Much to be found on the Midlands Meander, not least Madiba’s long walk
Meander is a verb that perfectly encapsulates the spectacular KZN Midlands
The Midlands reminds us of a country rich in things to do and places to go.
The choices of how you do it are many and will be determined by what you want to do and how active you want to be. Price also comes into play because this is a popular area for many things, weddings included, as well as the Midlands Meander, which offers a leisurely way of exploring the countryside by crisscrossing the area in search of artisans and artists selling their wares.
Like anything else, this has also become commercially driven, but there’s enough of the real thing left to keep everyone happy.
It’s not always easy to find them but with smart phones, everything is possible today and much of the discomfort is dissolved as you find a map or a phone number that will quickly explain and navigate the route. The roads might also be an obstacle for some, but this is not speed racing and if you amble along, even the challenging ones will be easy to navigate.
Personal favourites on the Meander included the Terbodore coffee roasters, with simply the best coffee to drink, clothing companies, including well designed and locally made canvas bags and cotton shirts at Dirt Road Traders, irresistible handmade shoes at the Groundcover Leather Company, homemade goat’s cheese with delicious options at Swissland Farm, the extraordinary family-run Culamoya wind chimes and a really cool kitchen shop, Cookin, at the more commercial end of the Meander at Piggly Wiggly, which was really an anomaly on the Meander yet hard to resist.
But our favourite by far was Ian Glenny’s Dargle Valley Pottery — everything about it from the pottery to the place. But be warned, both the artist and his work will captivate you and you won’t be leaving without one of his beautiful art creations. There are tables full to choose from which makes it really tough.
Howick Falls as well as arguably the most evocative Mandela site are both easy to access on the Meander. The Marco Cianfanelli monument was constructed to mark the 50th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s capture by the apartheid police in 1962 — at the site of the capture.
The setting is striking, and you must do a symbolic “long walk” before you are struck by the remarkable image of Mandela and the rustle of the wind through the columns as you approach, which seems to tell its own story. According to the artist, the 50 columns represent the 50 years since his capture, but he also hoped to illustrate the great man’s legacy of inclusiveness by showing how individual structures all come together to complete the perfect whole.
The waterfall is on the edge of the town and you can pop in when you pick up groceries if you’re staying in a self-catering lodge, which is popular in the area. It’s simply a skip and a jump from the car to the viewing point and again evokes a South African scene that’s humbling.
Hotels, lodges and self-catering cottages are plentiful and, depending on what you like and for how many, you should find exactly what you’re looking for.
Our first few days were spent in Lake House at Hillhouse Accommodation on a farm owned by two artists. It is situated in Dargle. overlooking the magnificent Midmar Dam. The cottage we stayed in can house four people and the sheer isolation (seemingly) from the rest of the world was almost other-worldly.
A higgledy-piggledy gravel road takes you up to the cottage and while there are two other houses, one accommodating as many as 12 people, each is different and slightly unusual. This is where the artists come to play, with Nick Crooks the architect and builder and Mandy Crooks the one responsible for the interiors. All of the cottages are delightfully individual with a quirkiness that’s unexpected but joyful to experience.
The indigenous gardens in many hidden spots on the property and Mandy’s artistic succulent obsession are like outdoor galleries. Hillhouse is situated on the edge of the Meander and Howick is only 10 minutes away. But It felt like total immersion in nature as well as a kind of hideout from the rigours of the real world.
Our second port of call, Whispering Waters, nestles between hills and dams with cows munching in every pasture as far as the eye can see. From the minute you wake up, the fields and the water lie invitingly in the early morning light. You can wander up and down hills and dales and, warmed by a brisk walk, the dams invite swimming.
Closer to the Notting Hill Road side of the Meander in Fort Nottingham, this is a more commercially driven property and yet because of the farm setting, it had that Meander appeal. The thatch cottages are spacious with a large kitchen, lounge, dining area and a stoep with a view. And the staff are intent on catering to your every wish.
Food is another Meander obsession, but these can be hit-and-miss like anywhere else. Howick is best for grocery shopping and our best find for exciting food was the Blueberry Café (with the adjoining brewery with a different kitchen) offering many choices.
A personal favourite was the quinoa and falafel salad with a blueberry sauce, while on the more substantial side, the fillet steak paired with risotto caught my eye. The brewery offers hearty hamburgers or if you want a healthy option, a roasted veggie salad.
If you’ve never been this way, the Midlands Meander is a treasure trove to explore — just another corner of natural beauty in this diverse land of ours.