Midlands

by Peter Baxter  

Map

The South African Midlands is the area that lies more or less between Johannesburg and Durban of the N3 freeway that links both the two cities and the two provinces of Gauteng and KwaZulu/Natal. It is mainly a road touring destination through the green and pleasant land that lies between these centres. The area rivals the Cape and the Garden Route as a concentration of experiences for the higher senses, and is without doubt among the most pleasant and rewarding regions of South Africa.

What to See

The Midlands region is dominated by the uKhahlamba, or the Barrier of Spears, the main escarpment of the Drakensberg Range, and perhaps the single most important draw to the area. The landscape is defined by green and rolling hill country, isolated farms and pleasant rural settlements. Many of the major battles and sieges of the Anglo/Boer War were fought in this region, with the names of many towns and districts reflective of this fact.

berg.jpgThe Midlands Meander route is very well defined, and has seeded an industry in varied hospitality establishments, most associated with gourmet food, wine and spa. There is also a proliferation arts & craft, and genteel activities such as horse riding, fly fishing and any number of walking trails and bird watching destinations. The by-words are soft, accommodating, sensual and invigorating, with the spice of venture sport subtly woven in here and there just to keep the young and the active interested.

The whole region is peppered with individual craft outlets from leatherwork, brass, iron forging, glass, knitwear and clothing, not to mention art galleries and local workshops and studios. It also hosts no less than a dozen conservation groups which gives a very fair indication of what is top of the agenda to many local residents.

Drakensberg Mountains

Although not a large mountain range as mountains go, the Drakensberg is an area of cultural significance and geographic importance. It is the dividing feature between South Africa and the independent Kingdom of Lesotho, and the principal watershed for both countries. As a tourist destination it is principally a hill walking, hiking and climbing venue, but it also offers a great variety of hospitality establishments, with a handful of extremely venerable old hotels and lodges associated with the mountain that offer a five star standard of accommodation and cuisine.

Climate

The Midlands climate is temperate, with warm summers and mild winters, although snow is common in the Berg, and occasionally in the surrounding hill country. The average summer high is about 28 C (82 F) with cool evenings, while the winter high averages 24 C (75 F), with evening regular dipping below freezing. Rainfall can be heavy and sustained during the summer months, (November to March), peaking over December/January.

More information about South African weather

When to Go

The most pleasant time to visit is undoubtedly the spring season in march, April and May. The rains have just washed over, and the hills and valleys and green, crisp and cool. Most of the local wild flowers will be in bloom, while the cities, towns, homes and gardens will be at their most effusive. During the summer months the rain can be a limiting factor, and in the depth of winter it can be cold with long spells of low cloud and overcast weather.

Travel Warnings

Crime: The region shares the same general dangers of street crime and muggings as the rest of South Africa. Don’t be fooled by the English home counties serenity. Keep your wits about you at all time, and remember that South Africa is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. There are certain areas that are more dangerous than others, and although the Midlands is generally a quieter and more respectful part of the country, nowhere is particularly safe on the streets after dark, so seek and follow local advice on the matter of crime and general safety wherever and with whomever you go.

  • Leave important documents in a safe place. All hotels, lodges and hostels offer safe lock up facilities
  • Seek safety advice from you hospitality establishment wherever you are
  • Avoid walking anywhere after dark, particularly in urban areas, and particularly in the CBD of any of the larger cities and towns
  • Don’t leave anything of value in your car overnight
  • Don’t stop on any of the freeways for more than a few minutes, and in the instance of a breakdown, call for help
  • Incidences of car hijackings in South Africa are high. Always be aware of your surroundings, particularly at night

Health

AIDS: Any kind of casual sexual encounter in South Africa, as with anywhere in the world these days, is to be discouraged. South Africa has one of the highest infection rates on the planet, about 1 in 4 of the population, so obviously extra caution is necessary when visiting any destination on the sub-continent.

In most of South Africa tropical diseases are rare, and in particular in the champagne air of the Midlands. This is not a malarial zone, so no particular precautions are necessary.

Travel Doctor clinics are to be found in all the major centers where you can get health advice on malaria, yellow-fever, AIDS and any other tropical diseases, and acquire all the vaccinations and prophylactics necessary for your extended journey.

Tap water is usually safe to drink.

Sunburn risks are high so hats, long sleeved T-shirts and sun screen are a must.

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Images: Thanks Flickr

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