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A place where visitors are celebrated, and memories created

A place where visitors are celebrated and memories created

The Midlands Meander is a Destination Marketing Organization which started in 1985 by a handful of artists and crafters living in the region.

Situated in KwaZulu Natal the region is filled with scenic beauty and a diversity of offerings for visitors and locals alike.

This Non-Profit Organization is run by a Board of Directors and all income received is from annual membership fees and funding opportunities. The benefits of joining this amazing organization are many fold including referrals, encouragement, connection with other local businesses, social media and website opportunities, campaigns, newsletters both for members and public, display of business brochures, email campaigns and the like.  Our Information Office provides visitor information and a chance to display member business brochures.

The annual printed, themed guide provides all a visitor needs to explore all 5 self-drive routes within the Meander.  This scenic region stretches from Mooi River in the north to Hilton in the south, Karkloof in the east and Kamberg in the west.

– Founder’s/Owner’s story and what motivated them to start the business

From Founders to the Future

On a summers evening at Caversham Mill in 1985, 4 potters, a weaver and a couple of artists got together to discuss how to work together.  They decided to invite the public to visit and meet the artists in their countryside studios.  The concept of a Rolling Exhibition, held a couple of times a year, was born.

In 1990 a brown paper map was produced and an annual guide, each with a different theme, has been produced ever since then.

David Walters, a potter and founding member of the Midlands Meander, takes up the story “In the Natal Midlands in the 1980s, we craftsmen had the usual problems, added to which the economic and political situation in the country was unstable, and the gallerys to whom we all sold the bulk of our production were closing down. We had to fina a cost-effective way of marketing our work directly from our studios’.

Ian Glenny first set foot on the farm in Dargle when he was 23: ‘Finding the 60 acres of land was my most memorable experience and I remember the day I arrived the river was flooding over the road.  It was there and then that I decided that I will live and die on this farm – it was a powerful experience”.

The farm also provided for Glenny’s art, as the family discovered tons of clay on the property and the dream of Dargle Valley Pottery began.

Today, Glenny’s work is exhibited nationally and internationally, an the large range of terracotta, garden pots, functional ware and decorative items are extremely popular, especially his Mexican fireplaces and tagines.

Helen & Andy Shuttleworth left suburbia and bought their little piece of the Midlands in 1979 – a home near Fort Nottingham made up of one large, rougn room which functioned as the bedroom, kitchen and lounge.  The Shuttleworths wanted to nurture their dream of living a self-sufficient life, growing vegetables and drinking milk that didn’t come out of a caron.

The husband and wife team soon realized,howere, that they would have to make a living so another fuction was added to the one round room of the house – a weaving section.  With R1000, a loom and some wool, Helen and Andy taught themselves to spin, weave and dye. Largely by speaking to experienced weavers, reading books and with a healthy dose of trial and error.

Since it started in 1976, Shuttleworth Weaving has been a business run completely ‘off the grid’.  What started out with Andy & Helen weaving by candlelight in the evenings has grown over the years into an ever expanding family business still operating mostly by hand, producing an original, well-made craft in a sustainable way.

At present Shuttleworth Weaving still operates from the farm in Fort Nottingam with an delightful sales outlet in Nottingham Road.

– The challenges the business/market is facing

The reality of the pandemic’s effect on MMA.

As a non profit organization the Midlands Meander Association took a very hard knock when Covid hit South Africa in March/April 2020.  In fact the first Covid patient in South Africa was diagnosed by my own doctor in Hilton KwaZulu Natal.  At the time MMA had 117 members paying an annual membership fee and as at the start of our financial year i.e. 1 July 2020 only 26 members had committed to membership.

At that point the Board of Directors took a exceptionally brave step of faith to continue trading rather than place the MMA into dormancy which would have been the very first time in its 35 year history.

At that point South Africa was still in partial lockdown, people weren’t travelling or taking holidays as no one could see what the future held.

As a result MMA members were loathe to agree to an annual membership for fear of the future which was totally understandable.

The Board of Directors, in order to help members, came up with tiered system member options at varying slashed rates i.e. Gold, Silver or Bronze and I was allowed to sell monthly membership.   Thank goodness by the end of November 2020 we were up to 78 members.

Staff were given various options and by the end of that month only 2 of us remained both agreeing to a 50% cut in salary and one person halving his hours.

During this time the Board of Directors would meet on a 2 weekly basis rather than monthly to manage the crisis and each meeting brought steps of faith whereby the Treasurer would let us know that we could continue for another month or two.  So, the Midlands Meander was saved!

By the end of that year we limped through on literally a quarter of our normal finances but….. we made it thanks to a truly strong and brave Board of Directors who believe in this Non Profit Company which makes a difference in the lives of locals.  This year we have 108 members and growing.

Covid disrupted any strategies that were in place.

We have just revised the marketing strategy of the organization together with PUM from the Netherlands and are excited about new prospects and the future of the organization.

