South Africa’s Natal Midlands region is bursting with unique places to visit and is well worth devoting a couple of days of exploration to
Away from some of the more well-known cities and attractions, South Africa’s Natal Midlands region is bursting with unique places to visit and is well worth devoting a couple of days of exploration to.
Situated between the Sunshine Coast on the Eastern Cape and the Drakensberg Mountains, this inland area contains some of the most history-rich battle sites in South Africa as well as amazing landscapes featuring many waterfalls, lakes and dams. It is also home to a number of Zulu cultural villages and game reserves as well as being the focus of the Midlands Meander craft, accommodation and restaurant-based tourism route.
Using one of the area’s best-loved hotels as your base, you can explore as much or as little of this fascinating region as you wish.
Beginning at the boutique retreat of Fordoun Hotel and Spa, on Nottingham Road, which also boasts one of South Africa’s most innovative spas, take your pick from a range of en suite rustic bedrooms converted from an old cattle homestead.
Set within the grounds of a dairy farm, Fordoun is the ideal base for a stay in the Midlands and provides a very romantic bolt-hole or a great option for the more mature traveller. A family-run business, there’s a remarkable warmth and intimacy to all aspects of its operation, with the owners often personally checking that all is to your satisfaction.
Price-wise, single occupancy room-only rates begin at 1,000 rand off-peak, rising to 1,300 rand at peak season, although a variety of money-saving packages are available that include spa treatments and meals.
Speaking of which, it’s very easy to want everything on the menu at Fordoun’s main eaterie, The Skye restaurant, which serves organic but indulgent cuisine. The diverse menu changes from season to season. Last time I visited, highlights included a whole roasted trout, wild dagga-smoked Kudu (antelope) and, for dessert, a local wild spearmint panna cotta with a blackberry compote and lavender gelée – a bit of a bizarre combo, but an amazing one!
Fordoun’s spa combines the best South Africa has to offer with an authentic, healing environment that tracks back to the very essence of what a spa should be. An open and bright space, it is filled with work from local South African artists and there is a very strong philosophy promoting positive energy, helped by Fordoun’s two resident healers – Dr Elliot Ndlovu, a traditional African spiritual healer (sangoma) and Brenda McFee, a bio-energy expert.
At Fordoun, Dr Elliot Ndlovu also has a traditional Zulu consulting hut where you can make an individual appointment to have a spiritual reading, as well as his large garden behind the hut containing traditional healing plants and herbs.
Also, be sure to enjoy a deeply relaxing – and free – float in the special tranquility pool inside the main spa. Created from an old grain silo, the pool uses six tones of Epsom salts a week and boasts a star-light mimicking ceiling that seems to stretch into infinity.
Using Fordoun as your base, there’s a wealth of options for taking in all that the region has to offer – while the staff are happy to help organise excursions to nearby places of interest. Here is a small selection of my favourites.
Around a 10-minute drive away from Fordoun, Blueberry Hill is well worth a visit. Overlooking some of the most scenic routes in the Zulu kingdom, Blueberry Hill provides workshop and selling space for a collection of talented South African artists and craftspeople.
With a relaxed and friendly environment, take your time to browse – there’s a lot to see, from bronze sculptures, intricate pieces from goldsmiths, leather works and paintings to oven mitts. This is the place to pick up a truly unique South African keepsake.
Once you’ve viewed and shopped, be sure to have a cuppa at the coffee shop in the centre, which also serves amazing blueberry muffins, naturally!
From the comfy coffee shop chairs, you can take in the vistas spanning from Nottingham Road through to the Midmar Dam – on a clear day, you can even see the outline of the Drakensberg mountain range.
Also located in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands region, Ardmore’s internationally-renowned and award winning ceramics are exhibited all over the world.
Established by Fèe Halsted-Berning at the Ardmore farm, creating the distinctive ceramics began almost by accident when Fèe (who began by making tiles) used to cover up any cracks by sticking a rabbit or bird on top of the crack to hide it!
Following a fortuitous meeting with Bonnie Ntshalintshali, Fèe and Bonnie jointly won the Standard Bank Young Artist Award in 1990, and an entire ceramic art business blossomed.
It’s truly an inspiring place to visit - all of the people employed by Ardmore are given training, direction, materials, equipment and a place to work as well as a guaranteed market for every piece of artwork completed. Pictures can’t really do Ardmore’s fantastical pieces justice but they are brimful with life and talent.
Last stop is to take in an evening barbecue meal – or traditional braai – at Linga Lapa restaurant and butchery in Nottingham Road.
Open seven days a week, Linga Lapa is not really a great stop for veggies, as its specialities are its superb meat dishes. In particular, it serves some of the best steaks and spare ribs in the area, and they are very more-ish! Choose where to eat from a simple, wood-panelled interior restaurant or their large outdoor area – just remember not to sit down wind on barbecue night!