On the eastern side of South Africa lies the province of KwaZulu Natal, known for its idyllic coastlines, sunny weather and the warm Indian Ocean. But there’s a collection of inland tourist routes, called the Midlands Meander, that’s well worth a visit. Culture Trip reports.
Roughly 110km (68mi) from the coastal city of Durban are the rolling hills of the Midlands and the towering peaks of the Drakensberg Mountains. Dotted throughout this landscape is a bunch of tourist routes made up of unique accommodations, artisan stores and boutique restaurants serving local cuisine. This unique route and tranquil pockets of small farming communities is known as the Midlands Meander.
Founded in 1985, the Midlands Meander has grown and evolved over the years to include more than 150 locations. With such a diverse range of places to explore, it caters to those seeking slow, experiential travel. A visit to the region can be best enjoyed over a weekend. Made up of five unique routes with places to eat, sleep, shop, learn, marvel and enjoy the great outdoors, you’ll be entranced by thick forests, verdant farmlands, rolling hills and dramatic mountain ranges. As the entire route stretches about 80km (50mi), it is best to choose one route; especially if you only have a day or two to explore. Here is what each of the routes has to offer.
This route also takes in the towns of Merrivale, Howick, Karkloof and Mpophomeni. Vist the Karkloof Conservation Centre and admire the many bird species from the bird hide. If you’re up for adventure, zip through the forest on a Karkloof Canopy Tour. Otherwise, head to Howick, for a picnic at the 95m (312ft)-high Howick Falls.
Tucked away at the end of this route is the Tillietudlem Game and Trout Farm, which offers accommodation in a beautifully restored colonial farmhouse. This is a great spot to try your hand at fly-fishing in the trout dam or just stroll through nature among the Nguni cattle herd.
One of the shorter routes on offer, this also passes through the town of Balgowan. One of the best things to do is head to the Kleinbosch Estate within the Mount West region for a day of wine tasting. Additionally, you can explore the wild bush and patchwork farmland of the region on horseback.
You’ll find plenty of accommodation along this route, but Fordoun Hotel & Spa is a superb five-star hotel with one of the best spas in the country. Try an African product treatment such as the African potato healing wrap that gets administered under the guidance of a traditional healer.
This route includes the town of Fort Nottingham and is all about boutique shops full of artisanal crafts. Make sure to pop in at the Lavender Company for handmade lotions, Zulu Lulu for ceramic pieces and the Woodturner for bespoke furniture and salvaged wood art. This area is also home to the Shuttleworths – one of the founding families of the route and their workshop which produces mohair rugs.
A stay at the Bend Country House is like being at a family holiday home, although possibly larger. The space is so big, it has five distinct ecosystems for you to discover, along with six dams.
Included in this route are the towns of Lidgetton, Balgowan and also the Capture Site Museum. It was in this spot that Nelson Mandela was captured decades ago and a grand sculpture was erected to commemorate it. This route is also full of places to stop and indulge in homemade treats. Enjoy a creamy goat’s milk cheese at Swissland Cheese or handcrafted Belgian chocolates at Chocolate Heaven.
While here, make sure you stay at Granny Mouse Country House, a much-loved establishment with two restaurants, an award-winning spa, a whisky lounge and impressively stocked cellar full of international wines.
Route number five takes you through the towns of Kamberg and Mooi River as well as a number of nature reserves. Explore the Kamberg Nature Reserve, where you can see San rock art and learn more about these original inhabitants of the area at the Interpretive Centre. This area is closest to the Drakensberg Mountains, which makes it a great route if you want to go hiking or cycling.
In this region, you’ll want to stay at the historic yet luxurious Hartford House, which shares its property with Summerhill Stud, a world-class racehorse stud farm.