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kwazulu natal

Nguni cow at Brahman Hills in KwaZulu-Natal

A Summer Weekend at Brahman Hills

Two weeks ago I spent a weekend at Brahman Hills, a beautiful lodge near the N3 highway in the Midlands region of KwaZulu-Natal.

The cottage where I stayed at Brahman Hills.

I stayed at Brahman Hills once before in 2016. Read my previous post for all the details on what Brahman Hills is, what the Midlands is, and what I liked best about my stay — it’s all still true.

I went back again for a few reasons:

First: I loved Brahman Hills the first time and selfishly wanted to enjoy it again.

A morning hike at Brahman Hills. I didn’t get to hike much the first time I went.

Second: Last time I went to Brahman Hills with a partner, but this time I was invited as part of an all-female media trip. Traveling with girls is fun.

Ladies’ hot tub party!
Relaxing at the spa with a bunch of rad women.

Third: I last stayed at Brahman Hills in winter, when the landscape was dry and desolate. I loved the winter feel but wanted to go back in summer, when everything is green and sparkling.

Brahman Hills barn on a misty summer morning.
A wet walk through Brahman Hills’ Blue Crane Nature Reserve. My shoes and socks were soaked for days but it was worth it.

Fourth: I wanted to see more of the Midlands Meander, which has become one of my favorite tourism regions in the country.

Charming shop in the Midlands
The charming Ismail Wholesale House in Howick, which has the most amazing selection of enamel dishes. The Midlands is filled with funny little places like this.
Mind-blowingly intricate ceramics at Ardmore Ceramics, a Midlands must-visit.
Nelson Mandela Capture Site
The Nelson Mandela Capture Site, which I’ve visited before but never get tired of.

Fifth: Brahman Hills has a herd of the most beautiful cows in South Africa.

A mesmerizing mix of Brahman and Nguni cows.
Nguni cow at Brahman Hills in KwaZulu-Natal
More cows.

New Things About Brahman Hills and the Midlands

There are a few important things I either didn’t discover during my previous Brahman Hills visit or didn’t get around to properly covering:

First: The spa is sensational. I’ve received my share of great spa treatments (one of travel writing’s greatest perks), but the Brahman Hills treatment stands out. The setting is beautiful, the staff are wonderful and talented, and the massage literally brought me to tears.

The Brahman Hills spa, surrounded by a sea of lavender, with its signature porthole windows. I wish I could live there.

Second: Brahman Hills is making great strides toward sustainability. The lodge has a lovely herb garden, and while we were there they were digging a large dam that will eventually provide hydropower for the property.

The herb garden.

Third: The food at Brahman Hills is even better than I remembered. The high-end restaurant downstairs, 89 on Copper, is great for a special occasion but I also really enjoyed the breakfasts and dinners at Brahman Café upstairs.

Breakfast at Brahman Hills - eggs benedict with salmon
Breakfast at Brahman Hills: Eggs Benedict with salmon.

Fourth: Brahman Hills sits next to a highway rest stop (although you’d never know it), which has recently been revamped into the nicest South African rest stop I’ve ever seen. (That’s really saying something because South Africans are serious about their highway rest stops.)

The rest stop consists of two buildings: The Windmills Grab & Go, which is the equivalent of a convenience store but much nicer, and the Windmills Kitchen (formerly the Midlands Kitchen), a rest stop food court but minus the crappy fast food chains and with local food vendors instead.

We ate at the Windmills Kitchen a couple of times — it’s under the same ownership as Brahman Hills — and it’s not only a great place to stop along the highway but also a viable dining option for those staying at the lodge.

Windmills Grab & Go.
Windmills Kitchen
Windmills Kitchen.

Fifth: For an area so sparsely populated, the Midlands Meander has an incredible number of excellent coffee roasteries. I wrote about Terbodore after my last visit, but on this trip we also visited Steampunk Coffee and Coffee + Life. Both were great.

Michael Goddard of Steampunk serves up iced coffees on a blazing hot Midlands morning.

Lastly, I must reiterate that Ardmore Ceramics is one of the most incredible crafting centers I’ve been to in South Africa. The shop is beautiful and you can watch the artisans at work. Do not miss this place.

A ceramic woman on a zebra. I don’t know why but I love it.
Woman at work in Ardmore Ceramics
Seahorse in progress.

There is a lot more I could say about both Brahman Hills and the Midlands, and plenty more I still haven’t experienced yet myself. Don’t take my word for it though. Just go.

Cows at Brahman Hills
The cows await you.

My stay at Brahman Hills was complimentary. Opinions expressed are mine.

Sultan the Terbodore Great Dane

Pop-Up Travel: Terbodore Coffee Roasters

Last weekend Ray and I took a road trip to the Midlands — a scenic region in South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal Province, between Durban and the Drakensberg Mountains — and stayed at a lovely resort called Brahman Hills near the town of Curry’s Post. I’ll write a full review of the weekend in a future post, but in the meantime I’m doing a quick pop-up travel story about Terbodore Coffee.

Terbodore cappuccinoRay’s cappuccino from Terbodore in the Midlands — possibly the creamiest and tastiest cappuccino ever.

I first discovered Terbodore last year during a brief visit to Franschhoek, where Terbodore has a satellite coffee roastery/coffee shop. The Franschhoek shop is smaller than Terbodore’s sprawling farm in KZN, but is still a fantastic stop for South African coffee tourists.

Jomo coffee roasting demonstrationJomo, a coffee roaster at Terbodore in Franschhoek, explains his work as the beans roast behind him.

Roasting beansI can actually smell the beans when I look at this photo.

Cappuccino in progressA cappuccino in progress at the Terbodore Franschhoek shop.

