Nestled inland of Durban, amidst the tranquil beauty that lies between Pietermaritzburg and the majestic Drakensberg Mountains, the Natal Midlands region beckons travelers seeking a peaceful respite. Known for its sprawling farmland, charming towns, vibrant arts and crafts scene, and breathtaking scenery, the Natal Midlands offers an idyllic escape for visitors of all kinds.
One of the defining features of the Natal Midlands is its abundant water sources. Rivers, lakes, dams, and waterfalls grace the landscape, creating a serene atmosphere. The region’s green pastures, rolling hills, and enchanting forests provide a captivating backdrop, while the northern reaches are dominated by the majestic foothills and towering peaks of the Drakensberg Mountains.
For those who prefer a leisurely pace, the Natal Midlands offers a myriad of delightful experiences. Spend your time exploring the numerous coffee shops, art galleries, and charming guest houses scattered throughout the region. Discover the world of artisanal cheese at the local cheese farms, or visit the trout farms where you can try your hand at fishing. Immerse yourself in the creativity of talented potters, weavers, and painters who have made the Natal Midlands their home.
A must-visit attraction in the Natal Midlands is the Midlands Meander. This self-drive route takes you on a journey through over 150 unique establishments, including eateries, craft studios, and farm stays. Stretching from Rietvlei and Curry’s Post to Dargle Valley and Fort Nottingham, the Midlands Meander spans an impressive 80 kilometers, offering a wealth of activities and discoveries along the way.
When embarking on the Midlands Meander, a little advance research goes a long way. Pick up a Midlands Meander guide, readily available at various stores en route, to uncover the hidden gems and top-notch spots that make this experience truly special. Whether you’re in search of exquisite handcrafted souvenirs, delectable local cuisine, or simply a charming spot to relax and rejuvenate, the Midlands Meander has something for everyone.
Nature enthusiasts will find themselves in paradise in the Natal Midlands. Just a stone’s throw away from the region, Howick Falls showcases nature’s power and beauty in a breathtaking cascade of water. The Albert Falls Dam Nature Reserve offers nature trails, picnic spots, premier bass fishing opportunities, and exceptional birding, making it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. The Kamberg Nature Reserve, framed by the awe-inspiring Drakensberg Mountains, invites visitors to explore its scenic trails and enjoy picnics amidst awe-inspiring landscapes. And for those seeking trout fishing adventures, the Loteni Nature Reserve is the perfect destination.
As you plan your visit to the Natal Midlands, be sure to book your accommodation in advance. Whether you choose a cozy guest house, a luxurious hotel, or a charming farm stay, the region offers a range of options to suit every traveler’s preferences.
Popular activities, tourist attractions in and near the Natal Midlands
The Natal Midlands is a treasure trove of activities, tourist attractions, and points of interest that will captivate visitors of all interests. From outdoor adventures to cultural experiences and historical landmarks, here are some highlights to explore during your visit to this enchanting region:
Midlands Meander: As mentioned earlier, the Midlands Meander is a must-visit for those seeking a diverse range of experiences. This self-drive route takes you on a journey through picturesque landscapes, charming towns, and a plethora of unique establishments. Indulge in local cuisine, browse through art galleries, shop for handcrafted treasures, and immerse yourself in the region’s vibrant arts and crafts scene.
Howick Falls: Located just outside the Natal Midlands, Howick Falls is a magnificent waterfall that plunges approximately 95 meters into the Umgeni River. The sight and sound of the cascading water are awe-inspiring, and the surrounding area offers viewpoints and picnic spots to enjoy the scenery.
Albert Falls Dam Nature Reserve: Nature enthusiasts will delight in the Albert Falls Dam Nature Reserve, situated near Pietermaritzburg. This reserve is renowned for its excellent bass fishing opportunities, so anglers can cast their lines in the tranquil waters of the dam. The reserve also offers nature trails, picnic spots, and birdwatching, making it a perfect destination for outdoor lovers.
