In the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, goats are unfailing companions. I’m not referring to actual goats, of course. Oh no. I’m talking about “Goats!”, the amusing, pervasive road signs along the N3 from Pretoria to the Midlands. Whoever put up the signs didn’t think that a mere “Goats” would suffice. An exclamation mark was apparently vital. Perhaps it is vital. Perhaps the Midlands goats are the most menacing, ruthless goats in all the land. Fortunately, my girlfriend and I were spared the wrath of those insidious creatures during our four-day break to the Midlands in November last year, a trip which was undoubtedly one of the highlights of 2013. A trip I’ll remember for many years to come.
We South Africans are blessed. More than we’ll probably ever know. Like most other countries, we love to perpetuate the adage of being the most beautiful country. But I believe we possess a quality few others possess - diversity. I’m not referring to ethnicity, but rather to South Africa’s scenery. We’ve got it all: the coastlines, the mountains, the forests, the wetlands, and the animals. We don’t need to go abroad to witness beauty - we’ve got it right on our doorstep. This was one of my first and most profound realisations during our jaunt. So, postpone the trip to the Cotswolds if you’ve never been to the Midlands. As soon as you lay eyes on those green, undulating hills, you’ll be infatuated.
Although I didn’t record our entire itinerary, I can still recollect most of the important details of our meandering adventure. We arrived at Biggy Best Cottages, a collection of quaint little cottages and luxurious corporate accommodation in Howick, late on a Friday afternoon. We immediately took a nap after arriving, and set about foraging for food at about eight o’clock in the evening. However, Howick at night is rather terrifying for first-timers. We had no inkling where we were going and our paranoia was worsened by an almost complete lack of street lights. It felt like a ghost town: abandoned, eerie, Hitchcockian. After driving aimlessly for a few minutes, we were immensely relieved to find a restaurant that was still open. And what a find it was. 68 on Main is believed to be the third oldest surviving building in Howick, with the original façade, sash windows, architraves and doors still in place. It was constructed in 1869, supposedly for (or by) the carpenter of Queen Victoria. Remarkable, isn’t it?
That evening I ate the best chocolate cake of my life. It was moist, smooth and simply sumptuous. Although I’m the most clueless chef I know, I’m one of the world’s last great tasters. Accordingly, I know when to appreciate fantastic food. And 68 on Main’s Bar One cake is unquestionably my favourite cake of all time. Take note all ye would-be travellers: do not leave the Midlands without trying their Bar One cake. You might as well never have made the journey.
The actual purpose of our trip was to attend a wedding, and so the following day we made our way to the big event. It was held on a hill on the Glades Farm, just a few minutes off the N3. It’s difficult for a guy to describe a wedding without sounding too emasculated. Moreover, I’m already clinging desperately to my manhood as it is, seeing that I’ve called the cottages “quaint” and the cake “sumptuous”. Nonetheless, I would do the wedding a disservice if I didn’t describe it as astoundingly beautiful. My girlfriend said it was a “fairy tale wedding”. I’d have to concur.
During the course of our stay it became clear that four days wouldn’t be enough to wrap our heads around the majesty of the Midlands. There is just a plethora of things to see and do. We didn’t have time to witness the iconic sculpture at Nelson Mandela’s capture site, or experiencing the timeless elegance of Michaelhouse, or zip-line through the treetops in the Karkloof Forest Reserve, or even do chocolate and cheese tastings. We wished we had more time. It’s the one thing the Midlands demands from you - time. Don’t rush its wonders; take your time and soon you’ll find yourself overwhelmed by its grandeur. And when you grudgingly head back home, heed Robert Frost’s advice: take the road less travelled. Take the Nottingham Road. It will make all the difference.
Just beware of the goats.