I’ve spent a considerable part of my teenage and adult years traveling between Durban and Johannesburg on the N3 highway to holiday or to visit family. Stopping along the way (other than to refuel, eat or for a bathroom stop) was never a consideration as getting to the destination as quick as possible fared far more important.
If you are traveling from Johannesburg, the Midlands is located approximately 4 and a half hours on the N3 Highway towards Durban. If I had to think of a way to describe the area (other than meandering), it would be the South African countryside, tucked away between waterfalls, misty mountains, and pockets of forest – it sounds magical doesn’t it!
Here is my How-To-Guide if you’ve never meandered through the Midlands before. There are 5 different major routes that you could take, however I’m going to guide you through a very basic, scenic (shopping) route. I will include as much detail as I’m able to so you are able to use this as a proper guide to take along on holiday.
Before you begin to plan your trip, visit: www.midlandsmeander.co.za or email them on firstname.lastname@example.org
They are also on Twitter, so you can scroll through any important updates or recommendations of things to visit or see in the area: @MidlandsMeander
The Midlands guide is also available for download on the iPhone App store or Google Play so you have easy access to it when you require it.
There are over 20 Churchs in the area (Anglican, Catholic, Methodist and Presbyterian). Mosques are located in Howick and Howick West (033 330 7295/ 033 330 2807 / 083 786 7295) and Mooi River (033 263 1734 / 072 241 6680). There are 2 private hospitals in the area (hoping that you might never require one) in Howick (Mediclinic) and Hilton (Life Hospital).
There are essentially three possible options of visiting the area.
1. Opting to stop on your way towards Durban or Johannesburg to either tour the area (albeit briefly) or to stop of a meal. Bear in mind the travel times towards your final destination – it’s an hour from Durban and almost 5 hours towards Johannesburg). To my knowledge, there isn’t a dedicated Halaal stop along the way.
2. Flying in to King Shaka International Airport or Msunduzi Airport located in Pietermaritzburg. There are daily domestic flights to Msunduzi that are operated by SA Airlink and is 6km from the center of town making this the quickest option to get to the Midlands.
3. Staying for the week or weekend and traveling to either destination thereafter (Durban/Johannesburg).
If you have opted to spend the weekend, there are over 50 different accommodation options to choose from. Depending on your style of travel and budget, the options range from Backpacking, Bed and Breakfast, Camping/Caravanning, Country or Guest Houses, Guest Lodges, Self-catering, Tree Houses, Health Hydros and many accommodate children, pets and wheelchairs.
I was part of the Media Team that traveled to KZN. We flew in to Durban’s King Shaka Airport, hired a car and drove approximately an hour an a half to Brahman Hills where we spent the weekend.
We used Brahman Hills as the base. We could have opted for longer, more scenic routes in the area, but we tried to maximise our time in order to see and communicate what would be best suited for our readers to visit in the area.
If you have opted to stay over, you wouldn’t necessarily need to leave early to explore the area so turn your trip into a leisurely one. The roads are fairly well developed however the fog does set in towards the evening (weather dependent) so exercise caution when driving in the evening).
Stop One: Country Market.
Our first stop on the Meander was The Country Market. (Click on the link to open up on to TripAdvisor with the location pin). Theresa, our ‘guide’ was able to locate Country Mouse quickly and without much difficulty. I battled a bit when I returned later that weekend with my parents. If you pass the railway line towards it, you are on the correct road and it approaches about 3-5 minutes soon after. The trip is 10 minutes from Brahman Hills.
You should see this building with parking on the side and a little water feature as you make your way towards it,
On our first stop here, we browsed the shop and took a walk around the outside. I loved the clothing in particular and bought a super cute pair of espadrilles at the shop adjacent to it.
Even if you don’t have an intention of buying anything, the stores in the Midlands are really well merchandised and basically nice-to-look-through. On our second stop, I had tea and cake with my parents and gran. It was already a bit late, so we got the last few slices of the cakes that were still available.
There is seating inside and outside – it’s all just really pretty so perhaps plan an afternoon trip with your girlfriends (if staying in Durban) just to go out that side for a cup of tea!
Stop Two: Tsonga Factory Shop.
Tsonga located southeast on the R103 on Lidgetton Road is a 22 minute drive/ 21km from The Country Market. The location picks up easily on Google Maps so you shouldn’t have any difficulty locating it. The factory store is cheaper than the retail stores and they stock footwear for adults and children. You should look out for this building when driving into it.
If you are familiar with the brand, then you would know why kind of footwear to expect. I was told that the discounted price was quite good and their quality is excellent. Visit their website for a full product catalogue before you visit.
With the distance between stops, you are still able to see much of the Midlands as you pass through it. Even though these are mostly shopping stops, there is still lots to see and explore in the area.
Stop Three: Piggly Wiggly Nottingham Road
Piggly wiggly is 6 minutes/4km from our last stop at Tsonga. Click here for the TripAdvisor link and for the exact pin location: https://www.tripadvisor.co.za/Attraction_Review-g1207687-d2643666-Reviews-Piggly_Wiggly-Nottingham_Road_KwaZulu_Natal.html
Piggly Wiggly Country Village has over 25 shops and loads of family entertainment including the Biggest Maze in Africa, Piggy Putt (rockventure golf) and a railway track for kids. There is also an art/craft store where kids could paint. The selection of store is well curated and you could easily spend an entire afternoon walking around and exploring.
There is a sign outside, but this is the first thing that you should notice on your left as you drive into the parking lot.
I’m always on the lookout for great photo opportunities, and there are some lovely spots located within Piggly Wiggly. It’s a shame that my kids were not with me. I would have loved to have captured them on the train or running around the farm equipment.
