The KwaZulu-Natal Midlands have often been likened to the English countryside, for its fresh air, farmlands, rolling hills, rivers and dams.
Here the pace of life is measured; people grow their own vegetables, strangers stop for a chat and take time to ride horses, fish, ramble and swim in rivers – because they can.
The Midlands Meander is a year-round destination with rich autumn reds, blazing fires when snow falls in winter, and green fields running with crystal-clear rivers that attract anglers and swimmers in summer.
Since it was first launched in 1985 by a group of potters and artists, the Midlands Meander has grown to include more than 150 outlets that attract visitors from all over South Africa to buy homegrown produce, crafts, artisanal cheese and wine, leatherwork, woven carpets, hammocks, decor, wind chimes, glasswork, chocolates, reading material, antiques, breweries, woodwork, plants, fine art and so much more.
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But it’s not just about the buying, it’s the whole Midlands Meander experience they’re after, and it usually includes an overnight stay or two to sample local hospitality and cuisine, or even a spa treatment if the stay is longer.
Since the area is so well patronised, there is no lack of accommodation, from backpackers’ to a five-star hotel, premier health spas, self-catering cottages, B&Bs and lodges.
The Midlands lie just one hour from Durban, outside of Pietermaritzburg, if you fly into King Shaka International Airport, or four-and-a-half hours from Johannesburg if you take a flight to OR Tambo International.
The Meander has shown tremendous growth in the accommodation, wedding and conferencing sectors, with a number of top-class wedding destinations now competing to take care of nuptial needs.
The Meander is also the site of one of the world’s toughest sporting challenges, the open-water Midmar Mile swimming event at Midmar Dam every February.
The Meander route covers 80km of beautiful farmland and countryside between Pietermaritzburg and Mooi River, extending northwards towards the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site.
The appeal of the region has been extended to cater for extreme adventurers, with river rafting, quad biking, kayaking, tubing, abseiling, canopy tours and mountain biking appealing to a younger, more active crowd.
Small children have not been forgotten either, with a number of stops along the route featuring petting farms and playgrounds or activities.
The Midlands Meander – a destination tailor-made for the whole family.
By Christine Marot