Join our family in this blog post for an overnight trip on the Midlands Meander when we spent 24 blissful hours in this scenic region of KZN last weekend. With my husband Dave flying from Ghana to Durban to see us in for a long weekend we decided to get out of town for a night. With only one full day spare in between special family get togethers on Friday and Sunday for our son who was turning 9, we made the most of our time together and created some special memories on our overnight trip on the Midlands Meander.
Plan your route or spontaneously jump in your car and head for the hills
The Midlands in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa is a particularly scenic region between the town of Pietermaritzburg and the spectacular Drakensberg Mountain Range in South Africa. The Midlands Meander was founded in 1985 and is a collection of arranged routes that you can follow that make for the best sort of ‘meandering’ through the countryside and leisurely stopping at various coffee shops, spa venues, restaurants and arts and craft stores. Whether meticulously planned with the available online routes depending on what type of trip you are interested in, or spontaneously embarked on, a trip on the Midlands Meander makes for a wonderful weekend away, overnight trip or day out of town, and leaves you feeling like you have travelled far further than the 130km drive from Durban.
First Midlands Meander stop on our overnight trip – Wynnifreds Cafe and Shoppe
We left Hillcrest at 9:30am on Saturday morning and at 10am we drove through the pretty gates of Wynnifreds Café and Shop in the Tala Valley. We thoroughly enjoyed the brunch we had and the excellent service we received with exemplary attention to detail. Sipping a delicious flat white coffee in such a spacious green outdoor setting with the lulling background sound of a water feature felt deliciously relaxing. The gorgeous neutral basketware for sale is worth browsing and the Serendipity Day Spa is an option for further unwinding. Our kids had fun chasing a gaggle of honking geese around, and feeling the wind against their faces while trying out the various swings. They also loved climbing the huge beautiful trees with trunks covered in twisted knots. Wynnifreds Cafe and Shoppe have also started trail runs so see their Facebook page for more details.
Opening hours: Wed – Sat 9am – 3:30pm, Sun 9am – 3pm
For bookings Whatsapp 082 940 7058
Second Midlands Meander stop on our overnight trip – The Platform Gallery at the old Lions River Station
The time spent in the car goes very quickly when the scenery is so lovely and we admired cows contentedly grazing on the rolling lush green hills, the shapely grey mountains in the distance and seeing what creatures jumped out at us when we stared at the voluminous puffy white clouds in the cobalt blue sky.
Another thirty minutes in the car and on Dargle Road our eyes caught sight of a cluster of shops we hadn’t seen before. Built along the old train station platform and housed in the old station building is a fascinating art gallery called The Platform that is home to a variety of sculptures and paintings. Metal birds are delicately perched on branches while the bust of a friendly looking African lady smiles from a display cabinet (I would have loved to take her home). A slender man as tall as the building itself with beautifully detailed huge feet and a head of sun rays is the star of the show in the centre of the room. Along this strip of shops there are also eating and coffee opportunities and the Nguni Guy displaying his Nguni hide floor mats washing line-style , the bold cow skin markings hard to miss as they gently sway in the breeze.
Third Midlands Meander stop on our overnight trip – Piggly Wiggly
Just further along Dargle Road is the infamous Piggly Wiggly – a collection of all sorts of shops, restaurants and fun things for children to do like candle dipping, riding on a choo choo train around the large gardens track and playing on several jungle gyms. It was here that we spotted the unusual subtle grey and brown mottled Nguni skin at the Hides of Africa store near the entrance that is now further East of the continent on the lounge floor of our Ghana home. A little piece of our home country and a special memento of this Midlands family trip.
KItchen times: 8am – 3pm Daily
Shops opening times: 9am – 5pm Daily
As we were keen for a chilled and leisurely afternoon we decided to head to our accommodation to relax which was a further half an hour away in the direction of Fort Nottingham. The drive there was truly picturesque as the road twisted around the rolling hills and farmlands. We stopped to take in the incredible panoramic views of endless shades of green with small pops of bright colour in the delicate flowers along the roadside and felt we were in the box cover of a splendid landscape puzzle.
Fourth Midlands Meander stop on our overnight trip – Crystal Barn Country Estate
Next up was an overnight stay that left us mesmerized by what felt like a flight across the Indian Ocean for a quick stop over in India. As a lover of bright colours and pretty things the Crystal Barn Country Estate had my heart beating wildly! I discovered this accommodation a few days before when I was looking for a place for us to eat at and stay on Saturday night and came across this article. Crystal Barn in Fort Nottingham is a well-known wedding venue, restaurant and coffee spot that also offers simple, comfortable and very aesthetically appealing accommodation.
The charm and beauty all around cannot but draw you in with enchanting first impressions. Vintage rusted vehicles sleep peacefully in the surrounding greenery and as you step into the courtyard you are met with a long wall of bright blooming hydrangeas and gorgeous historical Indian window shutters with hints of purple and turquoise paint.
Bold, beautiful and bedazzling spaces
As we entered the exquisite reception room I gasped as my eyes fell on an old Singer sewing machine (most of my friends know my passion for these machines and sewing in general) and patterned Indian saris draped all around the room. My dream lounge area with its dazzling mix of colourful patterns and textures lay before us! A sign welcomed us to the “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel Crystal Barns style” and having re-watched both of those movies as a family during the lock down in Ghana we could all immediately relate!
