The Mini-Midlands Meander

Private Property South Africa
Shaun Wewege

I have decided that when my Lotto numbers come in, or when that pleasant chap, who emailed me to say that he is the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Nigeria, finally transfers those millions in inheritance from a relative I never knew existed, I will buy a cosy spot in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.It’s strange how for years as a chid I would trek with my parents through that part of the world but ignored it because all I could think of was swimming on the beach in Durban. Now that I am older, and possibly more intolerant of the crowds that the holiday season brings, I enjoy spending my time far from the hustle and bustle of the city.We were down in Durban recently for the Comrades Marathon and decided that instead of heading back down to the coast after the race, we would book a stay over in the Midlands . It may sound bizarre to you (do you expect rational decision making processes from people who choose to run a race in an area called “Valley of 1000 hills?”) but the chief reason I booked a guest house in Balgowan was because of it’s proximity to Bierfassl, an Austrian restaurant that serve beers from the Nottingham Road Brewery and eisbein.Beaconvlei Guest Farm in Balgowan was to be our home for the evening. They offer both bed and breakfast as well as self-catering options on their stay-overs. We chose the breakfast option as we did not have time to buy groceries after the race and shopping, a task I loathe when my legs are not tired, was the last thing I wanted to do. Owner Alex had made sure the heaters were switched on before our arrival (a gesture which elevated him to the top of my Christmas card list). It had been a long day and we decided that an early night was in order. Not that I was in any condition to go dancing after running Comrades.The next morning we were greeted by a glorious sunrise, and a rather curious pig who was sniffing around in the garden outside our cottage. Beaconvlei is an ideal spot for photographers as the property is littered with towering tress, a glass-like lake, rolling green hills, friendly farm dogs and a main farm house which was built decads ago. Alex told us that his family had been living on this and other farms in the area for over 100 years. We were pressed for time so couldn’t try fly-fishing, go for a row around the lake or take a long stroll, but I will book at Beaconvlei again and get to enjoy more of the farm. Upon saying goodbye we headed towards Piggly Wiggly Farm Stall. We had seen sign posts the night before and made a note to investigate it in the morning. I was sceptical at first because I have found that many farm stalls are merely small huts that contain a jar of jam, a few straw hats and art made of cold drink tins. Thankfully Piggly Wiggly is different.Their store sells a range of olive oils, sherry, cheese, meat, coffee and pasta that you might not find in your average supermarket. The coffee shop serves breakfast and light meals, with a varied enough menu to satisfy all tastes. What really made this stall different is the Fine Wines store. Here you can taste and purchase a range of wines, some produced in the area, some from other estates around the country, and a few that have been imported. We left Piggly Wiggly with some sherry, cheese, homemade ginger beer, some micro-brewed beers and a few wines (the main prize being a Cap Classique that we expect will be as good as French champagne at a quarter of the price). We were a little short on time and could not stop in at either Rawdons or Nottingham Road breweries and decided to press on to the aforementioned Austrian eatery that was to provide me with my post-Comrades recovery meal.Bierfassl is an unpretentious eatery. The atmosphere is casual and relaxed and I can easily see it being the kind of place locals pop in to for a quick pint. Their menu is fairly extensive as in addition to the usual steak house faire, they offer a few Austrian dishes too. Their beer selection is worth mentioning. Yes, you could have a Castle. But you could also be a bit more adventurous and tuck into a German weiss beer (wheat beer), dunkel (dark beer) or any of the ales and pilsners produced by the local brewers. My eisbein was accompanied by the curiously named “Whistling weasel pale ale” from Nottingham Road breweries.It was time to head back to Johannesburg but we had thoroughly enjoyed our mini-Meander. In a short distance of about 30km we had found a guest farm, two micro-brewers, a cheese factory (Swissland Cheese, which unfortunately only opens to the public later in the day) a farm stall that stocked everything from quality coffee to fine wine. In this shorts stretch there were numerous places of interest that we did not visit.The Midlands are close enough to Joburg and Durban that you could book a two-night stay, enjoy a number of sites and activities (from hiking and canopy tours to spa treatments and golf) and not waste too much time travelling. If you manage more than two nights you could avoid the N3 Toll Road altogether and travel on the R103 which will take you through a number of towns.I hope to head back that way soon and would love to spend a bit more time there. I am just waiting for my good friend Mr. Charles Olongo, Governor of the Reserve Bank of Nigeria, to transfer that money. I’m sure he will. I paid the transfer fee in full. What could go wrong?

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