Last minute getaways are the best, I often find that we over plan for holidays and still land up forgetting the essentials…

I decided on a weekend away in the KwaZulu Natal Midlands, one of the most beautiful parts of South Africa with its endless rolling green hills with quaint towns dotted along the route.

We packed our bags and within 10 minutes were on the road, what we didn’t have we would make a plan – that’s our family philosophy.

Nottingham Road

I have always said this charming, heart-melting town has a weather system of its own. It’s recommended to have a jacket close by at all times.

Winding down the road from the postcard – pretty village of Rosetta, one enters this picturesque chilly town with its abundance of lush green pastures for dairy farms and sheep.

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The Junction has retained its origins as a country farm stall. This shopping village in the heart of the Midlands Meander is a perfect stop to stretch one’s legs and get a quick bite at the spacious restaurant with a playground for the kids. A gaggle of geese waddled towards the pond rather intrigued by my boisterous boys.

Rawdon’s Hotel (Image source @rawdons_hotel)

 

There is so much to see in this part of the Midlands that a drive through does not do justice. South Africa’s most successful Micro Brewery nestles in the shady grounds of the elegant Rawdons Hotel.

This thriving brewery has been delighting visitors since 1996 and they claim their success lies in the purest spring water drawn from the artesian well on their property combined with the use of the finest quality hops and malted barley.

Ixopo

Originally called “Stuartstown” the original Zulu name of “Ixopo” has prevailed. laid out in 1878 Ixopo is most famously described by Alan Paton in the opening lines of “Cry, The Beloved County”. There is a lovely road which runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it.

This delightful town is not a major tourist attraction and is often overlooked by those wondering though the Midlands.

Ixopo Train Station
Ixopo Train Station (Image by Girl in Blue Jeans)

 

Some things worth seeing are:

  • The two churches built in the 1800’s that are still in use
  • The striking landmark Cross that was erected on Medal Hill in 1972 to promote goodwill among men
  • A memorial sundial located in the grounds of the magistrates court
  • Dead Men’s tree which stands outside the Old Post Office Buildings
  • Ixopo Prison which grew from the remains of an early fort in 1900.

Nearby is the Buddhist retreat Centre where people have been visiting for over 20 years.

Not far from the dam is the breeding site of the rare Blue Swallow, the Endangered Wildlife Trust has appointed the Buddhist centre as custodian of these rare swallows. Former President Nelson Mandela declared the Centre a Natural Heritage Site.

The old Railway station caught my eye. I have always loved train travel. It served the area until the mid 1980s, the steam train that offers day trips is called Paton Express. It was lovingly restored by entrepreneur Julian Pereira, and still travels the same route through the tall gum trees and natural forests. It was referred to by Alan Paton in his writings as the “small toy train” climbing from the Umzimkulu Valley.

I jumped from the platform onto the old locomotive, visualising the mist swirling gently into the sky as the train clunked and screeched out of the station.

The Zero 39 Lounge is the cosy restaurant that runs from the immaculate station building, don’t leave without savouring one of their juicy burgers.

Mariathal Missionary
Mariathal Missionary (Image by Girl in Blue Jeans)
Mariathal Missionary
Mariathal Missionary (Image by Girl in Blue Jeans)

Mariathal Trappist Mission School

The mission founded in 1887, served as the first seminary for priests who had studied overseas. Its present site is on the road to Richmond and Umzimkulu.

Built by Francis Pfanner it now functions as a public school and as a gathering point for the local community. This combined boarding school in 2020 had 1146 learners with 35 teachers. Boarding facilities are provided for the female students.

The perimeter of the property has a neglected cemetery where previous Brothers and Bishops are buried. A peaceful property filled with smiling, friendly faces that pop out of all corners, it’s well worth the stop. The church and structure have been maintained and leave one in awe as you look up at the bell tower.

Richmond
Richmond (Image by Girl in Blue Jeans)

Richmond

Situated on the banks of the upper Illovo River it was established in 1850 by British Byrne Settlers.

The best way to explore this town is on foot. Walking the streets one sees so much more.

  • The Old Court House with the dilapidated prison cells in the back garden is for the adventurous.
  • The St Marys Church built in 1853 stands proudly amongst manicured gardens. This unspoilt building with its low wall is inviting and peaceful.
  • The Museum down the road with a tank that stands to attention in the front garden is only a teaser of what’s inside. The curator has put a lot a lot of effort into maintaining and gathering artefacts. I found it very interesting to see snippets of the formal colonial way of life from these areas.
Winterton
Winterton (Image by Girl in Blue Jeans)
Winterton
Winterton (Image by Girl in Blue Jeans)

Winterton

Founded in 1905, this town is situated on the banks of the Tugela River. A fairly small town, the drive down the wide tree-lined main road is scenic.

Nestled at the foothills of the majestic Drakensburg this was always our last stop before arriving in the Central Drakensburg as children. Cosy coffee shops, a well looked after museum and other little shops of interest add character to this otherwise laidback town.

Warm and welcoming is the best way to describe each town. Unique in their own way they are all oozing with character and happy to welcome local visitors who may pass through or linger a little longer.