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How to take a stress-free meander through the KZN Midlands with Google Maps

Okay Google, take me on an adventure!

Google Maps and I took a jam-packed journey through the KwaZulu Natal Midlands, and now I can’t wait to see more…

Adulting is hard. Besides the endless bills and laundry, you have to figure out how to feed yourself, remember to book your own dentist’s appointments, and navigate from home to work while dodging traffic, potholes, and that nagging feeling that you’ve forgotten something very important… oh sh*t, it’s your sister’s birthday…

And when you finally do get a smidgeon of holiday time, you try to pack in as much as possible before the ‘adulting’ treadmill kicks in again.

So how do you make the most of your break with the fewest blunders?

How do you visit the best restaurants, see the most interesting attractions, book the most comfortable accommodation, navigate from A to B, AND not miss your return flight?

Thankfully, it’s the 21st century, and someone invented the smartphone – and Google.

 

Google’s way more than you think it is

Google is not just the box on the computer (or your phone) where you type questions for the internet to answer. It’s SO much more than just a digital encyclopaedia. It’s the thing that makes adulting just that little bit easier.

Having the Google app on your smartphone is like having your mom in your pocket 24-7.

Having the Google app on your smartphone is like having your mom in your pocket 24-7.

AND you can do it all hands-free! Did you know that simply by asking “Okay Google, where’s the closest coffee shop”, the Google lady will respond with “I found a few coffee shops near you…” and she’ll produce a list that shows each option PLUS a collated user rating and reviews, so you’re guaranteed to find a spot that will suit your pocket and your preferences.

The Google lady is a tour guide, a PA, and she’ll even cheer you up with a silly joke when life feels a little bit mad. Just like mom. She’ll even set your alarm for you, all you have to do is ask.

Midlands meandering with Google Maps

Last weekend, Google and I took a jam-packed journey through the KwaZulu Natal Midlands, and now I can’t wait to see more!

Situated inland, around an hour and a half’s drive from Durban’s King Shaka airport, the rolling hills, lush vegetation, and quaint character could have visitors thinking they’d been teleported into a summer’s day in a village in the UK.

KZN Midlands (Image by Claire Warneke)

 

Breathe

Indulge in the fresh mountain air

Begin your adventure

Here’s how to take a stress-free meander through the KZN Midlands with Google Maps:

1.     Okay Google, how about a glass of wine?

KZN is not known for producing wine, but a few intrepid entrepreneurs have started cultivating some successful vineyards in the Midlands, and the results have been pretty fantastic.

One of the first stops on our Midlands meander was Highgate Wine Estate which started out as a vegetable farm, and ten years down the line boasts five hectares of vineyards, producing eight different wines including the first certified Chardonnay in KZN!

The Highgate Wine Estate (Photos by Claire Warneke)

 

The Highgate Wine Estate (Photos by Claire Warneke)

 

We enjoyed an absolutely delicious wine and food pairing while an afternoon storm rolled in over the hills.

 

2.     Okay Google, show me some sites nearby

The uMngeni River flows through the Midlands, with the 95 metre Howick Falls crashing over a gorge just a 20 minute drive from the Highgate Wine Estate.

The spectacular Howick Falls, known as KwaNogqaza, the ‘place of the tall one’ by the Zulu people in the area is said to be a dwelling place of spirits and ancestors, and is regarded with great superstition. According to Zulu folklore, a giant snake-like creature lives in the pool at the foot of the waterfall.

Visitors to the natural wonder can take a hike along the official Howick Falls Gorge Walk. According to Google Maps, The Midmar Nature Reserve, Piggly Wiggly Country Village and Karkloof Falls are some other nearby tourist attractions to explore if you’re in the area.

Love locks tied to the railings at the Howick Falls. (Image by Claire Warneke)

 

The Howick Falls. (Image by Claire Warneke)

 

Google also recommended the Nelson Mandela Capture Site which is just 13 minutes’ drive from the Falls. The site marks the place where, on 5 August 1962, on a quiet road in the middle of the KZN Midlands, anti-apartheid leader, Nelson Mandela, and fellow activist Cecil Williams were captured by police.

Mandela would spend the next 27 years of his life in prison until his eventual release and triumph as the first democratically elected president of the new South Africa under its new Constitution in 1994.

The museum is well curated, telling the story of the former President’s life in a moving, yet succinct way. The 35 metre walk to the world-renowned sculpture, and the moment when the 50 steel columns finally come into focus is simply breath-taking.

Nelson Mandela Capture Site. (Image by Claire Warneke)

 

A poignant reminder of the journey so many people have taken, and the extreme personal sacrifices that were made to bring freedom to all.

It’s a must-visit for South Africans and international tourists alike.

3.     Okay Google, where should I eat?

A twenty minute drive from the Nelson Mandela Capture Site is the newly established Elephant & Co restaurant.

 

Elephant & Co describes itself as “a modern artisanal dining experience in Pietermaritzburg”. The venue is a beautiful, playful and chic space, with a diverse menu of dishes made from seasonal, local produce. The interior décor feels open and surprisingly bright considering the dark paint and jungle-themed wallpaper. Like being inside an exotic glass house, it’s both cosy and vibrant, serious about its food, yet with a cheeky, playful side.

The meals are as delicious as they look.

(Elephant & Co. Pic by Claire Warneke)

 

Elephant & Co (Images by Claire Warneke)

4.     Okay Google, where should I sleep?

A mere eight-minute drive from Elephant & Co is the four star ANEW Hotel Hilton. The spectacular Tudor-style exterior is complemented by a modern interior with splashes of colour, and a nod to South African designers including the internationally recognised Ardmore ceramics factory which was established in the KZN Midlands. The lobby of the hotel features some joyfully bright Ardmore fabrics and ceramics, which will bring a smile to any weary guest.

ANEW Hotel Hilton (Image by Claire Warneke)

 

ANEW Hotel Hilton (Image by Claire Warneke)

 

The comfortable rooms offer king-sized beds, a tea and coffee station, and full bathrooms. A generous buffet breakfast will set you up well for a morning of meandering in the Midlands.

5.     Okay Google, where to now?

Around 30 minutes’ drive from the ANEW Hotel Hilton is Nottingham Road – a tourist hotspot in the Midlands known for its quaint character, restaurants, coffee shops, crafts, and history. For beer fans, visit the Nottingham Road Brewing Co. and sample their Tiddly Toad, Tipsy Tiger, or Pickled Pig which they’ve been perfecting for over 20 years.

Something else that has stood the test of time is the St John’s Gowrie Presbyterian Church which is a pre-fab structure made in the UK and shipped to the area 1885. It was erected on the farm “Gowrie” and donated by James King, one of the original settlers in the area. The church still holds Sunday services at 9 AM.

Nottingham road explorations (Images by Claire Warneke)

 

For a sample of the sweet stuff, head to Chocolate Heaven where the passionate chocolatiers use ‘old school methods and the finest quality ingredients’ to produce mouth-watering Belgian chocolate, free of preservatives, palm oils, hardeners or extenders.

If you need a little pick-me-up, grab a coffee and slice of cake at the Flamme Rouge Cycle Café which sells orange polenta cake – one of my absolute favourites. It did not disappoint!

Cake and Coffee, Nottingham Road (Image by Claire Warneke)

 

While my whirlwind tour of the KZN Midlands was brief, it was a wonderful introduction to an area that I had never explored before. It has certainly left me wanting more. Google and I will be back, and I can’t wait.

 

Author, Claire Warneke, was invited as part of a media trip to the KZN Midlands, commissioned by Google Maps.

 

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