10 Top Things To Do In The Natal Midlands
And indeed, if you add to this some of the greatest birding spots, superb bass fishing, trout farms, cheeseries, breweries, art galleries, coffee shops, guest houses and farms, you will indeed have a good idea of what awaits you should you decide to travel there.
The Midlands, during the winter months, is a wonderful escape from the rainy, wet conditions of the Western Cape. And whilst you might not quite find yourself in t-shirts (the Midlands has its fair share of snow fall and mistbelts), you will experience a fairer share of sunny skies.
There is also much to do in this not-quite-as-much frequented part of the world. Whilst the Midlands encompasses just about everything between Hilton and Mooi River, we’ve stretched this to also include Hillcrest and Kloof for one or two great stops on your way out of Durban.
Dedicated to the conservation of indigenous raptors with ongoing research, breeding and rehabilitation projects, one can head out on the Lion Park Road for an incredible encounter with these birds between Tuesdays and Sundays. Visit eagle alley, hoot hollow, honeycomb habitats and the vulture hide. Take along a hat, sunscreen and a jacket as all the flying demonstrations are out in the open. Whilst most birds are returned to the wild after spending time at the sanctuary, there are also captive-bred birds or non-releasable rehabilitation birds. The project is privately run and all entrance fees go towards running costs. There is a café, an art gallery specialising in African artwork, and a curio shop.
Where: Just off the N3 highway on the Lion Park Road, Midlands
Famous for its blueberry cheesecake (and coffee), Blueberry Hill might have started out as a small coffee shop in Nottingham Road, but today it is a complex of artisans, artists and coffee afficiandos. Blueberry Hill, which you will find on Netherwood Farm, opposite the Fordoun Hotel on the apex of a hill with gorgeous views across the Midlands, is essentially two buildings – one acts as a gallery space for various artists and craftsmen with a restaurant, the other is a shop that contains some wonderful goodies worth browsing that includes clothing, décor, jewellery, belts, porcelain homeware, and pure linen aprons and serviettes. It’s a beautiful space in which to be. On the way up the hill look out for the Nguni cattle…
Where: Nottingham Road, Natal Midlands
If you’re even vaguely into butterflies, or can appreciate their beauty (and after trying to track down the elusive Karkloof blue you will have more of an idea, no doubt) then a visit to Butterflies for Africa is virtually obligatory. It’s also a great stop for kids. The main reason for a visit is butterfly house – a walk-through tropical fantasyland where butterflies are free to fly as they would in the wild. You might need to lose a couple of layers for the experience, but the cascade of colour, steam and the joy of seeing butterflies flutter by is well worth any discomfort (in fact you may welcome the heat during winter). There is also a monkey house and a green iguana and stick insect enclosure. A magic day’s adventure.
Where: 37 Willowton Road, Pietermaritzburg
The Dargle Valley stretches out beneath iNhlosane – a stretch of wetlands, grassland and mist-belt forests – where a series of local artists and crafters live and where a rather proud little community support their neighbours and friends living as locally as possible. Their valley is home to a number of small producers of vegetables, trout, chicken, honey, cheese, herbs, pork, milk and eggs whilst most homesteads have food gardens from which they share their surplus with neighbours. Hence the slow Dargle Sunday where you can join the locals at their market at il Postino between 9 and 11.30, which doesn’t give you much time but if you make a point of being there early, you can enjoy a good cup of homebrewed coffee and your pick of local food.
Where: Main Road near Il Postino Restaurant, in the foothills of the Drakensberg
Whilst this tour is on the Midlands Meander, you might overlook it in the throes of following your nose to all the artists’ havens and food markets. And this particular tour is worth a mention, not least for the incredible nature reserve in which it takes place – the Karkloof Forest Reserve. If you can contain your excitement whilst swinging from platform to platform in amongst the canopy of indigenous trees, you’ll hear the cries of Samango monkeys and catch sight of emerald cuckoos and rare orchids. Your harness will attach to steel cables, whilst you don leather gloves and hard hats for the ride, and you can decide, more-or-less, how fast you go. Children can take the tour, but it will depend on their age and fear of heights. They can ride tandem with you.
Where: Karkloof Nature Reserve, 10 km from Howick
The meander is so jam-packed with restaurants, art galleries, guest farms, wine makers, cheese makers, potters, shoe makers, picnic spots, coffee spots, candle makers, projects, conservancies, art and farm stalls that you can spend days negotiating this wonderful trail alone. The meander follows the N3 from Hilton, tracing local arteries off the main road. It swells east as far as the Karkloof Nature Reserve, and west as far as the Craigie Burn Nature Reserve. There is a great map of the meander available on their website – www.midlandsmeander.co.za (although you’ll need either Mozilla Firefox or IE 9 to view it) or you can pick up a map at many of the listed attractions, most of which you will also find on their website.
A microbrewery set in the gorgeous grounds of the Rawdon’s Hotel, Nottingham Road Brewery independently produces naturally brewed ales and lagers – affectionately known as Notties -, using spring water from an artesian well on the grounds, hops, and malted barley. You can sample their hand crafted Pickled Pig Porter, Tiddly Toad Lager, Pye-eyed Possum Pilsner and the Whistling Weasel Pale Ale at the Rawdons pub or other outlets around the Midlands.
Where: Nottingham Road
This is one of the examples of the finds on the Midlands Meander, and one of a couple of cheeseries you can visit. The boutique farmhouse, family-run cheesery produces predominantly goats milk cheeses in a Swiss-chalet style tasting room where you not only get to sample the goods, but can also witness daily goat milking, so time your visit for between 3 – 5pm if you can.
Where: R103, Nottingham Road
Open every Saturday morning between 7 and 11, this is a fresh produce market held in a shed, so it’s on come rain or come shine. You’ll find anything from vegetables to fresh flowers here, as well as baked goods, preserves, pickles and things like yoghurt, as much as possible that is organic, the odd indigenous plant, and kids entertainment in a sand pit, jungle gym and pony rides.
Where: 2.6 km from Howick off the Karkloof Road
Run by twin sisters Clare and Fiona Ras, Kloof boasts this eatery / food store that might have been open since 1998 but still delivers the goods, so to speak, if not more so than when they originally introduced pesto and biscotti to an audience who didn’t know quite what to do with them. The sisters describe their food as dictated by both the seasons and their moods. One thing you can be sure of is finding food made with creative zest. Most of their vegetables come from local suppliers and they describe their cooking style as ‘unpretentious and wholesome’, even if they do like to play a little with flavours and surprise ingredients. And before you think it’s all health food, their cakes and pastry pies are second to none.
Where: Fields shopping centre, Kloof
Useful KwaZulu Natal Midlands Links
- Natal Midlands Attractions
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