A local’s guide to the Midlands Meander

Posted by Teagan Cunniffe on 8 December 2015

The holy grail of any traveller is to find out where the locals go. On a recent road trip, I did my best to make them give up their secrets.

Also read: Affordable weekend getaways near Durban
Midlands map
Did you hear,’ Lola asks, ‘about the time turkeys blackened the sky above Lanseria airport?

‘One day all the turkeys gathered on the runway strip, gobbling and jostling about. One among them, a young turkey, looked yearningly at the sky. “Ha! Why are you doing that?” the other turkeys asked derisively. “You can’t fly!”

‘ “But … I have wings,” said the young turkey. “Doesn’t that mean I can fly?”

‘The other turkeys guffawed, feathers ruffling in disdain. The young turkey looked around at the crowds of naysayers before decisively turning his back on the group and facing the long stretch of grey tarmac ahead of him.

‘He took a few steps, slowly at first, then gathered speed until his great weight lifted … teetered, and finally took off into the air. “Ha!” he shouted. “Look! I AM a bird!” The rest of the turkeys looked up at him, jowls wobbling silently.

‘ “You try too!” called the young turkey from high above them. One by one, the turkeys lined up and joined him in the sky. It was marvellous. Soaring and swooping; this was how it was meant to be! After some good fun, they landed back on Earth and began high-fiving and congratulating one another.

‘And then they turned around and walked off the air strip.’

‘Walked.’

 

Love and light at Culamoya Chimes with Lola and Frik Haupt.

Love and light at Culamoya Chimes with Lola and Frik Haupt.

Lola looks at me, eyes keen. ‘Do you know what that story means?’ she asks. ‘It means we can all do great things. And we can all easily forget our greatness.’ She pauses and then draws in a breath. ‘We are human, and we can fly!’

Lola Haupt and her husband Frik, married for 58 years, are still in love. Lola, previously a piano teacher, fusses with his shirt as she speaks to me.

‘We’ve been making chimes for 27 years now. We started by replicating sounds of churches, like St Paul’s Cathedral and Winchester. Then we tried with the sounds of nature, and even emotions. Here. This one… listen to it.’ I cock an ear and hear first the clear tune ringing out and then the seemingly endless reverberations that follow. It creeps into my head and stills my mind.

‘This one is “Happiness”. We just want to spread happiness, love, understanding. That’s what we stand for,’ says Lola.

I soon discover the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands is dotted with special people like them. People who are doing their own thing, tucked away in a world of their own creation, such as Peter from Love Bread, who supplies rustic stone-ground loaves to restaurants such as The Bierfassl and Piggly Wiggly.

‘I started with an oven outside,’ he says with a nostalgic chuckle. ‘I could only make a dozen loaves before the fire would die. It was outdoors, completely exposed to the elements… and in the Midlands it gets cold. Now I have this bakery.’ He gazes around at the converted carport. Dough lies in wait on floured surfaces and sunlight streams in through the window, illuminating the wooden racks.

 

Buy Peters freshly baked artisan loaves at local markets.

Buy Peter’s freshly baked artisan loaves at local markets.

‘The wood-fired oven is the most important piece. There are no dials so you have to know when the temperature is just right. There is something that transports you back in time, back to when we first started baking… It links you with those people, the smells of rising bread and the heat of the fire.’

Sitting with Peter in his bakery, I can’t help but notice how much he loves what he does and how, like many other locals in the Midlands, he is devoted to the process. This thought occupies my mind while I idly watch the bubbles on my cappuccino art pop, one by one. I’m at Blueberry Café, set high on a hill with arguably the best view of Cathkin Peak and Giant’s Castle. People rave about its harvest breakfast, which includes a selection of fresh fruit juices, baked goods, eggs and smoked bacon. I’m here for the famous blueberry cheesecake, and it doesn’t disappoint – unlike various conversations about the Meander I’ve heard over the last few days.

 

Cappuccino and cheesecake is a must at Blueberry Cafe.

Cappuccino and cheesecake is a must at Blueberry Café.

The Midlands Meander is intended as a slow route, but lately it is visitor numbers that are being sluggish. ‘The route isn’t the same,’ I hear over and over again. Fewer people are meandering, taking the time to visit places further from the main drags. It could be the effects of the recession, perhaps petrol prices. Some point fingers at large centres such as The Junction and Piggly Wiggly for turning the route into a succession of one-stop shops while others argue that it’s these one-stop shops that provide platforms for the smaller crafters to showcase their wares. What isn’t in dispute is that the route is changing and maturing.

What will always remain though are the people. They have opted to step out of urban living to pursue what they love to do in life – or rather, as Lola put it, to remember one’s greatness and strive for the skies.

Whenever you find yourself on the R103, ask locals about what you should see and do. One recommendation leads to another, and soon you’ll find a wealth of characters and creativity, just as I did.

 

Kwanda, fondly nicknamed ‘Wanda the Fish’, is the smiling barista at The Farmer’s Daughter.

Kwanda, fondly nicknamed ‘Wanda the Fish’, is the smiling barista at The Farmer’s Daughter.

 

Plan your trip

Getting to the Midlands

The Midlands Meander stretches from Hilton to Giant’s Castle. Hop off the N3 and on to the R103 and explore, slowly.

