Our normally Sunshiny South Africa turned cold during the past weeks. The Capetonians piled on the layers of clothing and many cocooned themselves as the howling winds made their presence known. Johannesburg had its fair share of extremely cold days and nights. Durbanites brought out their coffees, soups and those who could handle the heat, settled for the crab curry at the Britannia Hotel. Avid sightseers and snow enthusiasts ventured out in droves at the break of sunlight to view the snow.
This particular Durbanite though gathered the family for an impromptu road trip towards Pietermaritzburg. The children grumbled initially and Jade, the older one promptly fell asleep. Nearing Inchanga , the husband regaled us with memories of his Comrades Marathon run. The teens were more sufficiently alert at Camperdown. Owen, the youngest was convinced that he was tall enough to fool the security at the Golden Horse Casino into allowing him to try his hand at gambling. That fell on deaf ears as the husband chose to recall the previous gains from the Scottsville Race Course.
Due to the time constraints, we skipped the spectacular Howick Falls and chose instead to remember our previous visit there with our German exchange student who became more family than friend. The husband recalled their excursions to the valley at the bottom of the falls when they walked alongside the animals and were one with Nature. Owen heaved a sigh of relief, glad to be spared the shopping expedition at the informal traders near the Falls.
At Howick, we marvelled at the cold and debated on seeing a cousin in Ladysmith but the time was too short for a catchup. Besides, lunch was fast becoming a persistent concern for Owen. Secretly I wanted to begin our Meander. The Midlands Meander route lies between the city of Pietermaritzburg in the East and the magnificent Drakensberg mountain range (our World Heritage Site) in the West, is only an hour away from Durban and four and a half hours away Johannesburg. It is a veritable feast of rolling green hills, warm hospitality and fine arts and crafts. There are excellent wedding venues and spas, conference centres as well as accommodation if one has a hankering to just get away from it all.
Despite keeping in line with the “international tourism trends” and demands for “experiential tourism”, there is still a relaxed sluggishness to the gentle countryside that sways one into choosing the Meander.
The idea of Meander grew in 1985 when hobbyists met to discuss marketing and working together. People visited the Meander for the country experience and delighted in sourcing authentic arts and crafts.
Finally, we reached Nottingham Road and the vast views did not disaappoint. It was bitterly cold but refreshingly so. The cosy and relaxed atmosphere of the Linga Lapa Restaurant beckoned like it did once before when we met with cousins. This time around, it was the husband’s birthday and a treat well worth waiting for. Fresh logs were put into the fire and served rooibos tea. My lunch was a lamb curry and rice with sambals and a pappadum on the site. It is very rare that I enjoy a curry away from my kitchen. I joked that on my next visit, I intended to introduce our Durban curry powder to the Owner and Cook. Jade said that the weather determined her pie, chips and gravy. Typically, Owen settled for his standard burger and chips and the husband enjoyed his steak, chips and vegetables. Service was friendly, good and prompt. The deli next door was the ideal for padkos.
The Nelson Mandela Capture site was the next stop, as we wanted to beat the rain. We made our way from the car, huddling into our coats. A donation is required at the entrance of the Exhibition. Inside posters and documentaries outlined Nelson Mandela’s life. Young Nelson Mandela had evaded capture for more than a year but armed apartheid police eventually closed in on him. He was imprisoned for twenty seven years. Having seen his prison cell and lonely silver cup and plate in Robben Island and now his capture site, stirred strong emotions. That historical moment needed a landmark. Hence, a sculpture, a joint effort from artists Marco Cianfanelli and Jeremy Rose, was created. Fifty steel columns (to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his arrest) been 6 and 9.5 metres high across 30 metres were erected. From afar, it looks like a forest of steel poles. However once one turns into the Mandela Capture Site, the columns come together creating a flat two dimensional image of Mandela’s portrait. The long path which represents the “long walk to freedom” is protected by nodding green trees and resilient lush plants, strelitizias, or birds of paradise, as it is otherwise known and surprising bursts of yellow marigolds. The marigolds (very important for Indian ceremonies) reminded me of another stalwart figure, Mahatma Gandhi. It seemed silly and fanciful at the time but poetic that these leaders had come home to roost in some way.
The Madiba portrait itself represents, his return to the site of his disappearance. The sculpture speaks volumes in the silence and is an international symbol of Mandela’s iconic status. There is more development planned for a multi-purpose outlet to perpetuate education, culture and tourism in the days ahead. It will continue to be a historical destination for local and international visitors.
The children took selfies, as did the other tourists as they paused to marvel at the angles of the structure. We waited for our turn as other tourists thoughtfully exited while shepherding talkative children. There were nods of greetings and waves from a touring bus of international visitors. The site of freedom lost and freedom gained for South Africans was a sobering experience on our short walk back. The Truth Café nearby was thankfully closed. Unfortunately, so was the Florentine Belgium chocolate shop, so dessert was reserved for the Piggly Wiggly.
We were not too keen on some of the unpaved roads but the modest little KIA took it in her stride. Thankfully we arrived at the The Piggly Wiggly, a source of pride for the locals. There were many Johannesburg and Durban registration number plates. At the entrance, brace yourself for the aroma of freshly cooked meals. The more general eating area further out are more children friendly. A tiny train despatched the candy spotted children from spot to spot. Even the artists usually busy in their studios, grants visitors personal attention provided appointments are made. Once again, Owen our chocoholic settled for his fix from Chocolate Heaven, a difficult choice from more than 30 flavours. If you are anything like me and shop for special events and Christmas throughout the year, look out and save time for the Eclectic Magpie, a treasure trove of gifts for almost every occasion.
Remember that there are many activities to choose from :
- The Karkoof Canopy Tour https://www.karkloofcanopytour.co.za/
- A choice of fishing locations
- Bird Watching (do not forget the binoculars) http://www.tillietudlem.co.za/
- Picnics near the Midmar dam
- Walking trails
There is accommodation provided to suit all budgets and some very friendly children spaces with jungle gyms and little animal farms to keep the little ones occupied.
Remember too, to point out to the children, the Michael House School where the Spud movies were made.
It was a slow drive back through and I pondered the words of poet Robert Frost, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both. These are roads now often travelled. We have created marvelous memories, bonded as a family and will no doubt return to experience the magic that is the Meander.