to bird watch, admire the plant diversity and soak up the mountains good tidings. The scenery was dramatic- lush green slopes, cascading waterfalls and grasslands splashed with colorful wildflowers! The flora diversity was truly overwhelming, impressive and stunning!! A staggering 2,500 species of plants with 400 endemics call this area home!

Ryne and Stuart walking through the grass hoping to flush a short-tailed pipit. Eventually, they did get a look at this grassland bird. We were also delighted by Gurney’s Sugarbird, Drakensberg Rockjumper and¬†Drakensberg Siskin, which only occur in this area.

A Greater Double-collared Sunbird nectaring on a Protea flower.
A Speckled Mousebird in the morning sun.
Oh, the gorgeous flowers!! A botanist’s dreamland! The ancestors of many familiar gardening plants come from these mountains.
The top of the Pass has the highest pub in Africa.

The ‘roof top of africa’ as some call Sani Pass, leveled out as we crossed into Lesotho – ‘The Kingdom in the sky.’ Although, it was not flat for long! Almost all of Lesotho is rugged mountains, canyons and green slopes crisscrossed with tinkling streams. The people of Lesotho are peaceful and welcoming of outsiders. Historically, they lived in the Free State of South Africa, but took refuge in these mountains in the early 1800’s when Zulus attacked their villages. They are farmers and took their livestock with them as they fled to higher ground.
Sheep, horses and donkeys peppered the vast green terrain, along with shepherds adorned in traditional garb: a wool blanket jacket, pointed hat or winter hat and whip.

Most of the people of Lesotho don’t have cars. Main modes of transportation are walking and horses.



We watched a Lammergeier (bearded vulture) fly high above this peak and drop a bone on the rocks! They specialize on eating bones and break the bones into small pieces by dropping them repeatedly.



This is a typical stone house. Holes in the roof were patched with sheep pelts. As you can probably imagine, it gets chilly in the mountains. Since there is no wood to burn, people keep warm by burning livestock poop.

Many of the shepherds are teenagers working for pennies per day. We met one that was working to pay for school. He was so proud that he was going to school. He asked for advice, “you from America, you must have many tips for me!” We told him he was doing great and to stay in school.

It was an unforgettable day! We are so fortunate to experience the rich culture and splendid nature Africa has to offer.

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