So, you’re halfway to Durban, the kids are bored, squabbling over their iPads and the dog has been sick. You desperately need somewhere to stop.
Relax. Head for The Windmills Kitchen, just five minutes off the N3 at Nottingham Road and tuck into some of the best and most affordable food the Natal Midlands has to offer.
You can’t miss the huge Windmills’ sign. What you’ll find is a huge, barn-like structure bursting with local food and delicacies with all ingredients locally sourced from the surrounding farms and small businesses. Drink coffee, wine, cold beer or fresh water, choose a homemade pizza, any amount of fresh open or toasted sandwiches, salads, steaks or pasta before treating the family to scrumptious ice cream that would put an Italian to shame – and your stop needn’t end there.
A short walk away is Brahman Hills where you can stay overnight in one of the four-star deluxe self-catering cottages – each with its own Jacuzzi – that are scattered throughout the Blue Crane Nature Reserve. During our visit several species of friendly buck roamed the area; silky Brahman and fat Nguni cows lazily grazed in the lush green grass; and a tractor was digging a new dam for an onsite hydroelectric project. Of course the resident birdlife sang their hearts out.
You can splurge on fine dining at the underground 89 Copper Eatery, breakfast in the restaurant with the view over the rolling green hills of Zululand, sip a latte or cappuccino in the coffee bar. But whatever you do, don’t miss a pampering at the superb spa.
Bang in the middle of KwaZulu-Natal, Brahman Hills is also the perfect spot for a wedding, conference, a family reunion or a romantic couple’s weekend.
And, of course, you’re in the heart of what has become one of South Africa’s top tourist and visitor attractions – the legendary Midlands Meander. The area brims with history and things to do. Not to be missed is the Nelson Mandela Capture Site. Nothing quite prepares you for your first glimpse of this. Take a walk to the top of the hill up to the surprisingly good little museum (and I suggest you download the free app Mandela’s Journey to get the most out of your visit), then take the paved path back down towards the main road.
Not far away are the evocative plains of Isandlwana where, in 1879, in the first battle of the Anglo-Zulu War, 4 000 Zulu warriors inflicted one of the worst defeats on Queen Victoria’s imperial army in British military history.
If you want to find out what today’s Queen Elizabeth keeps on her mantelpiece at Balmoral, or what M in the James Bond movies has on her desk, then pop in to the Aladdin’s cave of wonder at Ardmore Ceramic Studios and watch the gifted Zulu potters and painters working.
Explore the onsite Bonnie Ntshalintshali Museum founded in 2003 and the first museum in South Africa to be named after a black woman artist. Bonnie’s ceramics and sculptures are now world famous.
Stop for coffee at SteamPunk Coffee where Michael, the barista, will whip up a cup of whatever you fancy, or alternatively stop at Terbodore Coffee Roasters or Lineage Coffee (you’ll need all this caffeine to keep you going).
If you want one-stop shopping, don’t miss the delightful Piggly Wiggly Country Village. People come from all over just to experience Chocolate Heaven which more than lives up to its name, with fresh healthy chocolate containing no preservatives or palm oil.
My first stop at Piggly Wiggly is always Huddy’s Books that has been trading in second hand books for more than two decades and specialises in Africana, history and art – all for a song. Glass Cuttings is the home of beautiful handmade stained glass. Pick up a lamp, a picture, jewellery, jars and bottles, all at half the price you’d pay in the big cities or order a unique window or lamp made especially for you.
Discover some of South Africa’s best fine artists at Zulu Lulu Art House where quality and affordability meet. Let the kids do their creative thing at Dipping Candles or ride the miniature train at Lions River Railway. And if you’ve always coveted an Nguni hide rug or throw, then the heady aroma of leather will guide you through the doors of Hides of Africa.
By the time you get back on the N3, you’ll be rested, shopped out and no longer hungry or thirsty.
One more thing – treat yourself and the kids to the miniature fairyland of Butterfly World, also just off the N3 where butterflies from all over the world dance and hover and you can enjoy the feeling of an Australian leaf insect delicately making its way over your arm.