Jomo at TerbodoreJomo again, because he is super photogenic.

The Terbodore Franschhoek location is great, but it’s much like other boutique roasteries/coffeeshops that I frequent here in Joburg. Terbodore’s Midlands location, which has been roasting and selling coffee since 2004, is on another level. I was unprepared for how awesome it is.

Terbodore Coffee in the KZN Midlands

As we drove to Terbodore, Ray expressed doubt that Google Maps was sending us in the right direction. We drove for several kilometers along an unpaved (but well maintained) road, with nothing to see but forest and an occasional farm entrance. Finally we found the sign for Terbodore, and entered this little piece of rural coffee paradise.

I smelled coffee roasting the moment we got out of the car. We walked through the gate and found ourselves in a pleasant little clearing, scattered with tables and hipster-like people eating hearty food and drinking coffee and beer. Overlooking the scene was a lord-like great dane, Sultan, who I recognized from the Terbdore logo.

Sultan the Terbodore Great DaneSultan, Terbodore’s official mascot.

I knew that Terbodore served food, but I was expecting a small café. In reality there is a full-on restaurant, packed with people on a Saturday afternoon. Ray ordered oxtail stew and I had vegetarian lasagne with salad. It was all delicious.

Lunch at TerbodoreLunch at Terbodore.

I ordered an iced coffee to accompany my meal. Good iced coffee is hard to find in South Africa — it’s usually way overdone and tastes more like ice cream than coffee. Terbodore’s iced coffee is great.

Terbodore iced coffeeIced coffee, with just enough milk and sugar, accompanied by a dog-treat-shaped ginger biscuit.

Ray and I both really wanted to buy a Terbodore hoodie, hand-embroidered with the signature Sultan silhouette. But they were a bit too expensive at around R550. Instead we finished our lunch, browsed the coffee products for sale, and then went outside to play with Sultan and a newly arrived great dane puppy, whose name I have forgotten.

Sultan and puppy at TerbodoreSultan and the puppy, both of whom I struggled to photograph. The puppy moved too fast and Sultan just didn’t give a sh*t.

Ray and SultanLuckily Ray is a dog whisperer.

I loved our afternoon at Terbodore and I’ll definitely go back the next time I’m in the area, hopefully for breakfast. I’ve heard it’s delicious.

Terbodore’s Midlands location is at 87 Old Main Road, Curry’s Post, and is open Thursday to Monday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Terbodore’s Franschhoek location is at  Goederust Farm, La Motte, Franschhoek, and is open Monday to Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Nelson Mandela Capture Site

Pop-Up Travel: The Nelson Mandela Capture Site

Earlier this week, I saw a photo of the Nelson Mandela Capture Site on my friend Meruschka’s Instagram feed. Meruschka’s post reminded me that I visited the Nelson Mandela Capture Site nearly a year ago and had yet to blog about it. Hence, my newest Pop-Up Travel post.

The Nelson Mandela Capture Site commemorates the time and place in which Nelson Mandela — on the run from the apartheid government — was captured and arrested in 1962. After his arrest in the small town of Howick, in what was then South Africa’s Natal Province, Mandela was convicted of treason and went on to spend 27 years in prison.

Today this still-rural spot in KwaZulu Natal is marked with a dramatic sculpture by South African artist Marco Cianfanelli, depicting Nelson Mandela’s profile with a collection of jagged, black metal bars. (You may remember that Cianfanelli also has a beautiful Mandela sculpture in downtown Joburg called the Shadow Boxer.)

Nelson Mandela Capture SiteAn innovative bust of Mandela in Howick, KwaZulu Natal.

Ray and I stopped at the Capture Site last year on our way home from an eventful trip to Durban and the Wild Coast. We were tired, but the site is literally minutes from the highway and we couldn’t resist stopping for a quick look. Our visit was definitely worth the tiny detour and R25 ($1.64) admission fee.

Ray and Nelson Mandela Capture Site sculptureRay shoots a photo of the Mandela sculpture as a train passes behind it.

It’s a long walk from the parking area down to the sculpture, which Ray and I jokingly called “the long walk to freedom”. The walk was enjoyable though; as we walked, we watched the image slowly emerge and then disappear again.

Nelson Mandela Capture Site sculpture up closeMandela up close.

Nelson Mandela Capture Site barsInside the sculpture.

Nelson Mandela Capture Site barsIt’s difficult to fathom how the artist dreamt this up.

Nelson Mandela Capture Site barsBars of freedom.

The Capture Site grounds include a small, temporary museum with some nice exhibits about Mandela and the history of the struggle against apartheid. A larger, permanent museum is under construction, although progress is slow-going: A  year after my visit, Meruschka tells me the new museum still isn’t finished. There is also a conference facility and a lovely-looking restaurant called the Truth Café, which we didn’t have time to investigate.

Nelson Mandela Capture Site benchesI really loved this place.

With or without the museum, the Capture Site is worth a stop on the way between Johannesburg and Durban. There are also several quaint restaurants and shops in the surrounding area, which is part of the Midlands Meander. I’m sure I’ll be back.

Moonrise Over the South Coast

Joe and I are in KwaZulu Natal Province, in an area called the South Coast. We’re staying in a drafty cabin less than a mile from the Indian Ocean. The South Coast is known for sunshine and humid heat, but for the last few days it’s been rainy and downright cold.

We’ve been busy the last few days, working and traveling and dealing with family issues. Today was particularly exhausting. Joe and I were so emotionally drained this evening that we could hardly speak during dinner.

Then we walked outside and saw the moon.

The moon was full two days ago, but it was hidden by clouds until tonight.

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