Underberg Things to Do
Underberg is the main centre for tour operators servicing the Southern Drakensberg, and there are many service providers to choose from, including the crowd pictured above (whose services, I must add, I have never used, and can therefore not vouch for).
Visitors are spoiled for choice in terms of the activities on offer in the surrounding region, from water sports to mountain biking, hiking, horse trekking and exploring Bushman paintings, so it's really a matter of reviewing the options and deciding what tickles your fancy. Personally I was tempted by the prospect of a half day historical tour of the Drakensberg Gardens valley and the river rafting, but sadly our schedule would not allow ... something to look forward to next time!
Unsurprisingly, perhaps the most popular offerings are the range of guided tours up the Sani Pass, which will appeal to those who either don't have transport suitable to attempt this trip and/or don't feel confident enough to tackle this challenging section of road.
One of the nicest ways to explore the Drakensberg is on horseback, and most resorts will have their own stable which caters for all levels of competence, from absolute beginners to expert riders. There are usually ponies for the children (who are taken out for short periods and lead by a groom unless they are already competent riders) and horses for the adults: most stables prefer to keep horses and ponies separate for outrides as this is much easier and safer to manage.
Don't worry about saving if you're an adult and want to ride but have never previously ventured on a horse - these resorts are used to such situations, so if this has always been a sneaking ambition of yours, then this is the time to give it a go.
Unlike neighbouring Lesotho (where pony trekking is very popular), there is a far greater emphasis on the safety aspect, so all stables will expect you to wear a riding hat, which can be borrowed at no additional cost. Closed shoes are usually a prerequisite and you'd be wise to wear long trousers to prevent chafing and long sleeves and sunscreen to avoid sunburn on longer rides.
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The legendary Sani Pass, South Africa's highest mountain pass...with the much more important: South Africa's highest pub :) Taking Sani Pass Tour's Sani Pass day tour, we left at 9:00 from an office in Underberg, and set off to journey, and be guided up, and down the fabled Sani Pass.
Not surprising there were no hiccups; the vehicle was a closed Land Cruiser 2011 (was assured, and indeed it did look like a new truck, all with fancy stickers on it....it was missing a roof rack...no that I'm any person that has techy knowledge of any vehicles...in the least), and quite comfortably made it up the pass, and all the little 4x4 show off spots.
There were quite a few viewpoints we stopped at, and just as well, if only to stretch the legs - no 4x4 vehicle is designed for luxury travel, and the Sani Pass is...the biggest question you can possibly ask your truck on a day to day basis.
By 12 we had finally passed the hairpins bends, all aptly named in suit of their individual dreads; reverse bend, icy corner are just two I care to remember. The border post was a breeze, as we had already done the paperwork in the office beforehand. There was however the issue of the 1 Ukranian on the same trip who needed a visa to get through - no problem; a little money greasing palms sorted that out (I'm still left a little uneasy about that whole matter, but was assured that it was a daily occurrence. In which case I definitely considered myself to be in the wrong industry, which is on the whole quite an honest affair.
We next went to a living Basothu village, and visited one of the old ladies making bread in her rondawel. Now being South African, I'm very familiar with the scenario, but the foreigners weren't. I could tell they appreciated the reality of living in Lesotho - it's helluva hard!
Then the Africa's highest pub: beautiful pub! Beautiful view (even in the clouds)! The beer is great, regardless of what it is (I never saw the wisdom of being picky about what beer to drink in Africa), and the food is reminiscent of what you had the first time you made anything...and it's not cheap - the dude up there on the mountain has a monopoly, and consequently can charge 'whatever'....having said that; getting supplies up the mountain must be an absolute nightmare.
The trip down the mountain was a quiet affair, everyone too tired, exhausted, and lost in their own thoughts to really make any social inputs.
And so by 16:00 we were back at the office, safe and sound. Armed to the teeth with photos, thoughts on the history, the cultures, and the idyllic beautiful, and romantic hardships involved with the Sani Pass.
Awesome day!Related to:
- Adventure Travel
Underberg is the regional service centre for the Southern Drakensberg, and is an excellent place to stock up and reprovision if you're passing through this region.
There are a couple of large and surprisingly well stocked supermarkets - the Spar pictured above, and the OK on the road in from Himeville - each of which provides 'one stop shopping' that is likely to meet pretty well all of your catering needs. This is useful as there is a wealth of high quality self catering accommodation in the surrounding area, so if you're travelling on a budget, holidaying with children and/or want some independence from hotels and restaurants, this provides a very cost effective option.
There is also a pharmacy, petrol (gas) station, hardware store, garage and a wheel balancing/alignment station as well as restaurants/fast food outlets and banking facilities, so in one fell swoop, you should be set up for the next leg of your trip!
Underberg Warnings and Dangers
The Sani Pass is the only way to cross the Drakensberg escarpment on Lesotho's eastern border with South Africa (which, interestingly enough, totally surrounds it) - thus, it is an international border, and you require a passport to cross from one to other. If you want to be pedantic, the pass itself is technically 'no man's land', as the Lesotho border is at the top of the pass, and the South African border is at the bottom, with an intervening distance of 9km. This is reputed to be the longest distance between corresponding border posts on an international border in the world, although I am open to correction on this point.
Looking at the photo, I'm sure that you will agree that it would be a shame to drive all the way up this, only to be refused admission, so make sure that you have checked that you have a (valid) passport with you before you set out, lest you have to drive back to collect it!
It's worth noting that as Lesotho and South Africa are part of a common customs area, you are not required to present any ownership documentation for your vehicle.