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5 Fabulaous Drakenberg activities using Mooi River as a base

The Drakensberg mountains are an easy drive from Durban or Johannesburg and offer visitors a variety of outdoor activities in any season. And mooi River is a great place to base yourself for these fantastic outdoor experiences.

Fly in a microlight in the Drakensberg or Natal Midlands
Fly in a microlight in the Drakensberg or Natal Midlands

Fly in a Microlight

The Drakensberg offers some of the most spectacular scenery in South Africa, and there’s no better place to take it all in than from above. Get into a microlight and soar with the vultures.

Slide through the tree tops

The Drakensberg and Natal Midlands offer a chice of 2 canopy tour slides. The Drakensberg Canopy tour and the Karkloof Canopy tour. In fact maybe you would like to do both.

Hot air ballooning in the Drakensberg

Floating above the mountains in a hot-air balloon as the sun rises is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Watching the sun rise over the Berg from a hot-air balloon should be on everyone’s bucket list. Floating above the mountains in a hot-air balloon as the sun rises is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Drakensberg hiking trails
Drakensberg hiking trails

Drakensberg hiking trails

Whether you have a few days or just an hour or two to explore the Drakensberg and Natal Midlands there’s range of hikes that’s perfect for everyone. Most hotels and campsites have a variety of recommended routes catering to novices, experienced hikers and anyone in-between. You’ll find something special in every season – the spectacular streams and waterfalls in summer (November to February) and splendid snow scapes in winter (among other things). The Drakensberg is truly a hiker’s paradise.

Summerhill puts Mooi River on the map again

Air travel to faraway destinations is so commonplace these days, people tend to get a bit blasé about it. However, for a significant section of the population, it is only a pipedream, and for the Imbalenhle traditional dance troupe at Summerhill Stud in Mooi River, it is about to become a reality with an invitation to perform at the planet’s greatest festival of its kind, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Summerhill CEO, Mick Goss, recalls that 17 years ago at the opening of their Hartford House boutique hotel on the farm, he was approached by the team leader with a request for an audition: some of the dancers were just 7 and 8 years of age, and they wanted the right to entertain the hotel guests on weekends. Having grown up in faraway Lusikisiki, Goss had seen just about every traditional dance there was to be seen, and reluctantly gave up a precious Sunday to attend the audition. The troupe arrived with five drums strapped with cattle hides and they beat them with garden hoses, to such effect that they’ve been on duty, weather permitting, ever since. Some years ago, they emerged among the top traditional dance troupes in South Africa, and a small core of this crew distinguished South Africa at the world championships in Tokyo and Hong Kong respectively.

Seventeen years on, and their renown has reached the other end of the world, culminating in the Edinburgh invitation.

That these traditions are maintained among our rural communities is a rare gift in a world where technology and the internet have thrust cultural pursuits to the margins; the tiny metropolis of Mooi River, a slow town with a sleepy railway station left behind by the Anglo-Boer War, is abuzz with anticipation at the imminent departure of this troupe, thanks to the help of the Department of Arts & Culture and the recently appointed MEC for Agriculture and Rural Development in KZN, Mr Cyril Xaba.

The Summerhill team is beavering away at assembling the remaining funds to ensure the dancers get aboard an aircraft later this week, in the hope of wrapping that up in the next few days. They debut in Scotland on the 3rd August under the nom de plume, Ngobamakhosi, the name of the regiment which struck such fear in to the hearts of the British soldiers at the Battle of Isandlwana in 1879; they will perform the ritual dance the Zulu impis undertook at the Royal kraal on the eve of their departure for major military expeditions.

Mick Goss

This was not Mooi River’s only accolade this month. Four years ago, Summerhill opened its School Of Management Excellence in Equine studies, the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, where half of its graduates annually travel abroad on scholarships.

The best of them proceed to further studies at the English National Stud in Newmarket, where they join 25-30 students from around the world. In a matter of three years, two graduates of the Summerhill school have provided that venerable institution with its Top Practical Student of the year, the first of whom, Thabani Nzimande headed the list in 2012, and again last week, John Motaung exalted Mooi River with the same achievement. “Having been to most of the leading stud farms of the world, we’ve long held that South Africa is home to some of the finest naturally-skilled stockmen anywhere, and these results by our local people have vindicated this view completely”.