Kamberg Nature Reserve: Located within easy reach of the Natal Midlands, the Kamberg Nature Reserve is a nature lover’s paradise. Framed by the majestic Drakensberg Mountains, this reserve boasts awe-inspiring scenery, hiking trails, and opportunities for picnicking. Discover ancient San rock art sites, spot wildlife, and breathe in the fresh mountain air as you explore this pristine natural area.
The Midlands Meander Craft Route: A part of the Midlands Meander, the craft route showcases the region’s rich artistic heritage. Visit studios and workshops where talented artisans create beautiful pottery, sculptures, textiles, and more. Engage with the artists, witness their creative process, and perhaps even bring home a one-of-a-kind piece of art.
Nelson Mandela Capture Site: Just outside the Natal Midlands lies the Nelson Mandela Capture Site, a significant historical landmark. This site commemorates the arrest of Nelson Mandela in 1962, which marked a turning point in South Africa’s history. Explore the museum, walk along the sculpture trail, and learn about the life and legacy of this iconic leader.
Karkloof Canopy Tour: For an adrenaline-filled adventure, head to the Karkloof Canopy Tour. Soar through the treetops on a thrilling zipline, enjoying panoramic views of the lush forest below. This eco-friendly activity allows you to experience the natural beauty of the Natal Midlands from a unique perspective.
Nottingham Road Brewing Company: Beer enthusiasts shouldn’t miss a visit to the Nottingham Road Brewing Company. Take a tour of the brewery, learn about the beer-making process, and indulge in a tasting of their handcrafted brews. The cozy pub atmosphere and scenic surroundings make for a delightful experience.
African Bird of Prey Sanctuary: Situated in the neighboring town of Ashburton, the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary offers an up-close encounter with these majestic creatures. Learn about the conservation efforts to protect these birds and witness awe-inspiring flight demonstrations.
Drakensberg Mountains: While technically located just beyond the Natal Midlands, the Drakensberg Mountains are an unmissable attraction in the region. With their rugged peaks, dramatic cliffs, and breathtaking vistas, the Drakensberg Mountains offer endless opportunities for hiking, mountaineering, and exploring the natural wonders of South Africa.
These are just a few of the many activities, attractions, and points of interest that await you in and near the Natal Midlands. Whether you’re an adventure seeker, a nature enthusiast, an art lover, or a history buff, this picturesque region has something special to offer. Embark on a journey of discovery and let the Natal Midlands enchant you with its beauty, culture, and warm hospitality.
Popular Destinations in The Natal Midlands
Nestled in the valley below Van Reenen’s Pass, Estcourt stands as a testament to the turbulent history of the Anglo-Boer War. This vibrant town, together with its neighboring counterpart Winterton just 40 kilometers to the north, serves as the gateway to the awe-inspiring Central Drakensberg.
Formerly known as Bushman’s River, Estcourt underwent a name change in honor of Thomas Estcourt, an English parliamentarian who played a crucial role in facilitating the settlement of immigrants in the area. Today, Estcourt is not only renowned for its Anglo-Boer War connections but also for its proximity to the Weenen Game Reserve, a captivating conservation park in KwaZulu-Natal. Additionally, the Thukela Biosphere, spanning approximately 100,000 hectares of valley bushveld, is a sanctuary for diverse wildlife including elephants, white rhinos, wildebeest, leopards, warthogs, hyenas, and various species of buck.
The tumultuous past of Estcourt is deeply rooted in significant historical events. It was here that Piet Retief and his followers met a tragic fate at the hands of Dingane, leaving an indelible mark on the region’s history. A poignant memorial now stands at the site to honor their memory. Estcourt also bears witness to the Armoured Train Cemetery, where a young Winston Churchill was captured during the war. Just 10 kilometers from Estcourt, Brynbella Hill served as a strategic vantage point for the Boers as they advanced southward. Today, the stone wall that was utilized by both the Boer and British forces during the skirmish on November 23, 1899, still stands as a national monument, offering a tangible glimpse into the past.
