DIANE DE BEER
In our stressful world, all of us should respond to the need to get away. The Kwazulu-Natal Midlands is around the corner for Gauteng with ‘meander’ the verb that encapsulates this scenically spectacular part of our country:
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 more than the initial ideals of people making and developing their own, 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 which 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 (also available online), 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.
Our favourite by far was Ian Glenny’s Dargle Valley Pottery – everything about it from the pottery to the place. And it’s no secret that there are fairies playing in the woodland area surrounding his house which is an artwork in itself and worth the trip.
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.
It is all quite bewitching and one can wander around the pottery and the place for some time and then have wonderfully winding conversations with the artist about his work and his life.
As one of the originators of the Meander, he misses the way it was, but is happy that he still attracts his fair share of visitors. You would be silly not to take the turnoff to his special world.
The special 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 Nelson 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 Howick Waterfall is on the edge of the town and you can pop in when you pick up some 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 quite humbling.
If you like traditional wares, this is also a good place to support the local community in their endeavors with even some serenading happening on the side which might just fall gently on your ear.
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 on a hillside (hence the name) overlooking the magnificent Midmar Dam. The cottage we stayed in can house four people but just the two of us filled it easily 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 one is different and slightly unusual to the more commercial venture. This is where the artists come to play with husband Nick 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.
And once there, 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 (was part of it at one time) 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. You could easily just hide out right here for a few days.
Our second port of call, Whispering Waters, is nestled in-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 are inevitable even if we didn’t think so initially, more used to sparkling swimming pools. Once in the water, the spell was cast.
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) presenting 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. But there’s much to explore even though we did find it simpler to stick with what works for you.
If you’ve never been this way, it’s a treasure trove to explore in so many different ways. Just another corner of natural loveliness in this diverse land of ours.