Yet another graduate of the class of 2013, Hazel Kayiya, who works in the financial administration division of Gold Circle in Durban, is currently on scholarship with the Hong Kong Jockey Club, which operates international racing’s most-envied jurisdiction. Just six months out of her graduation at the School Of Management Excellence, she has been nominated a CEO designate of Gold Circle.

Snow in Mooi River

Snow in Mooi River
Snow in Mooi River

Snow has started falling as a cold front hits the Kwazulu Natal. There are reports of snowfall in from Boston, Balgowan, Curry’s Post and Mooi River.

On Wednesday, forecasters predict light snowfall over high lying areas, including the Drakensburg, from as early today. Snow tracking site, snowreport, has predicted a good chance of light snowfall in areas such as Rosetta, Escourt and Mooi River. Meanwhile, N3 emergency teams are on standby in the event of snow falling on Van Reenen’s Pass. Traffic authorities are warning motorists to exercise caution on the province’s roads.
Snowfalls, which dusted parts of the Western Cape, Eastern Cape,  KwaZulu-Natal, and Lesotho, are not expected to continue over the weekend, the SA Weather Service (SAWS) said on Friday.But this weekend, starting Friday clear skies  are expected. The cold front, which moved across South Africa on Wednesday and Thursday, has moved out to the east of the country. and this weekend will be marginally warmer. The temperatures will still be cold, especially in the mornings, with most of Mooi river to be below zero degrees Celsius. No further snowfalls are expected this time round. Another cold front is expected to hit the Western Cape on Sunday, but it was difficult to determine how strong it would be.Snow Report SA’s Twitter account was buzzing with photographs of  landscapes transformed into winter wonderlands.  A steady stream of such pictures poured in from areas, including  Matroosberg and Tulbagh in the Western Cape, the Dargle Valley, Boston, and Mooi River in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, and Elliot in  the Eastern Cape.

The South Africa weather service issued a special advisory that frost was expected for most of the inland provinces on Friday and Saturday mornings.

Oliver Mtukudzi at Caversham Mill

CAVERSHAM Mill Restaurant in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands to host a concert featuring the legendary Oliver Mtukudzi on May 24 in the Midlands. Performing alongside the Zimbabwean guitarist will be Shabalala Rhythm and maskandi singer David Jenkins, aka Qadasi.  Mtukudzi began performing in 1977 when he joined the Wagon Wheels, a band that also featured Thomas Mapfumo. Their single Dzandimomotera went gold. He sings in Shona, along with Ndebele and English, and incorporates elements of different musical traditions, giving his music a distinctive style, known to fans as Tuku music.  Maskandi stars Shabalala Rhythm, led by Sibongiseni Shabalala, son of the legendary Joseph Shabalala of Ladysmith Black Mambazo fame, was formed in 1998. Since then, Durban guitarist Maqhinga Radebe has joined the group. Jenkins, who hails from Eshowe, appeared at the first Nelson Mandela Sport and Culture Day last year and was also the support act for maskandi legend Johnny Clegg. With the release of the album Uhambo Olusha (A New Journey), Jenkins and the Qasadi band’s quest to revive traditional Zulu maskandi music is well under way.
The concert will take place at Midlands Forest Lodge, which is three kilometres up the road.