For nature enthusiasts and avid hikers, Estcourt and its surroundings boast a plethora of trails to explore. The New Formosa Nature Reserve presents an excellent opportunity for game viewing, allowing visitors to catch glimpses of the region’s remarkable wildlife. The old Furrow Walking Trail provides an immersive experience, immersing walkers in the natural beauty of the area. Meanwhile, the Moor Park Nature Reserve entices birdwatchers with its fascinating trails and the chance to observe a diverse array of bird species in their natural habitat.
Estcourt’s captivating history and natural splendor make it an alluring destination for travelers seeking a blend of culture, heritage, and outdoor exploration. As you delve into the tapestry of Estcourt and the Natal Midlands, be prepared to uncover hidden gems, hear tales of triumph and tragedy, and immerse yourself in the breathtaking landscapes that surround this historic town.
Nestled just a stone’s throw away from the bustling town of Nottingham Road lies the quaint village of Fort Nottingham in the heart of the Natal Midlands. This diminutive settlement holds a rich history and serves as a window into the region’s past.
In 1856, Fort Nottingham came into existence under the orders of Queen Victoria. The Nottinghamshire regiment, known as the 45th Sherwood Foresters, was dispatched to establish a buffer zone to prevent raids by the San people, who inhabited the foothills of the majestic Drakensberg Mountains. The fort’s presence played a vital role in curbing these raids and encouraged further settlement in the area, attracting pioneers, particularly those of Scottish descent, which is why town names like Balgowan, Glencoe, and Dundee resonate in the region.
A railway station was constructed further down the road from Fort Nottingham, at the intersection with the road leading to the fort. Originally known as Karkloof Station (despite its distance from the actual Karkloof area), it eventually acquired the name Nottingham Road Station, and later, Nottingham Road. Compared to its livelier counterpart, Fort Nottingham exudes tranquility and intimacy, with its town hall and museum, housed within the old fort, serving as the main attractions. Additionally, visitors can discover charming homes dating back to the late 1850s, offering glimpses of the region’s early architecture.
Interestingly, Fort Nottingham’s fate might have been drastically different had the train passed through the village. Legend has it that one of the initial settlers, possibly Duncan McKenzie, who held significant land ownership, influenced the surveyor responsible for choosing the train route to bypass the fort. As a result, when the railway station was established, it was located 11 kilometers east of Fort Nottingham.
Throughout its history, the fort played a pivotal role in turning the tide of the “frontier war” in favor of the settlers. In 1869, following repeated raids on their livestock, the government launched the 1860 Reprisal campaign, depicted in the San people’s rock art as white men on horseback armed with “fire sticks.”
Exploring Fort Nottingham and its surroundings allows visitors to delve into the captivating narratives of the region’s past. As you wander through the village’s quiet streets and immerse yourself in its historical sites, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the struggles, triumphs, and cultural heritage that have shaped the Natal Midlands. Soak in the atmosphere of this serene hamlet and unravel the hidden stories that lie within its time-honored walls.
Situated north of Howick, within the central expanse of the captivating Midlands Meander, lies the picturesque paradise of Balgowan. This idyllic region, nestled between Nottingham Road and Lidgetton, showcases some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the country. Balgowan’s weather is known to weave together all four seasons, adding an element of intrigue and mystique to your visit, making this corner of the world irresistibly alluring.
Enter a land of verdant beauty, where undulating hills adorned with lush pastures and majestic pine forests create a tapestry of serenity. Crystal-clear streams meander through the countryside, their gentle flow interrupted only by cascading waterfalls. Balgowan’s origins trace back to an old trading store and train station that received local timber for the surrounding farms in the Natal Midlands. Today, it encompasses a geographic area that stretches from somewhere between Nottingham Road and Lidgetton, culminating before reaching Caversham.
Balgowan boasts several landmarks that have become synonymous with the area. One such landmark is Michaelhouse School, a renowned boarding school for boys. Its stunning English Gothic-style architecture, including a chapel open to the public, adds a touch of grandeur to the landscape.
