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Meet the Midlanders

Text: Andrea Abbott. Pictures: Andrea Abbot and Supplied. Article from the November 2014 issue of Country Life Magazine.

Who hasn’t heard of the Midlands Meander in KwaZulu-Natal? We seek out a dozen members of this tourism route to show just why it’s so famous

The idyllic landscape of the Dargle Valley in the Midlands, with Midmar Dam just visible in the distance.

Midlands MeanderThe first tourism route of its kind in South Africa, the Midlands Meander in KwaZulu-Natal, was born almost 30 years ago when a few creative people got together to find a way to collaborate. “The concept of a rolling exhibition, held a couple of times a year, was born,” says Ingrid Andersen, general manager of the Meander.

Three decades on, and with nearly 150 members, the Midlands Meander has evolved into a thriving five-route destination that’s famous far and wide. “It offers more than exceptional art and craft,” says Ingrid. While activities like cycling, horse riding and various courses are increasingly popular, the Meander remains true to its original vision of being “a collective of creative and hospitable people, making a living at a gentler pace.” I met with some of these resourceful folk, all committed to being the best in their respective field.

Karkloof Farmers Market (Route 1)

Karkloof Farmers Market-one of the best in KZN.A shed, home-made chilli sauce, seedlings and a bright idea while two families were holidaying together – such were the foundations of one of the finest farmers markets in KZN. In the seven years since they began, savvy entrepreneurs Andrea Gibson and Kim Drennan have seen their market grow like Topsy. The vendors are local, their produce fresh and hugely varied. “We decided to stick to food,” says Kim. “With one exception – the book stall. That’s food for the mind.”

Saturday 07h00-11h00

Andrea 082 820 8986

Kim 082 851 8649

website

Karkloof Conservation Centre (Route 1)

 Environmentalist Charlie MacGillivray with his best friend Jahu, at the Karkloof Conservation Centre's bird hide on Gartmore Farm. INSET: Cranes find safe haven in the centre's wetlands.“It began with the acknowledgment of our beautiful, diverse environment,” Karkloof Conservancy chairman, Charlie MacGillivray says as we walk to a bird hide at the edge of a wetland on Gartmore Farm. Providing a haven for 180 bird species, including all three cranes, and other wildlife, the farm proves how intensive agriculture can be. As Charlie explains, “It’s inclusive of all creatures great and small, the earthworm being the most important.” Information boards at the office describe the no-till farming that’s behind the thriving wildlife population, as well as the lower fuel costs. “At no sacrifice whatsoever, it all works,” says Charlie.

Open daily 08h00-16h00 033 330 2992,

website

Dirt Road (Route 2)

Andrew and Marion Jardine built the corrugated Settler's Cottage that houses their Dirt Road store in Curry's Post.Once upon a time, three students started a bush gear business for fun. “I had the time,” says Andrew Jardine. “Rob Topham had R500, and Frank Mooney had premises.” Their business, Trappers Trading, grew so big that the fun went out of it. “We sold it,” says Andrew, “then developed the Dirt Road label.” Today, that label encompasses bush clothing as well as leather- trimmed canvas bags (think Out of Africa) created by Andrew’s wife, Marion. Headquarters is a picturesque corrugated iron cottage on Andrew and Marion’s farm on the Curry’s Post Road. Available too are exquisite photographic prints and cards by top photographer, Scotch Macaskill.

Open daily 09h00-16h00

082 899 1418

website

Groundcover Leather Company (Route 2)

Amanda McCarthy and Don Tully of Ground Cover. The bronze Elves and the Shoemaker sculpture and sundial by Abbo Hall are a Meander landmarkAn early member of the Meander, Groundcover at Curry’s Post is “more about building community than about making shoes and money,” says owner, Amanda McCarthy. Among the company’s priorities is to plough profits into sending employees’ children to good schools. “We pay half the fees – parents the other half (they must be committed),” says Amanda, who believes education is key to our country’s future. That aside, Groundcover’s products are tops. “Orders come from as far as Australia,” says factory manager, Don Tully. “South Africans there rely on us for new vellies when their old ones wear out.”

Open daily 08h30-17h00

033 330 6092

website

Heavenly Hammocks (Route 2)

Graeme Joffe takes it easy in one of his heavenly hammocks“One rainy day while holidaying in the Berg, we decided to explore the Meander,” says Graeme Joffe, maker of riotously colourful hanging furniture. Attracted by the lifestyle that a home-based rural business offered, Graham and his wife Laura upped sticks to Curry’s Post from Johannesburg, where they’d sold hammocks at the Rosebank Rooftop Market. “I took a while to adapt to the tranquillity,” says Graeme. Now, having found Heaven on Earth, he doesn’t want to leave the farm for longer than a brief holiday at the coast. Not that he spends his time lazing in a hammock. Growing demand – both locally and overseas – keeps him very busy.

Open daily 09h00-17h00

083 378 7100

website

St Ives Hotel and Restaurant (Route 4)

 Fran Isaac (left) and her daughter Justine Vogt with week-old kids on the farm at Swissland CheeseDynamic new Meander members, Ashley and Catherine Bloxham moved from Gauteng to Lion’s River in the Midlands for a lifestyle change. “St Ives was for sale,” says Ashley. “We formed a family trust with my parents and brother, bought the property and moved here in February this year.” He and Catherine manage the estate and have given it a new life. Among the attractions are island weddings, picnics, a lakeside restaurant (live music on Saturday nights), children’s play areas, trail running and MTB trails including a pump track. “Our aim is for people to spend a day relaxing in the country,” says Ashley. That’s not hard to achieve given the sublime surroundings.