Waterwise comes to Mooi River

Waterwise comes to Mooi River
Waterwise comes to Mooi River

2 WaterWise Instructors have visited Carshalton Farm School on the outskirts of Mooi River to teach some water safety principles.  The Mooi River Farm School is located towards Giants Castle. WaterWise is helping to keep the learners safe when playing in the Mooi River while also keeping the river clean. The Waterwise instructors introduced to the learners the idea that they must have a PLAN before the go swimming and that should a catastrophe occur that they should know what to do in an emergency. The learners already know the Emergency number which was a good start. The learners then received worksheets which they coloured in and then discussed the worksheets. All in Waterwise had a great day near Mooi River in the Drakensberg region

Nottingham Road on the Midlands Meander

Nottingham Road in the Natal Midlands
Nottingham Road in the Natal Midlands

The KwaZulu-Natal Midlands its Midlands Meander set this gorgeous and gentle part of South Africa apart from the rest. The Natal Midlands has been made famous by the quaint little towns, friendly farm-folk and exquisite landscapes. Nottingham Road is the heart of the Midlands Meander in an area has some of the best restaurants, stalls, hiking trails, souvenirs and antiques stores in South Africa. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is about Nottingham Road that is so appealing and maybe its just that it seems to have a slower pulse. Perhaps it is the various side streets and somewhat convoluted road system that is the hiding place of enchanting nurseries and decadent spas. Or its the numerous restaurants, coffee shops and pubs are also tucked away, and offer everything from famous award-winning coffees, chocolates and blueberry smoothies to locally brewed beer and the famous pizzas at the legendary Notties Hotel.

Between mealtimes you can browse the assortment of shops offering anything from antiques and mohair blankets to homemade candles and chocolates. Mountain biking, horse riding and hiking are just some of the other options, or simply take a drive — explore the nearby Kamberg towards the Drakensberg mountain range and seek out the best bushman rock art paintings in South Africa. The KwaZulu-Natal Midlands are always worth revisiting. It may just be that the locals make Nottingham Road so welcoming, from the waiter at the pub, or the bed and breakfast owners, to the mechanic at the local garage.

But what is clear is that Nottingham Road is worth a visit if you pass though the Natal Midlands. Actually its areason to make the Midlands your next holiday destination.

Mooi River off road racing

Mooi River offroad racing
Mooi River offroad racing

Atlas Copco Ford Racing is aiming to capitalise on its strong podium finish at the season-opening race of the 2014 Donaldson Cross Country Championship when the series heads to Mooi River for round two, the Toyota Dealer 450, on 4 and 5 April. It will be the second entirely new route in as many races, as the event has moved to the Mooi River area in KwaZulu-Natal for the first time after alternating between Richmond and Eston in recent seasons. The move to Mooi River  is in line with the South African Off Road Car Racing Association (SANORA) aim of taking events to new areas and creating a broader audience for cross country racing. “As with the opening round in Harrismith, the Toyota Dealer 450 will be completely new to all the teams, so should be in with a fighting chance to secure some good results. The Mooi River area is rough, rocky and very technical in the forest sections, and the recent heavy rains will make it even tougher, particularly with all the river crossings. It will be a very demanding event on both man and machine. The race headquarters, start/finish and designated service park for the Toyota Dealer 450 will be based at the Weston Agricultural College on the outskirts of Mooi River, on the old road to Greytown. The route for the qualifying and two race loops that make up the 450 km event crisscross the R622 between Mooi River and Greytown. The 100 km qualifying race to determine grid positions sets off at 11:30 on Friday 4 April, and the race starts at 08:30 on Saturday 5 April with two 175 km loops and a compulsory 15 minute service at the end of the first loop. There are seven designated spectator points along the route, all easily accessible from race headquarters, with good viewing and plenty of close-up action, according to the organisers.

Hey its Splash Fen time again.

Splashy Fen 2014
Splashy Fen 2014

Sponsored by Tourism KZN, the 25th Splashy Fen Music Festival is coming up over the Easter long weekend from 17 to 21 April and is once again set to rock the southern Drakensberg with an awesome line-up of the very best in South African music.

Guaranteed to be one of the highlights at this year’s festival is the legendary Vusi Mahlasela.  Celebrated for his distinct, powerful vocals and poetic lyrics, Mahlasela has toured the world and performed alongside the likes of Alicia Keys, Dave Matthews and Josh Groban.

