The Midlands Meander is a fantastic day drive if you are staying in the Pietermaritzburg area. It's roughly an 80km long drive through rolling hills, picturesque fields and small woods. The landscape is reminiscent of the English countryside or some ideal fantasy county - think the Shire and you'll get the idea.Aside from the fact that it is a stunning drive, the Midlands Meander is one of South Africa's major arts and crafts routes. Consequently, there are all sorts of quirky places to pop into along the way.
The Midlands Meander, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
The Midlands has for many years been a hub of bronze artists, and you can view, and possibly even purchase a beautiful piece by artists such as Sarah Richards. There are also lovely organic clay pieces by Astrid Dahl, or fantastic pottery from the likes of Lindsay Scott to name just a few.
There's not just gallery browsing to do, there are many other exciting things on offer. The picturesque Midmar Dam is the place where many water sports take place, including the world's largest open water swim race - the Midmar Mile. This fantastic event takes place in February.As a teenager I used to race yachts on the dam, and return to a picnic lunch, or tuck into a toasted sandwich from the yacht club. Spend a morning out on the water, racing other sailors or just gently floating where the wind takes you. You can rent a yacht from Midmar Boat Hire. There is also water-skiing and canoeing available.
In my opinion, one of the best ways to explore the landscape is on horseback, and there are several places which offer horse riding - from pony rides to the Polo ponies of Inversanda, for more experienced riders.
One of the most popular things to do in the Midlands is fly-fishing for trout, and you can fish at many dams in the region - locations include Rawdon's Hotel, on the St Ives Estate, or Rivendell Trout Cottage.There are several interesting historical sites along the route. Right next to the highway you will find a little plaque commemorating the spot where former President Nelson Mandela was arrested before his 27 year imprisonment. The Goodman Household near Curry's Post has an exhibition commemorating the first home built glider and man's earliest attempt at flight in South Africa in 1871.
The private all-boys school Michaelhouse, famous as the setting of the Spud books and movies, is well worth a visit, with its immaculately kept grounds and beautiful chapel, which has a beautiful stained glass window designed by Ervin Bossanyi.
There are many fantastic places to stay along the Midlands Meander, lots of comfortable guesthouses and intimate hotels. There are fantastic eateries and artisanal food producers. There is a thriving German community in the region, and you can find world-class German sausages at places like Gunthers. Gunther is a very jovial host and his sausages are divine. They are usually enjoyed along with large draughts of German beer. Gunthers is usually closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays except during public holidays.There is no shortage of small cafes and eateries along the way. For easy no fuss food, try the Granny Mouse Bistro, or try one of the area's newest eateries Tumble Down's Café. The Snooty Fox at the Fern Hill Hotel offers a la carte fine dining. The restaurant has become the favorite of many people over the years.
The Midlands is beautiful region, full of history, arts and crafts, and great hospitality, where you can relax and enjoy the quiet rhythm of country life.By Michael English