Midlands Meander: Places to stop on the N3

A few times a year I find myself traveling from Joburg to Durban to visit my parents. When I first moved to Joburg in 2010 they would be short weekends flying in on a Friday and out on a Sunday. These days I’m trying to make the trip down a little slower.

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Stopping to snap some photos of Nguni cattle

The most comfortable way, if time allows, is to take a day on either side of the trip for traveling. Then there is time to make a few stops on the R103 through the KwaZulu-Natal midlands.

I love the midlands, not only for it’s scenic valleys but also for its rich farmlands, which produces some of the country’s best meat and dairy products. There are dozens of places to stop along the way, and when on your way to Durban ,with only a day of travel to spare, there isn’t enough time to see and taste everything.

The most I can usually accommodate on the way down or up is two stops. I usually do a bit of research before a trip and suggest a few places to my husband John and then we decide together which ones we go to.

Here’s a list of places we stopped on a trip down in July 2017:

We made a trip to Durban to celebrate my parents’ birthdays. Our final destination for the weekend was the South Coast but we managed to make time to do some brief meandering on our way down and on our return.

Breakfast at the Little Church tea garden in Van Reenen

I’ve always known about the Little Church and stopped there before but I’ve never had a meal at the café until a friend’s birthday weekend in Swinburne a few months ago.

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The Little Church in Van Reenen

John and I decided to revisit the tea garden for our breakfast stop on the way down to Durban. We left home pretty early so we got to the tea garden at between 9 and 10am.

We took our seats next to a roaring fire and drank delicious cups of Earl Grey tea while we waited for our breakfast, which arrived fast. This place is a quieter stop than the busy petrol stations with fast food restaurants on the N3. It’s dog friendly so it’s also a great place to stop if traveling with pets.

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Even in winter the view from the tea garden is pretty impressive

There is a little shop that has some great homemade goods for sale, which make perfect gifts for friends and family. Stock up on a few jars of Umsobo, also known as nightshade or nastergal. This delicious jam is not too sweet and it has a beautiful dark purple colour – very tasty with cheese or yoghurt. It’s also an indigenous produce that has been included in the Slow Food Foundation’s international Ark of Taste.

Cheese tasting at Marrakesh Cheese farm in Mooi River

After Van Reenen we rejoined the N3 and then took the Mooi River turnoff and made our way on the R103 until we reached the Marrakesh Cheese Farm. Chris and Sue Coetzer  have been making cheese at their property for the last 16 years.

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This way to try some delicious cheese

We stopped to try a few of the cheeses and of course bought a few to take home. The cottage cheese with red onion, white and blue cheese and chabrie with cow’s milk and a Cajun seasoning were our favourites.

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Cheese tasting in Rosetta, Mooi River

The cheeses also make a great gift because they’re quite exclusive – only available from the farm itself or from the Karkloof Farmer’s Market.

Nelson Mandela capture site in Howick

On our way back to Joburg we took the Tweedie turnoff to Lions River and then turned right onto the R103 turnoff and stopped at the Nelson Mandela Capture Site in Howick.

There is a beautiful sculpture, a collaboration between artist Marco Cianfanelli and Jeremy Rose marking the moment when former President Nelson Mandela was captured by Apartheid security forces before his 27-year imprisonment on Robben Island.

The artwork itself is a masterpiece. It’s made up of 50 steel column constructions each between 6.5 and 9.5 metres tall. As you walk down the path it first looks like an abstract group of steel rods.

As you get closer his face appears , behind bars. The contrast of the steel metal structure and the bars against a background of open sky is quite dramatic and moving.

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You really get a sense of his imprisonment and the feeling of being trapped, and the immense sacrifice Mandela and many others made in the struggle for South Africa’s freedom.

It’s a poignant reminder of our tragic and painful history. Take a few moments to walk around the sculpture and marvel at the fine detailed laser cut edging of the columns, which make up Mandela’s face in the artwork.

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Fun for kids at Piggly Wiggly in Howick

If you’ve got a car full of little ones I would suggest a stop at Piggly Wiggly in Howick, just a few minutes from the capture site. There is so much for them to do from art classes to a train ride and a mini zip line. There are quite a few shops and also couple of options for lunch.

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It’s hard to miss Piggly Wiggly with this giant metal pig in the car park
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Chardonnay grape vines in the Midlands. There is an emerging, small wine-making industry happening in the Midlands

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