Sani no longer cuts it
Wheels readers explore Ongeluksnek with two Isuzus
NEWSFLASH for 4x4 drivers planning a weekend away in scenic Lesotho — you can drive up Sani Pass in any sedan with decent road clearance, and don’t need a 4x4 unless it recently rained heavily.
Chinese contractors have now tarred the Lesotho side of Sani and South African contractors are maintaining the famous hairpins on the South African side.
While a well-maintained Sani is good for Underberg’s economy, it only presents a challenge to 4x4 drivers after a serious snow or rain storm, turning the so-called “Mother of All Passes” into the Mother Of All Yawns for people who know what the diff lock does.
Those who like to engage low gear on a scenic pass will fine joy on Ongeluksnek, which still does what Sani Pass did — offering unparalleled views, a challenging drive and a rare stamp in your passport to prove how intrepid you are. Wheels did the pass in two Isuzu double cabs, last weekend, powered by the new 2,5- and 3-litre engines. Passing over the corrugations of the scenic road through Swartberg, Toyota drivers commented again about the Isuzu’s legendary ride quality. “In my Toyota, I would have been bouncing off the roof by now,” said 4x4-fixer Gary Peacock .
Road builder Vumile Mbdola, was most impressed by the 3,0 DTeq’ 8,7 l/100km, despite a heavy right foot. And 4x4-veteran Ronnie Drew loved the low crawl speed of the 2,5 Isuzu up the 1:3 gradients. You will need the low gear both up and down, for the pass is very slippery after even a light spat.
Once on top, there is no cosy pup waiting and if that’s what you’re after, pack the sedan and head to Sani. Campers can pack their tents and follow Wheels.
The 6,7 kilometres of Ongeluksnek pass near Matatiele offer 4x4 and camping enthusiasts what Sani pass used to, with unparalleled views, a challenging drive and a rare stamp in your passport to prove how intrepid you are.
A misty rainbow greets the campers after a cold night on a vast plateau, kept as neat as any bowling green by sheep.
Peak hour on Ongeluksnek: cattle driven by herd boys in their all-weather gear — a blanket, balaclava and gumboots.
When wet, this section gets very tricky, but travellers who are lucky enough to get a clear day will see forever.
Chinese contractors dig culverts along the new tar road on the Lesotho side of Sani Pass. This new road is very good for Underberg’s economy, but boring for 4x4 owners.