Alan Paton, the South African anti-apartheid activist and author, wrote in his acclaimed novel Cry, the Beloved Country: “There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it …. if there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Africa.”
Paton’s description of the picturesque landscape was penned more than 70 years ago, and while he may have been referring to the Ixopo region, he could well have been extolling the beauty of the neighbouring unspoilt Kwa-Zulu-Natal Midlands.
Just over an hour away from Durban, between Pietermaritzburg and the Drakensberg, is a delightful region filled with stretches of farmland, quaint little towns full of charm, a marvellous road of arts and crafts, restaurants brimming with gastronomic delights and scenic landscapes bordering the sublime, known as the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.
As you soak up the landscapes, sounds and fresh air of the KZN Midlands, you will quickly realise that this is the ideal place to recharge your soul’s batteries in surroundings that resemble God’s canvas.
At the heart of the KZN Midlands is the popular Midlands Meander — an itinerary of art, handicrafts, restaurants and farm holidays — which is a retreat for holidaymakers, with many cafes, art galleries, beautiful guest houses, cheese farms, seamstresses, cobblers, trout farms, potters, weavers and painters who have made this region their home.
The Midlands Meander is now a wonderfully refreshing combination of over 150 places to eat, drink and shop, and stretches from Rietvlei and Curry’s Post to Dargle Valley and Fort Nottingham — a total of about 80 kilometres of rejuvenating activities.
One of the historical sites on the Midlands Meander is the Nelson Mandela Capture Site, one of the most-visited memorial sites in KZN, with a visitor centre and a world-renowned sculpture of Nelson Mandela designed by South African artist Marco Cianfanelli.
Ayanda Nyandeni, tour guide at the Nelson Mandela Capture Site, said: “After a year of pandemic-induced lockdowns, people are looking to travel again. I am so excited that leisure tourism is coming back with a bang.
“While natural beauty abounds in the KZN Midlands, people who are looking to travel this winter holidays will be well-advised to also take in some history linked to our nation’s hard-won freedom.
“The Nelson Mandela Capture Site is a cultural and historical exhibition that is situated at the place where Nelson Mandela was apprehended for his anti-apartheid activism in August 1952. There is a museum with videos and photographs that will give you goosebumps as the people’s struggle is retold through sound and images,” said Nyandeni.
Several owners of hotels, chalets, game lodges and holiday resorts cannot wait to welcome visitors to the region.
The general manager of the Midlands Meander, Marian Evans, said: “The Midlands Meander is special because it offers its visitors an array of accommodation to choose from, beautiful autumn and cosy winter days, an abundance of wonderful cuisines and countless charming scenic areas to enjoy outdoor activities.
“Parents are now more aware of the need to focus on creating special memories with their children and we encourage more of these family holidays or day outings together.
“Farm stays with the family is a must; children can enjoy a visit to Endeavour Alpacas — Nirvana Farm, fly-fishing and horse riding.”
Mount Shekinah Country Hotel, near Michaelhouse School, just off the R103 in Balgowan, is a gem and a must-visit destination to include on your bucket list.
The general manager of the hotel, Silindokuhle Bhengu, said: “Our location is ideal, private and peaceful, offering visitors’ scenic views and amazing hospitality.
“Guests can enjoy horse-riding within the property, go for a hike or get cosy in the lounge area next to the fireplace.
“We also offer group bookings for those interested in hosting a private dinner event. Whether it’s a business luncheon, a casual dinner or a celebration event, our goal is to make every meal a memorable experience.”
For nature enthusiast and adventure seekers, Karkloof Canopy Tour, situated in a spectacular valley of the Karkloof Forest Reserve, offers 12 platforms and 10 zip-line slides, the longest of which is 200 metres.
Kai Schulz, managing director at Karkloof Canopy Tour, said: “The zip-line journey is safe and a fun adventure for people between the ages of six and 80, and over.
“It is the second-largest indigenous forest in South Africa and is unique for its incredible bird life which includes emerald cuckoos, Knysna Turaco, a great variety of birds of prey and if you are lucky, the elusive Narina Trogon or endangered Cape Parrots.
“The forest also shelters a variety of mammals, but it is the loud cries of the Samango monkeys that you will remember best.”
Wine lovers, couples and families will enjoy a trip to Highgate Wine Estate, situated in the heart of the KZN Midlands, producing its very own wines.
Terri Evans, general manager of Highgate Wine Estate and Piggly Wiggly, said: “The Kassier family purchased the Highgate Farm which was then a one-hectare vegetable farm.
“Thereafter, the Kassiers saw an opportunity, a need for fresh produce, and the concept of Piggly Wiggly was born.
“From this passion came Highgate Wine Estate, and in 2016, the first commercially produced bottle of wine was bottled and sold exclusively in their winery.
“Highgate now has five hectares of vines with a variety of Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, and visitors can relax and enjoy the wine-tasting and delicious foods.” — Supplied.