It is evident that an enormous amount of effort and stylish taste has gone into the décor. The exotic energy that emits from tasteful clusters of teacups, antique kitchen ware and miniature glass bottles to mention but a few interior treasures, is captivating! We entered a short corridor of deep seaweed greens, bold cerise pinks and 1920s Flapper girl French posters to suss out the dining room area which is summed up well on the Midlands Meander website: “an explosion of sensory delights which will fascinate and inspire……a quirky mix of French, country, vintage and Indian colour and spice.” I stood there taking all the colour in, and believed wholeheartedly in Love at first sight as within seconds we were now well and truly transported far away from this area of KwaZulu Natal and deep into South Asia!
Are we in the setting of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ or ‘The Secret Garden’?
A little while later we found ourselves outside on an expanse of green lawn and with a glass of chilled white wine in one hand and a cake fork in another, we tucked into slices of scrumptiousness. Served on gorgeous antique mismatched crockery, the raspberry cake with its melted marshmallow and edible flower topping was as wonderfully eclectic to our taste buds as everything else had been to our eyes so far.
With ample space to run around, our kids had a ball exploring, swinging and climbing on the jungle gym while we sat under the shade of a tree with a pretty view of the Rowe dam. We were mesmerized watching the peaceful water which sparkled in the afternoon sunlight as if small bits of silver tinsel had been plucked from a strand on a Christmas tree and thrown on it to float. You can also hire kayaks to explore the dam further which I’d love to do next time when I don’t have a fracture ankle! With colourful furniture dotted around the outside area, a bunny hopping happily around and a wall close by which had me imagining a secret garden on the other side, suffice it to say that you will feel well transported into a story book setting when you visit Crystal Barn. Later we enjoyed sitting under the huge reception area chandelier and could imagine how cosy the fireplace in that area must be in Winter.
Meals fit for Kings and Queens
Attached to the dining area is a bar called the ‘Legless’ decorated with old record covers and an appropriate mannequin’s leg attached to the wall that had us laughing. Dinner options that night were brought to us on a large black board with the chef regularly mixing these up and keeping culinary things interesting. The beautifully presented meals of fillet steak and slices of gammon were equal parts attractive and absolutely delicious! A special surprise awaited our son who was turning 9 the following day with a birthday song and candles and the best strawberry sorbet I’ve ever tasted presented to him in a beautiful gold leaf bowl. What a spoil! Our kids ate off the kids menu and loved their chicken strips and chips.
The bed was super comfy and the attention to detail in delightful little things weren’t lost on us like the sherry alongside two small glasses for a night cap, and the blocks of soap provided with colourful confetti like pieces inside them. It is certainly not every night that you get to sleep in a room with eye catching Indian Sari covered walls, and place your feet on screed floors with saris that have been embedded into the flooring in place of regular mats! I have always had a ‘thing’ for Indian saris and have sewed a few garments from them in the past so I couldn’t resist taking one more photo of the ambiance before we turned out the lights.
A magical place to tie the knot
Sadly due to Covid circumstances Crystal Barn hasn’t hosted a wedding in a year but gosh this venue is fit for a celebration of dreams! Breakfast was included in our overnight stay and the crumpets with pineapple, bacon and syrup that I ordered in the morning were amazing, as was the coffee! My family also thoroughly enjoyed their meals and the bread laden with cranberries and nuts was incredible.
Crystal Barn is delightfully flamboyant and unique, the perfect place to stay if you are looking for somewhere ‘different’ to stay on an overnight trip on the Midlands Meander. We wished we could have stayed for longer but even though we were only there overnight we won’t forget our little trip to ‘India’ anytime soon – the visit to another country that was only an hour and a half’s drive from home. We look forward to when we can return!
Restaurant opening hours: Thursday – Sunday for day visitors but if there are private functions on Saturday night it closes to the public.
Bookings are essential for dinner.
Contact Kate or Sbu on 071 364 0173, email@example.com
Another must see – The Nelson Mandela Capture Site
If we had had more time on Sunday to explore the Midlands area more we would have taken our kids to The Nelson Mandela Capture Site which Dave and I visited a few years ago. Situated on the R103 it was on this road, on 5 August 1962 that Mandela was captured and arrested after successfully evading capture for 17 months prior. Following this arrest he was incarcerated for 27 years. With its incredible interactive museum it is a place that all South Africans and foreign visitors should try to see to engage with Nelson Mandela’s legacy and to learn more about our country’s history.
The amazing sculpture on the site acknowledged the 50th anniversary of Mandela’s capture with 50 laser cut steel columns between 6 and 9,5m high along a 30m length. Visitors walk along a path symbolising ‘The Long Walk to Freedom’ to a view point where the steel columns align to magically produce a 2D portrait of our wonderful previous president Nelson Mandela.
If you are out of the country and interested in learning more about the Nelson Mandel Capture Site there is also the option of doing a Virtual Tour on their website,
Enquiries: 072 351 096
I hope you have fun planning your trip to the Midlands or spontaneously jumping in the car and heading there asap!