Historic narratives in Howick with Rob Caskie

Posted on 26 May 2015

For Rob Caskie, life happens in the narratives we tell one another. This award winning storyteller, motivational speaker and historian tells us about his favourite hotel in the countryside of Howick.

june 2015, rob caskie

Rob Caskie is a spirited man with a vast knowledge of our history. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.


1. Friends are visiting from the UK. Where should they stay?

Granny Mouse Country House & Spa. It was started years ago by great friends of mine, Richard and Mouse Poynton. It epitomises so much of what I hold dear about the Midlands: these rolling gentle hills, the misty damp climate and the proliferation of trees. I grew upon a dairy farm so I like being close to a dairy-farming environment, trout dams and lots of water, abundant rainfall. Most importantly, Granny Mouse was one of the founder members of the Midlands Meander. It is the quintessential Midlands establishment: the fires, the glühwein, the thatched roofs, the warmth, and all these interconnected rooms… Of course, the welcome, the quality of the staff and the way that the guests are made to feel. It’s very easy to get to and find, and it’s in the centre of a huge range of things to see and do in this area.


2. How would you describe Howick?

Howick is a sleepy hollow, a place that time has forgotten. We have the famous waterfall called Howick Falls or KwaNogqaza; it’s 111 metres high. It has an amazing history, a lot of tragedies have unfolded there – many people have tried to take their own lives; successfully, others unsuccessfully. Howick has always been special to me because I went to high school here. It’s a small town and has burgeoned in size, so much so that the town has battled to keep up with the population because it’s become the retirement centre of South Africa. We have a few robots and stop streets. It really is a glorious little place, and it’s safe to walk day and night.


Good for mountain biking?

It’s very close to some of the finest mountain-biking spots in South Africa and despite the way I look, do a lot of mountain biking. I ride in the Karkloof forests, Curry’s Post forests and the Hilton and the Cedara forests. We really have become a mecca for mountain bikers… all over South Africa, they come to ride in our area. The beauty about riding in a forest is that you can ride all day and ride in the shade… and the wildlife you see on a mountain bike, because it’s silent, is incredible.


Where do you love to travel?

I do a huge amount of travelling and lecturing in Antarctica. I also deliver presentations on expedition trips in the Arctic. Antarctica is a special favourite of mine. I think if you’re from the southern hemisphere, you always relate to the Antarctic. There is something really wild and pristine, unchanged and undamaged about it, and nothing can prepare you for getting down there to the ice, the silence and the penguins for the first time.


If you could choose one place to go back to, where would it be?

The Himalayas were the greatest travel experience of my life, without question. Largely because of the devout Buddhist people and the way they live their lives and their religion seven days a week, versus many pseudo-religious Westerners, who put on their religion for two hours every Sunday morning – which I find incredibly hypocritical and blasphemous. I’ve never felt closer to my creator than I did walking in the high Himalayas. You get altitude sickness – I suffered terribly with nosebleeds at high elevation – you don’t know how your body is going to react at that altitude until you get there. It’s not a holiday destination, but more of an adventure and experience destination because you go out and walk. They’ve got rhododendron bushes that are not shrubs like ours – they grow into 30-metre trees… And to be in the highest mountain range in the world is staggering; the views and the sights and experience there really beg belief.


What’s your best travel advice?

When you visit a new country, you should really take the time to walk. It’s a great way to get the vibe of the place, to meet people, not to feel threatened, to not feel threatening, and to get the feel of the locals and the country.


Which of the world’s cultures have you enjoyed the most?

I’ve really enjoy lots of cultures around the world. The Buddhist Sherpa people in the Himalayas, I loved and the Omo people in the Omo Valley in Ethiopia. They have been separated from western and outside influences for years and years, and have clung very strongly to their pastoral beliefs, their cultural beliefs and their cultural practices. People who live off the land and live off their cattle; people who know one another’s family groups and family lineages over hundreds of years, and people who have remained unchanged through the passage of the last hundred years – it’s just fantastic. Those folks are kings in their own environment and you need to abide by their laws, their expectations, and their behaviour, otherwise you’re not welcome. One normally goes with an experienced guide and interpreter and you have a local guide or driver. They will inform you of many of the practices and behaviours that you’re expected to abide by before you arrive and meet the locals.


june 2015, rob caskie

Rob Caskie orating in the wine cellar. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.


Rob’s recommendations for what to do in Howick

For history

People should really make an effort to see our Howick uMngeni Museum, which is in walking distance from Howick Falls. Very importantly, people must come out and see the Mandela Capture Site where a huge amount of work is being done to upgrade the area. The sculpture created there is magnificent when viewed from the spot where all those metal structures come into line and you see a very clear, unmistakable outline of Mandela’s face. And the fact that this is where he was captured in 1962.
Contact: howickmuseum.co.za, thecapturesite.co.za


For sightseeing

The Howick Falls, a five-minute drive from the CBD and Karkloof Falls, about 12 kilometres along the Karkloof Road, are two magnificent geographical features, surrounded by infrastructure. Both waterfalls are gems in the crown of Howick. On the lower side by uMngeni is the uMngeni Valley Nature Reserve, which is surrounded by verdant forests at the Karkloof side.
Contact: wessa.org.za


For eating

I think one of the best places to get a feeling of good old Howick is a little pub/restaurant on Main Street called 68 on Main, which offers very simple home-cooked meals, cheap and very welcoming.
Contact: Tel 033 330 6733


For adventure

The Karkloof Canopy Tours, where you go ziplining through the trees, is just magnificent. The Karkloof east and west reserves are exquisite natural forests, and where well-known conservationist Ian Player chose to live out his final days at a beautiful farm called Phuza Moya.
Contact: karkloofcanopytour.co.za


For a taste of the Midlands

The Midlands Meander is basically a great collection of arts and craft-type places.
Contact: midlandsmeander.co.za


For swimming

Midmar Dam is a watersport mecca, whether you are a waterskier, windsurfer, sailor or kite boarder – it’s a beautiful dam.
Contact: ekznw.co.za

This article first appeared in the June 2015 issue of Getaway magazine. Click the cover below to see more from this issue.

Getaway Cover June 2015

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Note: all prices were correct at time of publication, but are subject to change at the establishments’ discretion. Please confirm with them before travelling.

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