– The opportunities the business/market is facing

International Visitors are returning on holiday

We are pleased to see buses starting to come back on the routes as well as international visitors in the Midlands.  MMA had offices and a gallery at the Nelson Mandela Capture Site where we saw from 15 to 20 buses filled with overseas tourist visitors.  We had to close the gallery as during and after Covid no international visitors were visiting the country.

In the last 2 months we have finally seen buses back in the region carrying German, Dutch and visitors from Denmark.  This a very exciting sign!

Funding & Sponsorships needed

MMA is presently looking for sponsors to assist with financing big events planned for the next financial year.

– Advice to others about business

When crisis hits just keep on keeping on – doors will open ahead of you!

Ambling about

Taking it slow in the KZN Midlands

Telling someone about the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands is not unlike describing The Shire, the land of the Hobbits so vividly brought to life in the works of JRR Tolkien – rolling green hills, pastoral scenes, a slow pace of life, friendly locals, excellent food and warm hospitality. But it’s got rather a lot more going for it than that.

Founded 38 years ago by a handful of local artists and crafters, the Midlands Meander was South Africa’s first self-drive tourism route. Over the years it has steadily grown, and although arts and crafts are still a major feature of the route, there’s something for everyone in the Midlands – busy restaurants, working farms, adventure activities, wedding venues, fishing, golfing, birding and more. With 108 current members (not to mention a host of businesses that aren’t affiliated with the Midlands Meander Association), the route continues to grow and pull people to it from around the country and abroad.

Something a little crafty

Much of the Midlands’ reputation was built by its community of resident artists and crafters who turn out all sorts of wares, including sculptures, ceramics, paintings, leatherwork and hand-built furniture. Over the years, more and more talented people have left the city for the Midlands, growing the community of crafters such that the array of products on offer is both extremely varied whilst being of extraordinary quality.

 The Ardmore Ceramic Art Studio is one of the grand old ladies (if you will) of the Midlands, and is one of the country’s most celebrated studios. Ardmore was founded in the 1980s by Fée Halsted and Bonnie Ntshalintshali when Fée, a ceramicist and painter, took on Bonnie, the daughter of her housekeeper, as a student. Within a few years they jointly won the 1990 Standard Bank Young Artist Award and the studio now trains local men and women, who produce works within the signature Ardmore aesthetic – a look that is thoroughly unique – combining African creatures with fantastical elements and decorated in a riot of colours. Their showroom is worth a lengthy browse to find that one special item to come home with you.

If you’re one for trawling for antiques, the Midlands is home to some fantastic repositories of vintage and antique furniture and bric-a-brac. Chief among these is the Lions River Trading Post, set just off the N3 next to a gurgling stretch of river and with a pastoral view the Midlands is so famous for. The Trading Post carries a fantastic range of antiques and collectibles, with art, glassware, ancient kitchen implements and china to be found in a converted barn, with a separate showroom holding a range of furniture, mostly Victorian era pieces in mahogany, as well as yellowwood and Oregon pieces associated with cottagey farmhouses. There’s also a small museum nestled between the two buildings displaying old farm implements and machinery, which is well worth a few minutes of your time.

Rich in history

For years, most people simply drove past an innocuous roadside plaque 5km outside Howick on the R103, identifying the place where on 5 August 1962, Nelson Mandela was captured, beginning his 27 years of imprisonment by the Apartheid government. But now this significant event is remembered in a much more significant, unmissable way. Unveiled in 2012, the Nelson Mandela Capture Site was created in collaboration with the Apartheid Museum and is home to what is sure to become one of South Africa’s most iconic art installations. Set at the end of a path is a sculpture comprising 50 steel columns, each between 6.5 and 9.5 metres tall, which come into alignment to form a massive portrait of Nelson Mandela. It’s a powerful piece of art that is deeply affecting, and you can ponder the great man’s life by visiting the on-site exhibition, which details his journey to freedom.

Adventure time

While it’s par for the course to take things quite slow on the Midlands Meander, it’s also home to one of South Africa’s most exhilarating eco-adventure activities. Ever wondered what it might feel like to be Tarzan? A zip-lining trip through the treetops with Karkloof Canopy Tours will have you whooping like him in no time. 

Set in the mistbelt forest of the Karkloof Nature Reserve, the tours have visitors sliding from one platform to the next, zig zagging through the trees on eight slides during a two-hour journey through the forest. With the slides up to 30 metres high and 180 metres long, you might need to conquer your sense of vertigo, but even those with a fear of heights can enjoy the tour – it’s 100% safe and suitable for people of all ages.

And it offers more than a jolt of adrenalin – the scenery is gorgeous, and your guide will point out the various trees and giant ferns you pass and go into detail about the ecology of the forest. The bird life is spectacular as well, so if you keep your eyes peeled you could spot the Emerald Cuckoo, Knysna Turaco or, if you’re lucky, the Narina Trogon or endangered Cape Parrot. Also around are the rare Samango monkeys, with their distinctive green-grey fur that looks not unlike feathers.