Other must-see acts include the likes of Jeremy Loops, Matthew Mole, Gangs of Ballet, ISO, Arno Carstens & Francois van Coke, Shortstraw, The Black Cat BonesChris Chameleon, Dan Patlansky, Nibs van der Spuy, Ant Cawthorn-Blazeby & Nick Pitman, The Guy Buttery Band, Paige Mac, Haggis and Bong, Bittereinder, Habit To, DJ Ready D, The Kiffness, Yesterday’s Pupil, Das KapitalVeranda Panda, Sibot & Toyota, among others.

“This is a big year for Splashy and what better way to celebrate our milestone quarter-century than by presenting a line-up jam-packed with some of the biggest acts ever to come out of South Africa,” says festival organiser Pedro Carlo.

“There’ll also be an element of nostalgia with the return of several of the bands and artists that have really wowed audiences and brought the house down in the past.  Acts like Just Jinjer, SquealWONDERboom and even Tree63, whose former members will be flying in from Canada and the States to reunite at Splashy for the first time since 2008!”

In a nutshell, festival-goers can expect non-stop entertainment, top-class sound and lighting, side-splitting stand-up comedy, loads of exciting food and drink outlets, plus a vibrant craft market and retail area.  South Africa’s longest-running annual music festival, Splashy Fen has something for everyone; in fact there’s nothing else quite like it!

Tickets are available at Computicket and include camping for the entire four-night, five-day festival.  For the full programme and to find out more about the new tented accommodation options available this year, visit www.splashyfen.co.za

Getting married in the Natal Midlands

Natal Midlands weddings
Natal Midlands weddings

Planning on getting married in the Natal Midlands? We don’t even begin to question your thinking. We know and love our Paradise we call home surrounded by of the picturesque, rolling hills of the Natal Midlands, you’ve certainly picked the right region for a breath-taking wedding venue. The Natal Midlands is such an idyllic setting with romantic charm that will make your wedding day memorable. Getting married in the Natal midlands offers a destination wedding that is neither too near yet neither too far for those living in Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal – but is distant enough to be away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Get married in a winter wonderland if you can imagine yourself as a winter bride ( Top tip: wedding prices are much lower at this time of the year), or if you feel the inspiration and need to get married with green hills and horses then this is without question the place to get married is at one of the many wedding venues in the Natal Midlands.

List of wedding venues in the Natal Midlands

 

Labyrinth at Rietvlei

Drakensberg Labyrinth
Drakensberg Labyrinth

Yes the Drakensberg has some very special attractions. Awakening Circles near Estcourt  have an 11-circuit Medieval Chartres design, 33m in diameter, with a grass pathway. The circle (feminine) within a square (masculine); wind, fire, water and earth in each of the corners with the entrance/exit of the labyrinth in the east – the place of new beginnings.

A labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. The Labyrinth represents a journey to our own centre and back again out into the world. Labyrinths have long been used as meditation and prayer tools.

At its most basic level the labyrinth is a metaphor for the journey to the centre of your deepest self and back out into the world with a broadened understanding of who you are.

Labyrinth walks and workshops are held at every full and new moon, on summer and winter solstices and spring and autumn equinoxes. See calendar for schedule

An approach to walking the labyrinth:

1.  Stand at the entrance and affirm some intention for your walk. A generic intention may be “to walk in gratitude for all the blessings in my life”. Some people ask for clarity on a question they have or special blessings for someone.

2.  Walk the path and remember that you are going into yourself, to your inner knowing, to any resources that available to you.  Let go of thought and control.

3. At the Centre pause. You may choose to say some prayers.  You may sit for awhile.  Give yourself time to take in the walk to centre and to prepare for the transition out.

4.  Follow the path and walk out of the labyrinth. Remind yourself that you are taking whatever you received from your centre out into the world.  You are walking out to action.  You are integrating as you walk out of the labyrinth.

5. When you’ve completed the walk,  turn toward the centre and give thanks.

When walking the labyrinth with a group, you may want each person to enter after the person in front of them is about 10m or so in.

There is not just one way to be with the labyrinth. There is no “right” or “wrong” way. You can make up your own way. You can talk and sing and dance your way around alone, in small groups or all together. You can go right to centre or skip paths. I ask that whatever you do, you honour the land the labyrinth and the people you may be walking with.