Closed on Tuesdays 033 234 4490

website

Swissland Cheese (Route 4)

 Fran Isaac (left) and her daughter Justine Vogt with week-old kids on the farm at Swissland CheeseGrowing up on a dairy farm, Fran Isaac had many pets, goats included. “They ate the cattle feed so my father insisted they pay their way.” Fran began making cheese and eventually opened a shop on the farm in Balgowan. The timing was perfect: the Meander was gaining momentum. Today, with milk from 65 free-ranging nanny goats, Swissland produces nine different cheeses and several varieties of each. “Our flagship is our award-winning Drakensberg, an ash-coated white mould cheese.” Aside from cheese, the shop stocks various local products. Highly recommended is the home-made Italian (cow’s milk) ice cream. Order a picnic lunch to enjoy in the beautiful setting. If you’re there in mid-August, you might get to see the newborn kid goats. Cuteness defined.

Open Thursday to Tuesday 09h30-16h30, except for Christmas and New Year’s Day

082 418 3440

website

Culamoya Chimes (Route 4)

Lona Haupt dwarfed by the three Peace Chimes at Culamoya, the largest hanging wind chimes in the worldIn Lidgetton, you’d find your way blindfolded up the hill to Culamoya, the melodies guiding you. “Chimes trust in the wind to sing,” says Lona Haupt as we stand before three towering Peace Chimes, the biggest hanging wind chimes in the world, she tells me. “Called Loving, Serving and Forgiving, they’re our incentive to get up each morning to make more chimes to spread the message of peace.” Lona and husband Frik have obeyed that incentive for 27 years. “Our chimes are in every country of the world,” Lona says. “We’re the only people not making pentatonic ones. Ours are mostly melodies.” In the showroom, a huge array of chimes wait to be ‘adopted’. They’re made with love,” says Lona. Stand close to each and you feel the vibration of its unique song. Some people are moved to tears.

Open Wednesday to Sunday and public holidays 10h00-15h00

083 627 6195, Facebook: CulamoyaChimes

The Woodturner (Route 2)

Award-winning wood artist, Andrew Early, has received international acclaim for his work“I see my work as sculptures with a ceramic quality,” says award-winning wood artist, Andrew Early of Dargle. Following in the footsteps of his father, John Early who joined the Meander in 1986, Andrew creates magnificent decorative bowls (“the thick ones can take four years to dry”) and furniture out of mostly exotic wood, jacaranda among his favourites. Some of his creations are functional but, increasingly, Andrew is focusing on art pieces that will be displayed in his new gallery due to open by Christmas 2014.

Open by appointment

072 365 6270

Shuttleworth Weaving (Route 3)

Rob and Julia Shuttleworth with a magic red carpet and a couple of warm-as-toast mohair wraps.Helen and Andy Shuttleworth (apt surname) were members of the rolling exhibition that developed into the Meander. “They started on the farm with daily cattle,” says their son, Rob. “Mum took up weaving as a hobby, then Dad bought a loom.” Soon, the cows gave way to hand-woven mohair carpets, throws and scarves. Rob and his wife, Julia, now run the business and are taking it in new directions, their magic carpets travelling far and wide. “We export a lot to designers in New York,” says Rob. Recently, they opened an outlet at Linga Lapa farm stall near Nottingham Road. “We love what we do. And feel very lucky,” says Julia, as we look at the stupendous views from the hilltop farm where it all began.

Linga Lapa store is open daily 08h30-17h00

The Design Studio and Factory at the farm are open by appointment.

Rob 076 709 3049, Julia 082 540 9639

website

Astrid Dahl (Route 4)

Astrid Dahl is renowned locally and abroad for her bone-white silken ceramic art“I’ve been told that my work has the ‘golden mean’,” says ceramicist extraordinaire, Astrid Dahl, whose studio is on the family farm in Nottingham Road. It’s a term that describes aesthetically pleasing proportions. And, indeed, Astrid’s exquisite bone-white ceramic art stops you in your tracks. Inspired by plants – orchids one of her favourites – Astrid says her imagination also takes flight as she works with the clay. “It folds and curves and the piece develops a life of its own.” In addition to the silky smooth pots for which she is internationally known (Jordan’s Queen Rania is among her famous clients), Astrid creates lights using specially commissioned plaster moulds. Stark white and perfectly proportioned too, the lights are set to be as sought after as Astrid’s other artworks.

Visits by appointment.

084 799 8998

website

The Wine Cellar and Mouse Trap Deli (Route 5)

Family firm, left to right: Ryan and Sarah Adam, Clare Beith, Margie and Warwick SpowartatThe Wine Cellar“Nineteen years ago, we returned from a trip to the Cape, bringing wine not available in KZN,” says Margie Spowart. “Our friends were thrilled.” That triggered Margie and husband Warwick to open the first speciality wine store in KZN, in Rosetta. “Cape people said it wouldn’t succeed because KZN folk were ignorant about wine,” Warwick recalls. The Wine Cellar and its deli have evolved into a veritable emporium and family firm. Margie’s sister, Clare Beith (“I was bored at home”) also helps in the café outside and runs a curiosity shop, Pandora’s. Sarah Adam (Warwick and Margie’s daughter) is taking things to a new level. Having spent eight seasons working in the Cape with cellar master, Riaan Marais, Sarah is a wine fundi herself. Three years ago, she took over several vines from a hobby winemaker in Greytown and planted them in Rosetta. “They’ve survived three winters so are now Rosetta grapes. It’ll be a while before we know if they’ll thrive. If they do, I’ll be making my own wine.”

Open daily 09h00-16h30

033 267 7044, 082 923 8781

website

Midlands Meander

033 330 8195 email, website

More info on the town of Dargle More info on the Natal Midlands area

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