Proof that KZN's Midlands Meander has magical powers
With so much to see and do, from shopping to quaffing craft beers in gorgeous countryside, even grumpy husbands can't help but smile, writes Gaynor Lawson
The Midlands Meander in KwaZulu-Natal is one of the country’s most popular tourism routes, with artist studios, craft shops, hotels, artisanal food, craft beer and gin producers, and historical pubs scattered across the gloriously green hillsides.
It’s also an ideal destination for outdoor types, with fly-fishing, MTB trails, award-winning golf courses, horse riding and clay-pigeon shooting on offer.
Sometimes it just takes a new perspective to entice those who usually resist meandering to come along for the ride... Mr Grumpy is grumpy no more. He sips an icy draught beer, pops a piece of Trockenwurst sausage topped with a slice of jalapeno into his mouth and sighs contentedly. As we sit in companionable silence, basking in the sun at the Bierfassl in Nottingham Road, wafts of roasted eisbein drift from nearby tables. Life is good.
It takes negotiating skills honed during many years of marriage to get my husband to join me on the meander. Say “exploratory road trip” to him and his eyes glaze over, like the optical membrane flicking across a gecko’s eyeball. But suggest a trip out to some of his favourite haunts, and he’s packing a cooler box with chilled water (for me as designated driver; he tops up with beer along the way).
He wasn’t always like this. When we first moved to the Midlands he was game for anything and we’d often head off with the indispensable Midlands Meander guide in our hands. But now he digs in his heels. So I save the trips to my favourite “girlie” shops, five-star spas and art studios for another day and say, “It’s so hot, how about we hit the ale trail?” and instantly get a positive response.
Our first stop is the Austrian-themed pub-restaurant the Bierfassl (or The ’Fassl as it’s known) in Nottingham Road, where we nibble on their signature German sausages.
About 1km down the road is Rawdons Hotel, home to Nottingham Road Brewing Company, which started producing craft beers years before the trend became, well, trendy. We walk up the wooden ramp of the deck to where huge copper vats twinkle in the daylight, and stock up on the deliciously named Pickled Pig Porter, Tiddly Toad Lager and Whistling Weasel Pale Ale.
These are the old stalwarts, although brewery manager John Morrow has added several new animals to the beer menagerie. When I quiz him about what inspires the beer styles and their whimsical, catchy names, he smiles. “We come up with new beers based on what we’d like to drink and what requests we get from our customers.” The names are based on a chosen animal, alliteration (Whistling Weasel, Tiddly Toad etc), and whatever suits the style that they are brewing at the time.
A selection of flavoured gins is also on offer — a tasting paddle with four sample glasses is a great way to work out what tickles your fancy. The pub grub, served outside under vast oak trees, is also worth exploring.
GOATS SO EASY TO FALL IN LOVE
Back on the R103 arterial road, we pass the gates of Spud-school Michaelhouse and, after a few more winding curves, turn towards the hilltop eyrie of Swissland Cheese, where the goats are as cute as ever, especially the bleating, rock-hopping kids. This is a great place for human kids to blow off steam, and as owner Fran Isaac arranges live music every month or so, the goats must be used to loud noise by now. Their cheese is so good it’s flown to the Cape. We buy some for sundowner snacks — another reason to pack a cooler box.
Now we’re in the mood for lunch so we head back through Nottingham Road towards the Midlands Kitchen at Mount West, which has 15 different menus or “kitchens”. When we arrive, the car park seems busy, although once inside it’s so vast that there’s plenty of space, no queues and lots of tables to choose from. I order a fresh juice from Juice Brew and sip it while he debates on which monster burger to sample … or should he try an artisanal pie, “100% pure and made by hand”... or a shawarma, or pizza, or ... the choice is seemingly endless.
Over the road is another of my husband’s favourites, Linga Lapa, which has panoramic views of the Drakensberg and a reputation for outstanding biltong. The proprietor, Ian Mackay, is a farmer, butcher and restaurateur, so you know the meat is going to be good. It has the added attraction of beer on tap and a lapa for hot days (and an inside fireplace for cold ones).
Feeling stuffed from lunch we head to the deli and get biltong for him and doggie treats for the be-furred ones at home. Hubby has agreed to a post-lunch coffee fix, so we drive along the Curry’s Post road, enjoying expansive views across green slopes towards the Karkloof Valley. It’s idyllic.
BIG DOGS, GREAT COFFEE
I turn in at the Coach House, once a stop-over on the long wagon trip to the interior, now home to Terbodore Coffee Roasters. A glossy blue Shelby Mustang in the car park piques his interest, as do the huge but genteel Great Danes, whose image is the Terbodore logo.
We walk along the path through a groomed garden, sniffing our way towards the scent of roasted coffee beans coming from the coffee shop/restaurant. A steaming cup of coffee improves his mood further, and I’m even able to squeeze in some quick shopping — a sweatshirt emblazoned with the Terbodore Great Dane, which proves handy when the mist rolls in later.
The secret to successful meandering with reluctant participants is to keep trips short and alluring. Just minutes from home is The Wine Cellar in Rosetta, where I make our final stop of the day.
This treasure trove houses liquid jewels in all colours, from wacky-named liqueurs to some seriously spectacular wines. Living a bit slower is what life — and the Midlands Meander — is all about.