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Within the heart of KwaZulu-Natal, lies the Midlands Meander – a collection of arranged tourism routes extending from Rietvlei and Currys Post in the east, to the Dargle Valley and Fort Nottingham in the west – which offers visitors attractions, experiences, historic landmarks, hospitality and accommodation in a unique setting.
Only an hour’s drive from Durban and four-and-a-half hours’ journey on the N3 highway from Johannesburg, the Midlands is not often considered as a planned destination by those visiting South Africa, yet delivers some of the most beautiful and unexpected attractions and experiences.
Collin Thaver, MD of Southern Africa 360, says the Midlands is a must-do for visitors. “The landscape is different from other parts of South Africa.”
This sentiment was shared by Kantha Pillay, KZN Regional Sales Manager of aha Hotels & Lodges, who says “the Midlands and the ‘Berg’ are a must see!”
However, Pillay believes that the area is often not considered by those looking to visit the country, as aha seldom receives inbound clients looking to visit the region.
The Midlands has a variety of options and experiences catering for tourists, according to Pillay, such as picnicking, cycling, fishing, art classes, various markets, golf, farm stalls, wine tasting and even hot air ballooning.
Thaver expanded on this, as he believes the Midlands is a prime setting for outdoor adventure activities such as hiking, mountains biking, fly fishing and nature walks.
Adele Oelofse, Revenue and Marketing Manager at Ghost Mountain Inn, situated in Mkuze, KwaZulu-Natal, says the main tourists attractions within the Midlands area include the Drakensberg Mountains, various hiking trails, trout farms, health spas, markets, running, abseiling, ziplining and horse riding.
Pillay says the Nelson Mandela Capture Site in Howick is a must, as well as Howick Falls, and Karkloof Canopy Tour, to name a few.
Another drawcard for tourists meandering through the Midlands are the many quirky, creative art studios, often featuring ceramics, such as Ardmore, which is situated on the Ardmore Farm at the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains. Ardmore is inspired by local artists from the area, and has grown to become an international brand. “It is quite similar to the Clarens area in this regard (crafts), but closer to home,” adds Pillay.
In addition, Thaver says Southern Africa 360 offers the KwaZulu-Natal Adventure, which incorporates the Midlands, but more importantly an important historical landmark – the KwaZulu-Natal Battlefields, in Greytown – which form part of the KZN Battlefields Route.
As for accommodation in the area, Pillay says aha currently does not have hotels or lodges in the Midlands. “However, there are hundreds of accommodation establishments in the Midlands area ranging from farm houses, guest houses, B&Bs, as well as hotels, including low-budget-to-luxury five-star properties.”
A well-known establishment, Granny Mouse Country House & Spa has a heritage spanning 30 years, with award-winning cuisine and wine, coupled with a host of accommodation options, and is one of the better known properties in the region. The property is currently undergoing a series of renovations to improve guests’ experience.
Facilities at Granny Mouse Country House & Spa include a Bistro restaurant, a fine dining restaurant called The Eaves, a wine cellar complemented by a Single Malt Bar, spa, swimming pool wedding venue, chapel, conference facilities, ample safe parking, a river walk, and complimentary Wi-Fi.
For those wishing to explore the Midlands Meander further, a range of activities is located nearby, or can be arranged. These include a host of restaurants located within the meander; Stonehaven Day Tours to the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg, Rock Art or a trip up Sani Pass; exploring the historical city of Pietermaritzburg; Karkloof Canopy Tours; horse whispering; clay-pigeon shooting; sporting events such as nearby school derbies, the Midmar Mile, the Comrades Marathon, Dusi Canoe Marathon and Amashova National Classic Cycle Race; the Hilton Arts Festival; and the renowned Drakensberg Boys Choir.
Pillay suggests the Drakensberg area for add-ons to guest itineraries, as there is the aha Alpine Heath Resort in the area for convenient accommodation, or alternatively Nambiti Game Reserve.
Tourists opting for the self-drive experience as a means to explore the Midlands is a definite option, says Pillay, as the roads are well maintained.
Since 1985, the Meander has grown to more than 150 members, and offers a greater variety, yet retains the same quality of offerings. While the Meander is known for its handcrafted goods and fine arts, it has experienced significant growth in the accommodation, wedding and conferencing sector. Sedentary holidays, although still on offer, have progressed, as today Midlands Meander visitors may enjoy a wider range of adventures and activities.