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Midlands Meander

The Midlands Meander is the most popular arts and craft route i

So what is the Midlands Meander? The Midlands Meander is what weavers, potters, woodcrafters, leather workers, artists, metalworkers, box makers, herb growers, cheese makers, beer brewers and pianos have in common. You will find them all, and a great deal more on the Midlands Meander map - South Africas first, largest and most popular art and crafts route.

The Midlands Meander extends over a distance of some 80 kms between Pietermaritzburg and Mooi River and was started in 1983 by several of the craftspeople who have long resided in the area (often as exceedingly contented refugees from city life) as a way to market their products, keep down their prices and allow visitors a glance at their craft.

From a very small beginning, the Midlands Meander has grown to well over a hundred stops on four routes. The symbol of the Midlands Meander is the Butler butterfly, found only in the Karkloof region.

Accommodation on the Midlands Meander

For decades of captivating KwaZulu Natal Midlands has been a haven for creative folk. In 1985 local artists, potters and weavers joined forces to create an arts and craft route. Six studios opened their doors to the public and the Midlands Meander was born. The aim was to encourage the public to take to the country, and to give visitors a chance to see crafts people at work. By selling directly to visitors, the studios were able to keep prices down, and with the active support of hospitality establishments in the area, a unique route was formed. Other artists and crafts people were encouraged to move to the area and today the Midlands Meander is a stimulating arts and crafts route with something for everyone. Originally a Zulu Royal Hunting Preserve containing an abundant variety of wildlife, the area boasts a rich cultural heritage, from rugged Voortrekker influences to the British Colonial atmosphere evident in the many quaint hamlets which blanket the countryside. Of more recent historical importance is the little known village of Tweedie.

The logo of the Midlands Meander is a rare and particularly beautiful butterfly. The Butler (Orachrysops ariadne) is endemic to Kwazulu Natal and is found only in the Karkloof area. The choice of this butterfly as the emblem of the Meander initiative symbolizes the close relationship between nature and man; and emphasises the continuing importance of this inter relationship.

Situated between Hilton, a quaint village just north of Pietermaritzburg, and Hidcote, a farming hamlet outside Mooi River, the Midlands Meander extends from Rietvlei and Karkloof in the east, to the lush Dargle Valley and Fort Nottingham in the west. An advantage to visitors in the area is the good road infrastructure, which takes travelers through scenic beauty while linking Meander outlets and picturesque villages. The Midlands is predominantly summer grassland with indigenous semi evergreen yellowwood forests in protected habitats. Commercial timber growing has dramatically increased pine and gum forest plantations. The region produces nearly 50 % of the farming income for the province, and boasts abundant grazing and water to support dairy farms, beef studs and a stable of top race horse breeding and training establishments. Burning of the grasslands, has been vital to the survival of plant and animal life, for millions of years, and today controlled burning is a feature in the Midlands during winter. Few people lived in this area prior to the arrival of the Boer settlers in the early 1800’s as it had been a Zulu Royal Hunting Preserve. Game was abundant with elephant a common sight. Indigenous timber was plentiful and many saw pits are still evident in the natural forests. A number of Trekker families settled in the Midlands, evidence of which is found in farm names such as Geelhout, Boschhoek and Boschfontein. It was on the latter farm in 1889 that a government grant of 500 pounds was obtained for the purchase of 30 000 trout ova from Dumgries in Scotland. Many of these ova hatched successfully and in May 1890 the first 1500 trout were release into the Bushmans, Mngeni and Mooi Rivers. Each year more rivers were stocked and the locals began to experience the quiet joys of trout fishing. In those early days the main thoroughfare to the Reef from Durban and Pietermaritzburg passed through Howick and Curry’s Post, and it was along this busy route that many of southern Africa’s explorers, adventurers and mining magnets journeyed to the interior. With the railway line expanding into the hinterland, a new main road was constructed in the 1920’s (now the R103). The inns, like the roads, were mostly poor and at one stage the government was forced to turn host and erect roadside mud huts. Happily, things have improved over the years. Today the Midlands can boast an excellent road infrastructure, some of South Africa’s leading hotels and country houses, and a host of delightful bed and breakfast establishments. Whether you’re a local discovering the doorstep experiences of the region for the first time, an overseas traveler exploring this enchanting countryside, or a holidaymaker en route to the coast, the Midlands Meander has something for everyone – all year round.

The enchanting Kwazulu Natal Midlands has always been home to artists and crafts people. Today there are more than a hundred ports of call on the Midlands Meander – ranging from art studios, country hotels, herb and flower farms to cheese makers, famous schools, tea gardens, craft, pottery and weaving workshops. Here you can buy anything from leather bible covers, picnic hampers, timber furniture, traditional children’s toys and fresh cheese to hand crafted ceramics, restored pianos and silk duvets. This unique area also boasts health hydros, superb trout waters, challenging country golf courses and leisurely scenic walks. It is a bird watcher’s paradise, and for the more active there is hiking, horse trails, mountain biking and water sports.

Only an hour’s easy drive from Durban, and less than four and a half hours from Johannesburg en route to the coast, the Midlands Meander is a celebration of country hospitality and creativity.

The art of celebrating country hospitality has been taken to great heights on the Midlands Meander. There is nothing else like it in the whole of South Africa. When it comes to food, the Meander offers whatever you fancy – from scrumptious cream teas and traditional country pub lunches to the creative cuisine of gourmet dinners. There are wine barns and cheese farms, home bakeries and micro breweries – where you have the chance to quaff quaintly titled, handcrafted beers, such as a Tiddly Toad, Whistling Weasle, Pickled Pig or Pie eyed Possum. On the Midlands Meander you are invited to set your own pace. Visit for just a day and you are free to indulge in country hospitality at it’s very best. Stay for a while and you can choose from accommodation ranging from exclusive hotels, truly traditional country homes and hospitable guest farms to cosy bed and breakfast establishments. And whatever you rest your hat, you will find a wholesomeness and generosity from the people who greet and serve and make you feel welcome.

The Midlands Meander is particularly popular for weddings – and with good reason. The area offers couples the choice of a wide range of country settings for that special celebration. There are several picturesque and historical churches, many dating back to the 1880’s, which provide a formal but relaxed setting for the exchange of the wedding vows. In the immediate vicinity are a number of country guest houses and traditional hotels perfect for a memorable reception, and there are a host of getaway opportunities on the doorstep for the honeymoon couple. A number of these churches have been declared national monuments, including some very well preserved Settler Churches, such as St John Gowrie, built in 1885 at Nottingham Road. St Andrews, the Dargle, built 1882. St Pauls, Curry’s Post, established by Sgt M Curry in 1876. St Matthews, Lidgetton, St Lukes, Howick first opened in 1869. For the steel track and steam enthusiast, there is the Natal Railway Museum. Situated in Hilton, this historical attraction is open from Tuesday to Thursday, as well as on most weekends. Those interested in flying should visit the Goodman Household monument near Curry’s Post. Erected to commemorate the flight in a home built glider by Goodman Household in 1871, it records how he crashed, wrecking his glider and breaking a leg – thus ending what was almost certainly man’s earliest attempt to fly in southern Africa.

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