Nestled between the Drakensburg mountain range and the town of Pietermaritzburg in the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN), the Midlands Meander is an 80km route that is a delight for patrons of South Africa’s local artists and crafters.
The first route of its kind in the country, the Midlands Meander is the perfect weekend escape for city folk, as its only one hours’ drive from Durban and five hours away from Johannesburg – neatly signposted along the N3 highway with its trademark butterfly emblem.
The butterfly that the meander has adopted as its icon is the Karkloof Blue Butterfly or Butler Butterfly, which is an endangered species that only appears for a few weeks during the autumn (April to June), and only at a few locations in KZN. If you spot a “Common Cents Can Make a Difference” collection tin at one of the 160 tourist spots along the route, pop in a few coins – your donation helps fund a research project that is uncovering ways to protect this fragile, blue-winged butterfly.
Things to do in the Midlands Meander
Not only is the Midlands Meander home to some of the most well-known artists in South Africa, like bronze sculptor Sarah Richards, ‘butterfly crafter’ Astrid Dahl and ceramist Lindsay Scott, but it’s also a gathering place for a multitude of skills like furniture making, iron working, weaving, sandal-making and even kite-makers! These works and wares are displayed in craft shops and art galleries that can be found throughout the KZN Midlands.
If you’re not one for shopping, there are plenty of activities to keep you busy along the Midlands Meander. Fly-fishing is one of the more popular things to do, with the dams at the Fordoun Spa Hotel (www.fordoun.com), St Ives Estate (www.stivesestate.co.za) and Rivendell Trout Cottages (www.rivendelltroutco.za) which is about 40kms from Howick next to the mysterious Rivendell Lake in Dargle Valley.
A great way to explore the beauty of the Midlands is on horseback, and there are plenty of places where you can enjoy a special moment with this majestic animal, including the delicate-footed Friesians, Lipizzaner and polo ponies. For a treat, have a ride on the Crab Apple Carriage with Molly the golden pony (www.weddingcarriage.co.za).
If you have energy to spare, there are plenty of hiking and mountain biking trails too; be sure to enquire with your hosts where the best ones in your corner of the Midlands are.
Round off your Midlands Meander experience by samples the tastes and local delicacies at one of the many restaurants and eateries on the route – from fine dining affairs to a more wholesome, rustic bite-to-eat at the roadside stalls.
Places to stay in the Midlands Meander
Accommodation along the Midlands Meander ranges from the rustic to a luxury five-star experience. The Antbear Guest House (www.antbear.co.za) that overlooks the Bushmen’s River Valley is one of the most popular places to stay over; with the kind of warm hospitality that you can only find in the friendly Midlands.
For something a little quainter, there’s the Sycamore Avenue Treehouse Lodge and Guesthouse (www.sycamore-ave.com) for a romantic stay in an eccentric setting near Mooi River. There’s the Fantasy House with its ‘spa in the sky’ and the Planequarium house, all featuring beautiful wooden carving details and comfy quilts on the beds.
Granny Mouse Country House and Spa (www.grannymouse.co.za) is where old-world charm meets luxury four-star cottages in the Lions River area of the Midlands Meander. It’s a popular venue for country weddings and couples on honeymoon, and the well-stocked wine cellar has won numerous wine list awards.
To find out more about what’s happening along the Midlands Meander, pay a visit to www.midlandsmeander.co.za.