KwaZulu-Natal is home to the Midlands Meander – a picturesque region that extends from Mooi River in the north and encompasses Hilton in the south, Karkloof in the east and the Drakensberg mountain range in the west.
When exploring KwaZulu-Natal, this is a must-visit area as it plays host to a range of tourist activities and attractions against the backdrop of unparalleled natural beauty. Whether you’re in search of scrumptious food, wildlife, adventure sports or historic landmarks – the Midlands Meander has it all.
Here are five experiences visitors can look forward to along the Midlands Meander and in the vicinity:
The Drakensberg straddles the kingdom of Zululand and Lesotho. It is the highest and longest mountain range in South Africa, stretching for 1 125km with scenic views and distinctive landscapes that attract travellers the world over.
The Drakensberg range (“Dragon Mountains” in Afrikaans) is referred to as uKhahlamba in Zulu, meaning “barrier of spears”.The mountains are divided into three sections: the Northern Drakensberg, Central Drakensberg and Southern Drakensberg.
Whether you’re looking to indulge your senses in some countryside scenery, fauna and flora, culture and history or adrenaline-pumping adventures, there’s something for every visitor in this part of the country.
Visit the area’s proclaimed UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) World Heritage Site, the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, for an abundance of wildlife, San rock art sites and outdoor activities (such as mountain biking, horse riding, boating and birdwatching).
For snow lovers, the Drakensberg of Lesotho and KwaZulu-Natal is snow capped in winter; the mountain is also the main watershed of South Africa and the source of the Orange River, the country’s longest river at 2 200km.
Located in Howick, outside Pietermaritzburg, the Howick Falls – also referred to as KwaNogqaza (Place of the Tall One) by the Zulu people – are a popular tourist attraction along the Midlands Meander. These falls on the Umgeni River are 95m high and are set in a picturesque landscape, with lush greenery all around.
The Howick Falls are a great place for nature lovers who adore the outdoors, as the area has great hiking and running trails. Local legend has it that these falls are home to a mythical snake-like monster, known as Inkanyamba.
Visitors can experience the falls while taking a walk on the viewing platform along Morling Road. Here, there are also craft stalls, a curio shop for souvenirs as well as a coffee shop for refreshments.
Other activities to include in your itinerary when visiting the Howick Falls is the nearby Midmar Dam Nature Reserve (for wildlife viewing, windsurfing, canoeing and swimming) and the Karkloof Farmers’ Market.
Zulu Mpophomeni Tourism Experience
KwaZulu-Natal is a province infused with various cultures and traditions, and for visitors seeking an authentic taste of South African township life, a visit to the Zulu Mpophomeni Tourism Experience is a must!
Guided tours on this part of the Midlands Meander showcase the area’s rich history, the residents’ fascinating traditional culture, the high-spirited township life as well as the warm hospitality of the Mpophomeni community.
Rural and township tours in the area include a visit to the local tavern for a game of pool and a drink. Go sightseeing through the spectacular hills overlooking the Midmar Dam. Witness or participate in Zulu dancing, and enjoy a traditional dining experience with local cuisine and sorghum beer inside a rondavel or hut.
For more information, click here or phone +27 (0)82 228 2044.
Nelson Mandela Capture Site
The Nelson Mandela Capture Site near Howick commemorates the arrest of Nelson Mandela on 5 August 1962, where he was captured by police after a meeting with then-African National Congress leader Albert Luthuli.
Having evaded the police for 17 months, Mandela was arrested while disguised as a chauffeur 5km outside Howick. After standing trial, he went on to spend the next 27 years as a political prisoner between the Robben Island, Pollsmoor and Victor Verster prisons.
In August 2012, this capture site was unveiled, featuring a sculpture of Mandela’s face made out of 50 columns that represented the commemoration of 50 years since his capture in 1962. There is also an exhibition about Madiba’s life, his long walk to freedom and South Africa’s political history.
Pop in at the Truth Store & Café on site for a cup of coffee and some snacks. Also visit the Impumelelo Bead Artists for stunning jewellery and beadwork. The women running the centre have created artworks for prestigeious institutions including the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, the Johannesburg Art Gallery and the Apartheid Museum (both in South Africa), as well as the Malmo Museum in Sweden.
For more info, click here or phone +27 (0)72 351 0967.
Wine tasting with a scenic twist
The Western Cape and Northern Cape are not the only two provinces in South Africa one can travel to when seeking an out-of-this-world vineyard and wine tasting experience.
The undulating plains of the Midlands Meander are home to wine farms that offer unique visitor experiences.
One of these is the Abingdon Wine Estate, which was the first farm to produce certified estate wines from the province’s grapes. Today, the farm produces a range of wines including sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, viognier, syrah, cabernet sauvignon and nebbiolo.
For an intimate tasting experience, book a spot at the Abingdon tasting room and wine bar. Enjoy scenic views overlooking the vineyard while basking in the Midlands summer sun. During cold winter days, you can cosy up next to one of the fireplaces on the estate.
Wine is not the only item on the menu here: you can also sample a range of fresh produce stacked out on the farm’s popular harvest boards, including cheese and vegetarian options. Also try their tapas-style dishes.
Wine tastings are run between 10.30am and 4pm. For more info, click here or call Jane at +27 (0)83 463 8503.