The South African leg of my 2013 tour of southern Africa began on the South Coast of KwaZulu/Natal from where I set off to the Southern Drakenserg in search of trout for the other key component of the trip, the Reels in Motion Fly Fishing Tour of Africa. 2013. My first port of call was Underberg, a small town located in the southern foothills of the Drakensberg which is not only the epicenter of the South African fly fishing culture, but is also a widely visited recreational area offering superb multi-day hiking opportunities, long range horseback trails and various river related sports such as kayaking, canoeing and rafting.
Perhaps what is most appealing about this area from the point of view of older travelers to South Africa is the lodge and country house culture that abounds just about everywhere you look. Various grandiose, and some more humble establishments have been turned over to tourism, mainly local tourism, offering fine accommodation, excellent cuisine and a variety of gentle activities, not least fly fishing in any number of local dams and rivers.
From Underberg I set off on what is quaintly termed the Midlands Meander, a long, undulating and pleasant drive along the secondary roads of the KwaZulu/Natal Midlands that are absolutely crammed with curiosity shops, local craft outlets, boutique restaurants and points of historical interest.
The Meander more or less begins in the small provincial town of Howick set in the richly verdant hill country of KwaZulu/Natal. There is a slightly manufactured feeling about Howick’s tourist quarter, set adjacent to a viewing area overlooking the formidable Howick Falls, and featuring a Sunday market and various arts and craft outlets where a good selection of local artifacts, art, fabrics and other odds and ends can be purchased.
As the road winds through the scenic countryside there are almost limitless opportunities to stop, have a cup of coffee and a slice of cheesecake, peruse this quirky lace store or that hand-made shoe outlet before continuing on to the next curiosity. Once again, a large number of guesthouses and B&Bs line the road, usually appended to some scenic farm or other, offering hand spun wool pullovers or sheepskin slippers, alongside, of course, comfortable accommodation and generally creative cuisine and fine local wines.
In general the Midlands Meander is not likely to excite the interest of the hard core African traveler. It is a million miles from the blood and guts of Lagos, or the sweat and rhythm of Kinshasa, or indeed the open plains and the thundering hooves of the Serengeti, but it is despite that a gentle excursion for those with gentle tastes, and as part of a wider itinerary, it is certainly an aspect of South Africa that is worth seeing.
The meander concludes more or less at the Central KNZ town of Mooi River, from where the landscape either to the east become more bushveld in aspect, and more African in general appearance, or towards the Drakensberg in the west where the soaring massifs of the Berg excite the adventure juices of those looking for sterner adventure in South Africa.