The actual site is well-maintained and large enough to host larger groups of people. There is seating at the restaurants and along the track if you need a bit of a break. There are no Halaal eating options at this stop.
If you like bath/body products (please forgive me as I didn’t note down the store names, they are fairly easy to locate though as you walk around).
For those who have an interest in art:
There are quite a few homeware stores in the center. I really liked the one selling kitchen stuff and I brought back melamine plates and milkshake cups with straws for my kids:
There is also a quaint little bookstore if you have the time and want to browse though it:
For my girls who love relaxed, more natural clothing and sleepwear, this store was really nice. There is also a store located in Johannesburg in Bryanston Shopping Center called Free Range (www.freerangeclothing.co.za)
As you might have gathered by now, there is alot to see in the area, so a day might not be entirely sufficient if you want to have a leisurely walk/drive or make the stops set out int his guide. We stopped for roughly an hour here, but we likely could have spent up to 2 hours if we needed to.
Step Four: Nelson Mandela Capture Site, R103
If you input the destination into your GPS, add: Nelson Mandela Capture Site R103. This was a 16 minute/15km drive southeast towards Lawton Road (use this as a guide that you are heading in the right direction). Here is the TripAdvisor link and pin location: https://www.tripadvisor.co.za/Attraction_Review-g1057717-d4074509-Reviews-Nelson_Mandela_Capture_Site-Howick_KwaZulu_Natal.html
I feel very foolish for never knowing or hearing about this, especially being South African. Here is a link to familiarise yourself with the area and the entrance fees/times, etc: http://www.thecapturesite.co.za/
In 1962, on 5 August, this otherwise ordinary piece of road along the R103, approximately five kilometers outside Howick, KwaZulu-Natal, suddenly took on profound consequence. Armed apartheid police flagged down a car in which Nelson Mandela was pretending to be the chauffeur. Having succeeded in evading capture by apartheid operatives for 17 months, Mandela had just paid a clandestine visit to ANC President Chief Albert Luthuli’s Groutville home to report back on his African odyssey, and to request support in calling for an armed struggle. It was in this dramatic way, at this unassuming spot, that Nelson Mandela was finally captured and arrested.
As one of the historically important moments in the struggle against Apartheid, a more appropriate and exciting marking of the site was needed which has now been realized and erected.
You might need to stand at different angles to capture his face properly if you are taking pictures:
The pathway is paved so it is wheelchair friendly and comfortable to walk even if you have walking difficulty.
Stop 5: Ismail Store
This store can’t be located easily on Google. You need to search for Ismail Wholesale House Everything Shop in Google Maps.
The departure point was the Capture site above.
At this stop, there is a garage. Inside the store you will find vegetable (although not very fresh) and the largest selection of enamel dishes I’ve ever seen in my life! They also stock India Tiffins (typically lunchboxes) and other refreshments. It’s a nice-to-look through store, to perhaps chat to the owners if time permits about the area or to fill up your tank.
Our final stop before heading back to Brahman Hills was at the Ismail Wholesale House. If you’re traveling by car or have additional space in your luggage, purchase the enamel jugs for gifting flowers. They are so well priced and have the largest collection of enamel products in SA. The store stocks fruit, vegetables, frozen produce and kitchen utensils.
At this point you could either head back to your hotel as it’s already been almost a full day out. The complete trip took us 3 hours however if you opted to eat, spend time shopping or visit the Museum at the Nelson Mandela Capture site you could turn it into a full days experience.
You would also probably be hungry at this stage. If you have opted to stay at the self-catering accommodation at Brahman Hills, you could either head back to your Cottage to prepare your own food, or perhaps drive past the Midlands Kitchen to pick up dinner. There are no Halaal options at this stop.
Stop 6: The Midlands Kitchen
The Midlands Kitchen is the newest culinary destination on the N3 freeway with the idea in mind of creating an artisinal eating experience. Seating is both indoor and outdoor and there are vegetarian, vegan and Indian options available.
I had a portion of the Beans Bunny (proper Durban bunny – it was possibly the best I’ve eaten) and vegetarian biryani (served the Duban way with dhal).
Here’s what I thought about the experience:
1. Waiters come to your table to take your order or you may walk to each kiosk to view the menus. There are over 15 different kitchens so if you’re in a group of people you may each order something different.
2. If you want to drive out for the view or to pass time over the weekend, you may have coffee (or hot chocolate when the temperature drops) and the kids can get ice-cream, waffles or pancakes. There is a play area outside with smaller tables and chairs for kids to sit at if they choose.
3. The food is very reasonably priced and most importantly, it is freshly prepared and there are many healthier options.
4. The entire area is clean and modern. It is linked to Brahman Hills so if you’re staying at the Cottage, you may take your food away to eat at a later stage.
This guide gives you a brief idea of what may be found in the area. If you’re looking for Leisure and Activities, you can expect to find the following in the area:
Paintball, Ziplining, Animal Farms, Biking (Bicycle, Mountain bike and Quad Bike rental), Birding, Craft Cafes, Fishing, golf, Health and Beauty spas, hiking trails and walks, horse and pony trails and walks, nature and wildlife including picnic spots, sailing and canoeing or visit any of the working farms in the area.
I haven’t utilised the services of a guided tour operator but you may contact Ubhejane Tours for a personalised tour if you are reading this guide and not familiar with South Africa: 083 670 7356 / 082 798 7173.
When you drive into the Midlands and stop at any of the stores or hotels, ask them for a copy of the Midlands Meander directory. It costs R10 and lists all the routes including eating, shopping and activities in the area.