The Sani Pass debate
If you’re a regular reader of Leisure Wheels, you’ll know that we’ve been to Sani many, many times. More recently, we’ve received a few mails concerning the legality of heading up, as well as the safety aspect. To address this issue, we decided to dedicate these pages to a seasonal review of the famous pass.
In case you missed out on previous issues, we were sent some mail regarding a few old kombis and whether they should have been allowed to go up Sani Pass, since the South African Government allows only 4×4s to give it a go.
For the record, the club involved in that particular mission received permission, as do we whenever we take something less qualified up the pass.
Over the years, we’ve driven a fair amount of proper 4×4s up Sani Pass: a Suzuki Jimny, Subaru Outback, Toyota Prado and a host of bakkies. There was also a Volkswagen Beetle Dune, a Lexus RX450h, two front-wheel-drive Kia Souls, a front-wheel-drive Kia Sorento and a Suzuki VanVan RV125 motorcycle.
That’s a wide variety of vehicles with one thing in common: they all made it.
Yes, folks, believe it or not,
Sani Pass can be relatively easy to complete but it can also be a daunting experience. It all depends on when you go...
During the spring and summer, it’s not that tricky. You just have to know the car’s limitations, compensate for them, and you’re home free.
A good guide is the first part of the gravel road leading up to South African passport control. If your car is already experiencing trouble, it would be best to turn around. Later, there are a few low water crossings and some loose surfaces but nothing that can’t be overcome by progressing slowly, following the rules and selecting the right line.
It’s the final few climbs that really test your courage. It’s as much a psychological test as a mechanical one and you need a level-head to complete it.
As we’ve seen in the frontwheel-drive cars we’ve driven up, completing those turns requires some momentum. Not speed, mind you, just enough forward motion to get the car through the turn and on to firmer gravel.
At this point, we have to admit that this requires at least some skill so we understand why some people feel so strongly about the 4×4 only rule.
Now for the argument against. We have some experience driving the pass in snowy conditions (and before the wall blocking the ice from the road was built). In those days, if you took anything but a proper 4×4 up, the result was death.
This rule still counts in the winter. Snow is a tricky substance and it doesn’t suffer fools. Melted snow results in lots of mud, which is equally unsympathetic.
Only recently, an Audi Q5 had to be recovered after it went over the edge in snowy conditions. We rate the Q5 as a decent enough off-roader but we’re not so sure we would have attempted that.
The basic lesson here, as with all off-roading, is to not do anything that might harm you or your pride and joy. At certain times the Sani Pass is relatively easy, but most of the time it’s a terror of a thing.
Check the weather reports, give it a go and if it seems like it’s not going to work, turn back. The top is a great place to be but there’s a host of beautiful, quiet and affordable accommodation at the bottom, from where those mountains are perhaps best enjoyed.
As a final thought, we’d like to share our most recent experience of the pass: we had a selection of 4×4 bakkies and educated drivers. The pass was in a good condition but still we asked every driver to engage low range. Rather be safe than sorry.
This page: Sani Pass – much easier when the sun is shining and there’s no mud or ice to deal with.