Guaranteed to take your breath away with its beauty, the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands Meander is one of the country’s most famous routes. It’s also known as the ‘arts and crafts route’ and this piece of the world is nothing short of majestic but it doesn’t stop at the Midlands Meander. If you’re passing through the area for any reason take some time to stop and enjoy the attractions. Here is my pick of the best things to see and do.
1. Treetop Canopy Tours
Located 10 km outside of Howick in the spectacular valley of the mistbelt podacarpus Karkloof Forest Reserve, Karkloof Canopy Tours is a must for all travellers with a taste for adventure. The canopy tour includes long swooping slides over the forest canopy, stops below a 15-metre-high waterfall and takes in wider views across the beautiful Karkloof valley. Flying along ziplines at speeds of up to 70km/h and reaching heights of 35 metres, the canopies is a thrilling way to take in the surrounding scenery, make new friends and give the ol’ vocal chords a good stretch. Screaming is optional but it comes highly recommended!
2. Nelson Mandela Capture Site
One of South Africa’s more interesting historical sites, the Nelson Mandela Capture Site on the R103 just outside of Howick is worth a visit. Unveiled by President Jacob Zuma in 2012, the unique sculpture by artist Marco Cianfanelli, is made up of 50 steel column constructions between 6.5 metres and 9.5 metres tall that come into alignment to form a portrait of Nelson Mandela against a backdrop of rolling hills and valleys of the Natal midlands. The columns are meant to represent Mandela’s imprisonment at the very place he was captured before being exiled to Robben Island. The site also features a museum where the capture of Madiba in 1962 is documented along with more information about South Africa’s political history.
3. Howick Falls
At 95 metres high (310 feet) the Howick Falls are located on the Umgeni River and have become a popular tourist attraction and the site boasts a restaurant and the usual stalls selling curios and other souvenirs. Known by the local Zulu people as ‘KwaNogqaza’, which means ‘Place of the Tall One’, local legend has it that the pool at the bottom of the falls is the residence of the Inkanyamba, a giant serpent-like creature. The falls also nearly claimed the life of BASE jumper Jeb Corliss in 1999, when he had a near fatal jump after his chute opening failed and he flew straight into the cascading water.
4. Zulu Mpophomeni Township Experience
Zulu Mpophomeni Tourism Experience (ZMTE) is an award winning, non-profit organisation drawing its members from broad segments of the Mpophomeni Township and surrounding rural areas. Tours of this picturesque township will illustrate the history of the area and a visit to the Nokulunga Gumede Wall of Reconciliation, check out a Sangoma and spend a night or two in the township’s first star-graded BnB. It’s a great way to be a responsible traveller and support local establishments and cultural attractions in the area.
A visit to WESSA (The Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa) in the uMgeni River valley is a must. Most of the reserve is located in the picturesque gorge below the Howick Falls and the greater reserve is home to giraffe, zebra and a variety of antelope as well as over 270 species of bird, including the elusive Nerina Trogon or the Crowned Eagle, making it a bird-lover’s paradise.
6. Cheese and chocolate tasting
A visit to the midlands wouldn’t be complete without a bit of cheese tasting at the family-run Swissland Cheesery. Visitors will be greeted by lush green lawns and grazing goats and can sample a range of goats cheese including chevin and a mild blue cheese, as well as learn about the cheese-making practice that has been handed down from generation to generation.
One of South Africa’s most famous schools, receiving more attention in the last few years due to the Spud novels by John van der Ruit, who was also schooled here, Michaelhouse was founded in 1896 and in situated on a secure estate in the picturesque midlands. The beautiful and distinctive architecture is worth seeing in person.
8. Nottingham Road
The quaint little town of Nottingham Road is so tiny that if you blink you might miss it. The picturesque town on the R103 features a cosy pub at the Legendary Nottingham Road Hotel, which is rumoured to be haunted by a lady ‘of loose morals’, where she has been spotted on numerous occasions, specifically in room 10. While you’re in town, visit the Nottingham Road Brewery, located on at Rawdon’s Hotel. This microbrewery has developed quite a reputation with names like Pickled Pig Porter, Whistling Weasel Pale Ale, Pye-Eyed Possum Pilsner, and Tiddly Toad Lager you may have a hard time deciding while ale to taste first. Either way, you better try them all!
Not only is it stunningly beautiful, but the Drakensberg Mountains are right on your doorstep. Even though they’re not technically in the midlands, it would be a sin not to visit these famous peaks while you’re on your way. Known to the Zulu people as uKhahlamba, meaning ‘barrier of spears’, the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site (10 of the best World Heritage Sites in Africa) in 2000, bringing long-overdue recognition of its universal value to mankind. Boasting the conservation of endemic and threatened species and masterpieces of human creative genius in the form of 35000 San rock art images as well as rolling, high-altitude grasslands, pristine steep-sided river valleys and rocky gorges, it’s definitely not to be missed.
For more ideas on what to see and where to stay while you’re travelling through the Natal Midlands, check out Open Africa’s uMngeni Footprint Route and the Drakensberg Experience Route.