WORDS: ANNE SCHAUFFER IMAGES: SHUTTERSTOCK
The Midlands region of KwaZulu-Natal is a wonderful stretch of South Africa, dominated by endless farmlands, winding country roads, and glorious countryside.
Unlike the KZN coast, this elevated region has four distinct seasons, with frost, snow and roaring fires in winter; sensational autumnal colours and dense layers of leaves; the fresh beauty of spring blossoms; and in summer, pale yellow expanses, fields with hay bales, and wonderfully warm temperatures.
The Midlands Meander was a wonderful concept dreamed up by a handful of creatives who’d chosen to escape the city stresses for country calm but needed to generate an income. This collaboration became the Midlands Meander and within five years resulted in the Midlands Meander map, which lead day trippers and tourists to their studios. Today, there are over 150 Meander members – establishments providing a wide range of services, ranging from food, art and crafts, to action, activities and accommodation.
Get hold of a Midlands Meander map book from selected outlets, access it online at midlandsmeander.co.za or call 033 330 8195. The joy of the Meander is that, from Durban, it’s not simply one day trip never to be repeated.
There are so many restaurants, spas, crafters, you name it, there’s ample variety for numerous repeat trips, and it’s the perfect destination when hosting overseas or non-local visitors. It’s not possible to mention a fraction of the action here, so do check the Meander Map book.
The Meander routes
The Midlands Meander has five separate routes covering different blocks of the Midlands, with the Meander’s footprint stretching from just beyond Mooi River in the north, Hilton in the south, Karkloof in the east, and the foothills of the Drakensberg in the west. The routes are:
- Route 1: Hilton to Merrivale to Howick to Karkloof to Mpophomeni
- Route 2: Curry’s Post to Balowan to Mount West
- Route 3: Dargle to Fort Nottingham to Nottingham Road
- Route 4: Lion’s River to Lidgetton to Balgowan to Nottingham Road
- Route 5: Nottingham Road to Rosetta to Kamberg to Mooi River
Advice from seasoned day-tripping Meanderers is to choose a lunch spot and work backwards and forwards from that, according to its position in the Midlands. If lunch isn’t your goal, then select a few retail or other outlets and plan to move around that route.
Some of the members are well known, like the leatherworks of Groundcover and Tsonga, and have grown to the point where their brands supply retail outlets… but in all instances, it doesn’t take away the authenticity of buying leather wares, olives or cheeses from their source.
In numerous cases, you’ll be able to watch the producers at work. There’s something to be said for children seeing precisely where that cheese you’ve bought, came from.
Where to stay
The Midlands has a wide range of accommodation, from self-catering little cottages, to full-service five-star boutique hotels and spas. The price range is such that you’ll always find something to suit your budget.
Little getaway cottages abound, and they’re ideal for those keen to spend the weekend trout fishing, like Whispering Waters, Waterford Manor, or Inversanda Farm cottages on a working farm (ideal for kids).
Most of the Meander is a nature experience, but there are some exceptional opportunities like picnicking in the Karkloof Conservation Centre grounds, and bird watching in their world-class hides. Head up to Waterford/Giants Castle, and enjoy san art, hikes, walks, scenic picnic spots. Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve, too, is a wonderful outing.
The Karkloof Canopy tour in the indigenous Karkloof forest offers a little adrenaline with your nature fix – zip line among towering trees and forest birdlife. Horse-riding is a popular pastime or passion in the Midlands, so try Bergtrails.
You’ll find animal farms at Yellowwood Café and The Bend, and at Swissland Cheese, children can feed the goats. Checkpoint 103 is a great spot for kids to let off steam, as it’s home to everything from Epic Karting to Bubble Soccer, paintball, to an outdoor bike track.
- Aladdin’s-de-Light: pottery, raku, stained glass, and more
- Dragonfire Beads: make your own colourful, handmade beads from Venetian glass
- Marrakesh Cheese: make your own cheese
- Peter’s Gate Herbal Centre: how to use herbs to make culinary ingredients, soaps, cosmetics, home remedies and household products
- Sterling’s Wrought Iron: beginner’s course in basic wrought iron and metal work
- Highgate tasting room, wine cellar and restaurant, Dargle
- Hartford House, Mooi River
- Il Postino Pizzeria and sports bar, Howick
- The Farmer’s Daughter at Yard 41, Howick
- Yellowwood Café, Howick, on the historic Fairfell Farm
- Caversham Mill and Restaurant, Caversham
- The Zulu-Mpophomeni tourism experience
- The Capture Site Visitor’s Centre and Museum
- Rhode House Museum, Mooi River
- Howick uMngeni Museum
- Fort Nottingham Museum