For those seeking artistic inspiration, the Glass Studio is a must-visit. Here, talented artisans create magnificent works of art from glass and wrought iron. Their craftsmanship encompasses a range of sand-blasted items and ironwork, customizable to their customers’ specifications. From exquisite salt and pepper cellars to intricately decorated mirrors and clocks, each piece is a testament to their creativity and skill.
Nature enthusiasts will find delight in the iHashi Forest horse trails, located along Caversham Road in Balgowan. Immerse yourself in the tranquility of the forest as you embark on an unforgettable equestrian adventure. Additionally, the Balgowan Conservancy collaborates with the Balgowan Conservancy Project to establish a mist belt forest tree trail, inviting hikers to explore the wonders of the region on foot.
Golf enthusiasts are in for a treat at the Bosch Hoek Golf course, located near Balgowan. This esteemed nine-hole course has garnered recognition as one of the top golfing destinations in the country. With its breathtaking scenery and impeccable design, it promises a memorable golfing experience.
As you traverse the enchanting landscapes of Balgowan, let the beauty of nature and the warmth of its community captivate your senses. Unveil the treasures hidden within this charming corner of the Natal Midlands, where every turn reveals a new discovery. Balgowan invites you to immerse yourself in its splendor and create lasting memories amidst its breathtaking surroundings.
Located a short 22-minute drive southwest of Pietermaritzburg, the quaint village of Baynesfield awaits your discovery. Nestled amidst picturesque surroundings, this charming hamlet is home to Baynesfield Estate, a museum, and a quaint railway station, offering a glimpse into the region’s rich history.
The village takes its name from Joseph Baynes, a settler who arrived in South Africa alongside his father in 1842. Baynesfield primarily serves as a support system for Baynesfield Estate, a collection of farms acquired by the visionary agriculturalist.
In 1925, Joseph Baynes passed away without leaving behind any heirs, bequeathing his vast estate of over 9,000 hectares in trust for the people of South Africa. Today, Baynesfield Estate continues to operate as a working farm, cultivating an array of crops such as pigs, timber, maize, avocados, cattle, and soya. The estate proudly boasts the largest breeding piggery in the province, a testament to Baynes’ pioneering role in the bacon industry within the country.
One of the highlights of Baynesfield is the magnificent Victorian-style Baynes House, constructed in 1882 by Joseph Baynes for his second wife, Sarah. The house, adorned with original Baynes family furniture, welcomes visitors (by appointment, so it is advisable to call ahead) to explore its exquisite interiors. Surrounded by a meticulously maintained garden, the house exudes timeless elegance.
Nearby, you’ll find the house of Joseph Baynes’ first wife, Maria. A more modest structure, it features stables at one end and a bullring at the other. Within its walls, visitors can witness a fascinating collection of antique wood crafting tools, now under the guardianship of a group of woodcrafters who have established their workshops here. Among them is a resident blacksmith who utilizes these tools in his craft, adding to the immersive experience.
Baynesfield Estate regularly welcomes local schools for educational visits. The estate also boasts a vegetable garden located behind Baynes House, which supplies the Salvation Army Joseph Baynes Children’s Home with fresh produce. The heritage center offers museum tours, as well as tea or lunch tours for organized groups, allowing visitors to delve deeper into the history and heritage of the area.
Step into the past as you explore the wonders of Baynesfield. Let the echoes of history guide your journey as you witness the legacy of Joseph Baynes and immerse yourself in the beauty of the estate and its surroundings. Baynesfield invites you to experience its captivating stories and embrace the heritage that has shaped the Natal Midlands.
The Natal Midlands awaits with its captivating beauty, rich cultural heritage, and an abundance of experiences. Whether you are seeking serenity, artistic inspiration, outdoor adventures, or a taste of local flavors, this enchanting region is sure to leave a lasting impression on your heart and soul. So pack your bags and embark on a memorable journey through the Natal Midlands, where natural wonders and warm hospitality converge to create an unforgettable vacation.