by Lee Folkard

The Midlands Meander offers a plethora of activities and is a foodie’s paradise. Not only is this visually beautiful part of KZN where the air is crisp and the people are so friendly, it’s a place where life slows down for a bit. The perfect place to break away and clear your mind. Whether you choose to follow designated meander routes or stray off the path, beauty will be at your side throughout this trip.

I left Durban on a Wednesday afternoon and headed to the Midlands, an inland area of Kwa-Zulu Natal that lies outside of Pietermaritzburg but before the Drakensberg. There are several towns which make up the Midlands, I headed off to Hilton and based myself at Protea Hotel Hilton.

From Umhlanga I made my way along the N3 inland for about 100km. The journey from Durban to Hilton would take you approximately an hour. From Johannesburg to Hilton, you’re looking at four and a half hours driving.

The Midlands Meander is divided into five routes. There is a mobile app available so search Midlands Meander on your app store. Planning your day using the app to map out where places are can help you see if there may be places nearby that you may be interested in checking out. I found that most places you drove to along the routes were all about 30 minutes apart from each other. I think the drive is part of the beauty of this trip. Sometimes straying off the chosen route leads you to the most magical sights.

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Café Bloom

Situated along Nottingham Road, the café is in a warehouse type of structure. A very rustic setting with fireplaces both inside and outside. Expect a good selection of breakfasts, pastries and delectable-looking cakes! I got a cappuccino and soaked up the atmosphere of the place.

Piggly Wiggly

Situated in the heart of the Midlands, the Piggly Wiggly offers a variety of local shops as well as a coffee shop and pizzeria. I got breakfast at the coffee shop and was not disappointed.

The place gets pretty busy, so I would call to make a booking in advance. The whole venue is very child friendly. There are many activities including a jungle gym area.

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One of the places I was most looking forward to trying out was Bierfassl and it did not disappoint. An Austrian/German themed restaurant and pub, they’re open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Famous for their crispy eisbein and wide array of beers from around the world, I made more than one stop to Bierfassl during my 3 night stay.

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Abingdon Estate

Abingdon is a single vineyard boutique wine estate. Family owned and run. I got to meet the whole team and hear their story first-hand. Before finding this estate, I had no idea KZN even had a wine estate that produced wine. I got to partake in an awesome wine tasting session.

The Abingdon Restaurant is small and intimate, catering to a maximum of 50 guests. Abingdon is operational weekends and public holidays. Booking is essential. They are KZN’s only wine producing estate (more about that later). This is the perfect place for a romantic lunch.

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Blueberry Café

I’ve been to this place on previous visits to the midlands. Good coffee with a very beautiful view. The café is pretty high up atop a hill. I had a cappuccino and ice cream. It’s a good spot for brunch with a view.

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Steampunk Café

What an amazing find. On my last day as I was getting ready to head home I was told about this spot, which was around the corner from Abingdon Wine Estate.

Situated between a railway line and a dusty trading store car park – unassumingly magnificent – this is my find of the trip.

The cappuccino was beautifully made and the “garage coffee” concept is a winner! They also had empanadas and pastries to accompany their coffee. It was so good I had to get a cup for the road as well. Highly, highly recommend a visit or two.

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Epic Carting

Go cart racing fun for the family. They have an “arrive and drive” option and are open every day from 8am to 6pm.

Piggly Wiggly

You could easily spend half a day at Piggly Wiggly. There is an outdoor putt putt course as well as a train ride that operates when the weather is good. Tons of fun for the kids. The Pizza Place is situated in a scenic outdoor area and Meander Fine wines are nearby to offer you the perfect wine to pair with your pizza. There’s even a kids play area with a jungle gym!

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My number one “Instagram Moment” is a selfie with Mandela at the Capture Site.

The Nelson Mandela Capture Site – A sculpture made up of 50 steel columns which from a specific spot make up the image of the iconic, Nelson Mandela. There is a temporary exhibition which you make your way through, followed by a “long walk” down to the sculpture site. There is no ticket fee at the moment but you are welcome to leave a donation.

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Swissland Cheese

Swissland Cheese also allows for some picturesque imagery. It’s a drive off road up a hill to the venue. Stopping along the way up allows for some scenic shots and the view from the top is pretty epic. After getting your cheeses and a glass if wine, you can relax in the gardens. They provide blankets if you wish to have a picnic on the grass.

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If you’re looking to book a long weekend stay this March, you’re in for R400 per person sharing per night at Protea Hotel Hilton.

I set aside R550 a day for meals for myself.

Recreational activities amounted to R300 per person over the course of the trip.

I did a lot of driving in the Midlands. Everything is quite a distance from each other, so I would keep this in mind when allowing for your fuel expenditure.

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