 Chow down

For many people, their most memorable experiences in the Midlands have to do with food – this is no surprise, as it would take many visits or an extremely long stay to sample even half of the restaurants in the area

 The small town of Howick, just off the N3 on the southern end of the Meander, is home to one of the area’s most popular and down to earth eateries.

 Get horizontal

 The best way to enjoy the Midlands is to explore it at your own pace and stumble onto things, but if you’re someone who likes to have an itinerary it’s worth getting a copy of the Midlands Meander Association Guide – it lists all the members, broken down into various categories, with an easy to use map, allowing you to amble about from one thing to another.

A Good Midlands Day

There are many ways to spend some time on the Midlands Meander.  All of them good, the choice is simply yours.

Should you snuggle under the covers for an indulgent lie in on a frosty winter morning, you may still be rewarded during an afternoon walk with the unexpected perfume of wild honey, before coming across the hum of bees going about their business as nature intended.  Perhaps you decide to rise with the cockerel and join the cows in the milking shed before sunrise? 

Discover crafters using age old techniques, creating objects with integrity and artists inspired by their surroundings adding a modern twist to their sculptures. Shop simply because things are so lovely. The Meander is particularly proud of the artists and crafters. Laze in a hammock slung between two White Stinkwood trees and dream of staying in the Midlands forever, where you could learn to make jam, grow asparagus and read to the kids at the local farm school.  Pump up your tyres and gather your family for an exhilarating ride through the plantations and along bumpy farm roads before stopping at the trading store to catch the news or enjoy a pint of the local brew with farming folk. After a rewarding day crammed with simple country activities and unpretentious home-grown meals, the magic of the wood owls and jackals calling will lull you to sleep.

The Midlands Meander is a community with shared values.  Guests are offered a glimpse of this lifestyle when spending time in the area and hopefully take home some of the spirit of the Midlands Meander. These values are evident in the continued support of research into the rare and endangered Karkloof Blue Butterfly which is the iconic symbol of the MMA and in the work of the Midlands Meander Association Emerging Artist Crafter Project.

We invite you to write your own Midlands story. Pick up a copy of the latest Midlands Meander Guide and begin as early or as late as you wish. Whether you are on the go or prefer to take it slow, you are certain to discover an unexpected treasure. There is no rush, stay for a few days to catch up with yourself and allow the Midlands Meander, A Good Place, to delight you.

For a copy of the latest Midlands Meander Guide call 033 3308195 or e-mail [email protected]

Some  things you didn’t know about the Midlands Meander in KwaZulu Natal South Africa

·   Howick Falls – 95 m high are known by the local Zulu people as KwaNogqaza, which means ‘Place of the Tall One’.  Local legend has it that the Inkanyamba legendary serpent lives in the base of the Howick Falls and that its anger causes seasonal storms.

·   uMngeni Valley and the Karkloof Conservancy are home to 350 species of birds including the elusive Nerina Trogon, Crowned Eagle, Wattled Crane, Blue Crane, Crowned Crane, making the area a bird-lovers paradise.

·   The mass of brown-veined white butterflies which pass through the Midlands in the summer have flown all the way from the Kalahari.

·   The Dargle forests are home to rare Cape Parrots, White-Starred Robins and Samango monkeys

·   The top of IiNhlosane mountain is 1978m above sea level, the highest point in the Midlands.

·   If a piano is moved from the moist Midlands to a drier area it will take up to two years to acclimatize.

·   The Nelson Mandela Capture Site’s unique sculpture marks the point where Nelson Mandela was captured on 5 August 1962.  Armed apartheid police flagged down the car in which Nelson Mandela was pretending to be the chauffeur.  The sculpture comprises 50 steel columns, each between 6.5 and 9.5 metres tall set into the KwaZulu Natal Midlands landscape.  The 50 columns used in the Nelson Mandela Capture Site sculpture represent the 50 years since Mandela’s capture.

·   The town of Nottingham Road began as a tented camp set up by the Sherwood Foresters in 1856, as a military fort to ‘protect’ farmers in the area from San hunter gatherers.

·   Nottingham Road Brewing Company is the 2nd oldest microbrewery in South Africa and the 1st to can beer.

·   At Fordoun Spa you will not find any chemical, non-ecological products. Their soaps, shower gels, massage oils, bath salts etc are all made out of traditional plants.

·   It is forbidden by the local constitution to keep a donkey in Fort Nottingham village.

·   In the construction of Springrove Dam between Rosetta and Nottingham Road was about the 400th dam to be built with roller compacted concrete but was the first in South Africa to use this material even though it was invented by South African engineers.

For the past years, Tatyana has worked as a sex blogger and a relationship advisor. She has been featured in magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Teen Vogue. Vice, Tatler, Vanity Fair, and many others. Since 2016, Tatyana has focused on sexology, attended various training courses, participated in international conferences and congresses. “I wish people would address sexual issues in a timely manner! Forget shyness, prejudice and feel free to see a sex doctor for help or advice!” Tanya enjoys pursuing her flare for creativity through modelling, graffiti art, astronomy, and technology.

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