Today was the real point of the whole trip. We wanted to do the Sani Pass before they tarred the road – which they are in the process of doing. As it turned out, they have only done phase 1 so far which was up to about a few hundred meters from the hotel. Phase 2 is in under construction and is basically from our hotel to the SA border post. As it was Sunday and in the Christmas holiday period, no construction is currently taking place and the road was very rutted and muddy. It tested our driving skills before we even got to the SA border post.
On the way up to the border post we did add another lifer – Gurney’s Sugarbird which we saw on a protea. The border post was quick and easy and then we were in our car again heading up the main part of the pass. The border post is at 1940 meters and the top of the Sani Pass is over 2700 meters. Straight past the border post it was evident that Low4 was going to be necessary. The road was very rocky and pretty steep. It was a really enjoyable drive up – not only because I enjoyed doing the drive but also because we were the last of the 3 cars and we could watch everyone else bumping up and down and seeing especially how Mr M’s car was adjusting to the terrain, using traction control, spitting out stones and wheel spinning.
On top of the challenging 4×4 drive up the Sani Pass (you can only do it in a 4×4 though remarkably we passed some taxis coming down from the Lesotho side) it was a very scenic drive up. We stopped a few times going up to take photos, admire the view and (of course) to do some birding. In the end S & I added 7 lifers today alone! That is probably the best day for adding lifers since we started birding (excluding the first few days when everything is a lifer). We added all but one of the specials for the Sani Pass and we are pretty sure we saw that one too (Bearded Vulture) but it was while we were driving and we can’t be 100% sure so I won’t claim it yet (hopefully we will get to see one before the end of the trip).
When we got to the top we did passport control for Lesotho (which again was a non-event) and then we headed to Sani Pass Chalets which houses the highest pub in Africa. After admiring the view a bit more and doing some birding, we went in and had an early lunch. It started raining shortly after that and we were thankful that the rain didn’t start while we were driving up the pass. It would have made it much more treacherous than it was already. By the time we finished eating and drinking, the mist was also rolling in and we were very thankful that we didn’t have mist when we came up either. That would have made it extremely difficult and stressful and we wouldn’t have been able to see the fantastic view either.
We had about 120 km to get to our lodge for the night (Oxbow Lodge) which is basically on the north of Lesotho. The speed limit in Lesotho is never more than 80 km/h and most of the time it is 60 km/h. It took us over 2 hours to get to the lodge especially as the roads are bend after bend and at some points pothole after pothole. You also have to be alert to the cars that just stop on the road and the occupants standing in the road.
We are the only people staying at Oxbow Lodge tonight. It is fairly basic with no electricity. They do (fortunately) have a generator that they turn on from 3pm-10pm and then again at 7am in the morning. They haven’t heard of the internet and so WiFi is clearly non-existent. I have a cellphone signal on my work phone so I am just posting this using that and then heading to bed. Sorry – no pics today because of the lack of signal but I will try tomorrow when we get to our next lodge.
P, S (for doing most of the driving in Lesotho today after the Sani Pass), H, C & K