 

Things to do on the Midlands Meander

1. Visit Culamoya Chimes

Visit Culamoya Chimes. Lola and Frik Haupt’s creations have made it into every country in the world, and with them go their message of creating and spreading peace. Closed Mondays.

 

2. Buy cheese

Get cheesy at Gourmet Greek. Its owners, Dimitri and Rosemary Dimitriades and their children, started small with their now legendary double-thick strained Greek yoghurt (full-cream milk, no added starch or preservatives), halloumi and feta, but soon expanded to produce pecorino, Boursin-style cheese, Brie, Cheddar and cumin Gouda). Call ahead to place your order. Closed on Sunday and Monday. 0332344338.

 

3. Gift shopping

Browse for gifts at The Lilac Crane, a unique shop in Nottingham Road stocking locally sourced gifts, décor and art works with an emphasis on handmade, eco-friendly and up-cycled materials. 0827296432.

 

You will find Neil and Dis small shop and creative workspace at Imbiza Designs.

You’ll find Neil and Di’s small shop and creative workspace at Imbiza Designs.

 

4. Home décor shopping

Stop in at Imbiza Designs for lovely cement pots and home décor that began as simple experimentation with clay on a dining-room table. Now Neil and Di Nicholson supply Mr Price and employ 35 staff on rotating shifts. 0824521931.

5. Local produce and crafts shopping

Visit Rosetta Country Market, held every second and fourth Saturday of the month, for local produce and crafts. You’ll find Pete’s sought-after bread, handmade lifestyle products and live entertainment every Saturday at the Karkloof Farmer’s Market.

 

6. Hunt for antiques

Find antiques at Crystal Barn, an Indian- and European-inspired tumbledown palace with textured furnishings and exotic colours. Moo Manor, a refurbished dairy, is filled with antiques while the on-site Best Exotic Marigold Café serves light lunches. 0729488563.

 

Bohemian loft living around warm fireplaces at Hillhouse.

Bohemian loft living around warm fireplaces at Hillhouse.

Also read: 9 of the best things to see and do in the KZN Midlands

 

Where to stay on the Midlands Meander

1. Hillhouse

Hillhouse is popular and justifiably so. Nick and Mandy Crooks have three self-catering houses on their 70-hectare farm. Hillhouse is a huge converted barn (sleeps 12) and Forest house, which Nick built, has a rotating fireplace (also sleeps 12). For smaller groups, the charmingly converted staff quarters of Lakehouse offer views of Midmar Dam (sleeps 4). From R360 per person. 0845305281.

 

Forest House balances privacy with sprawling views.

Forest House balances privacy with sprawling views.

 

2. Midlands Cottages

Midlands Cottages is Jayne and Pete Foulis’ hilltop utopia overlooking Lions River. There are three self-catering units, Savannah, Shetland and SummerSon. Take a walk to the river, explore mountain-bike trails and sample Pete’s craft beer. From R545 per person sharing. 0824457397.

beautiful valley views From cosy and comfortable SummerSon cottage.

Beautiful valley views From cosy and comfortable SummerSon cottage.

 

3. The Brook Cottage

The Brook Cottage is a perfect self-catering family hideaway set above the Mpofana River. Guests can picnic, fish and play by the river’s edge, which is home to otters. The house is well laid out and has heated floors, a large fireplace and a covered veranda. Kids will snap up the loft, with its TV room and bunk bed. From R450 per person (sleeps eight, minimum rates apply). 0731529293.

 

4. Crystal Barn

At Crystal Barn, old cowsheds have been converted into eight en-suite double rooms overlooking a lake. B&B from R595 per person sharing. 0729488563.

 

Colourful oriental decor at the Best Exotic Marigold Cafe, found at the Crystal Barn.

Colourful oriental décor at the Best Exotic Marigold Café, found at the Crystal Barn.

Also read: 10 things to do with your kids in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands these school holidays

 

Midlands Meander restaurants

1. The Farmer’s Daughter

The Farmer’s Daughter grew out of a local restaurant rivalry. Once they tired of stealing each other’s customers, Jen and Tarryn joined forces to start The Farmer’s Daughter with a fresh, quirky menu. Bookings are essential. Closed Mondays. 033 330 2958.

 

2. Blueberry Café

Blueberry Café takes its name from the blueberries grown on site. Railway sleepers line the entrance to a foyer filled with light and plants. A décor shop and gallery showcases works by local artists. The café serves delicious food. 033 266 7132.

3. Steampunk Coffee

Steampunk Coffee is a hub of activity alive with the smell of roasted coffee amid a retro steampunk interior of copper pipes, leather lounges and hanging light bulbs. Owner Michael Goddard’s easy-going demeanour filters through to his customers, who chat with him while he works.

 

Friendly ambience at Steampunk Coffee.

Friendly ambience at Steampunk Coffee.

 

4. Café Bloom

Café Bloom is not unknown but still classifies as a gem, especially for vegetarians. Garden-fresh ingredients make up colourful platters on the mix-and-match harvest table. 0332666118.

The trestle table at Cafe Bloom.

The trestle table at Café Bloom.

 

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Getaway magazine.

Get this issue →

Please note that prices are subject to change at each establishment’s discretion. Please be sure to check with them before travelling.

 

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