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Pietermaritzburg is the ideal stepping-off point for an exploration of the attractions of neighbouring regions - from the historically significant Battlefields of the Anglo-Boer War to the arts & crafts of the Midlands Meander, Howick and surrounds as well as Midmar Dam, where you can water ski, fish, camp or just chill out over a braai on a lazy sunday afternoon.
The Midlands Meander:
It is a drive-yourself route punctuated with dozens of captivating ports of call, ranging from art studios, country hotels, herb and flower farms to cheese makers, tea gardens, craft, pottery and weaving workshops.
The Meander was established in 1985, when local artists, potters and weavers joined forces to create a unique arts and crafts route.
Initially, six studios opened their doors to the public, and then the Midlands Meander was born. The aim was to encourage the public to take to the country... to give visitors a chance to see crafts-people at work. By selling directly to visitors, the studios were able to keep prices down ans with the active support of hospitality establishments in the area, a unique route was formed.
Other artists and crafts-people were encouraged to move to the area, and today the Midlands Meander is a stimulating arts and crafts route with something to offer everyone.
With the Midlands Meander in mind, Pietermaritzburg is an ideal base from which to set out on a mission to stock up on anything from handmade shoes and fresh honey to bed linen and sea chests.
There's even the opportunity to do a spot of trout fishing, to linger over an al fresco lunch or relax cozily in a traditional country pub.
The area is particularly popular for weddings - and with good reason. There is a wide range of delightful county settings for that special occasion and there are a number of picturesque and historical churches on the Meander, many dating back to the 1880's.
The northern access to the Midlands Meander is centered in thoroughbred country, for it is here that some of South Africa's most successful racehorse studs and training establishments are located in this region of lush pastures.
Another interesting fact about the Midlands Meander is that it has a higher GDP than the Cape Wine Route.
Howick Falls Art & Crafts Market;
The Howick Falls Craft Market was established by Mrs.Nicole Roelens on the 10th January 1993. It is now run by Mrs. Ann de Boer who took over on the 8th October 2000. The main aim is to supply an outlet for small home based craft industries. The majority of the stalls sell hand made goods. The venue is very attractive with space in the middle of the field for children to play while parents wander around. There are picnic sites available near by. In the future it is hoped to have various forms of entertainment as well.
Established in October 1997, the tourism initiative centered on the Albert Falls takes advantage of attractions and activities in the area immediately north-east of the city.
A popular landmark in Umvoti County, the initiative is spreading and now includes the historic locations of Bishopstowe, Cramond, Dalton, New Hanover, Wartburg, Hermannsburg and Kranskop.
The bird life is prolific with an abundance of water birds and other species, and there are several trails worth exploring.
It is not by chance that the fish eagle is the emblem of the Albert Falls Amble, as its unique cry can be heard throughout the area.
Game viewing enthusiasts have the choice of either seeing nature on foot, on horse-back or from specialized game-viewing vehicles.
More and more families are making use of the many dams and rivers in the region, and activities include water-skiing, para-sailing, canoeing, sailing and, of course, fishing. These waters are known as the best bass fishing locations in the world, with several large tournaments held annually to take advantage of tight lines.
For those lazy days there are picnic areas, tea gardens and animal farms. Whilst ambling, the Albert Falls region is a popular day trip for visitors to Pietermaritzburg, there are several hotels, a host of bed and breakfasts establishments, self-catering units, as well as camping and caravanning sites.
More dramatic is a meander to the monumental falls of Howick. As the Mgeni River powers its way to the coast from the foothills of the Drakensberg, it pools its resources in four immense dams and pours itself over precipices and through valleys gouged out over millions of years.
One of the Mgenis' most dramatic drops is the 100m Howick Falls, known to the Zulu as kwaNogqaza (the place of the tall one) The falls and surrounding 33ha were proclaimed a national monument in 1951.
Howick is a busy town with thriving local business and industry, but pleasure-seeking and picnic parties from Pietermaritzburg could not be more welcome.
Situated 7kms from Howick and a 15 minute easy drive from Maritzburg is the Midmar Public Resort and Nature Reserve. It is zoned for yachts and power boats and is also popular with boardsailers and canoeists. Picnickers can relax in the shade along the 15kms of developed shoreline.
An adjoining 1 000 ha game park provides sightings of zebra, redhartebeest, springbok, blackwildebeest, oribi and blesbok.
Anglers will delight in an abundance of bass, bluegill, carp and scalies.
Boston Bulwer Beat:
Within easy driving distance of Pietermaritzburg is a community tourism initiative known as the Boston Bulwer Beat. Located in the foothills of the Drakensberg, it is ideal for those seeking peace and quiet - and good country fare. However, for the more outgoing there is excellent trout fishing (both Rainbow and Brown trout are prolific in the rivers, lakes and dams in the area), while birding is a popular pastime - with species including the endangered blue swallow and the Cape parrot.
Walking, hiking, rafting and mountain biking are available, and the village of Bulwer is regarded as the para-gliding and hang-gliding capital of South Africa.
It is difficult to imagine that the scenic and tranquil landscape of KwaZulu-Natal was once the focal point of major military clashes; where over a time span of 70 years, one historical drama after another unfolded against the backdrop of the African veld and the majestic Drakensberg mountains.
The province boasts the largest concentration of battlefields in South Africa, where military engagements that were to shape the course of this country's history, raged over green hills and sweeping grasslands.
Pietermaritzburg is the perfect place from which to explore the Battlefields of KwaZulu-Natal - the sites of bloody conflict between Boer, Brit and Zulu.