The Midlands Meander, a country route in the KwaZulu-Natal hinterland, has become incredibly popular during the past 10 years or so. For those with enough energy, exploring this beautiful region by bicycle is most rewarding. A number of organised tours are available to help with planning.

Did you know?

The endangered Karkloof blue butterfly (Orachrysops ariadne) is the official symbol of the Midlands Meander.

The Midlands Meander cycle routes take riders through countryside that is often likened to England. The area is home to spectacular waterfalls such as the Karkloof and Howick Falls, nature sanctuaries such as Kamberg Nature Reserve and Amber Valley, as well hundreds of quirky art and craft outlets serviced by laid-back locals.

Cyclists can follow the R103 from Estcourt to Howick, which passes through towns such as Mooi River, Rosetta, Nottingham Road, Balgowan and Lidgetton. Various irresistible detours will present themselves along the way. From Howick, there are great routes to places like Karkloof - scene of one of South Africa's most popular cycling events: the Karkloof Classic Cycle Race.

There are a number of excellent country restaurants, farm stalls and specialty shops to visit along the way. Nottingham Road in particular features a cluster of explorer attractions, such as the legendary Nottingham Road Hotel and The Junction complex.

Further south, Balgowan is home to Michaelhouse, the school at which the film Spud, starring John Cleese, was set and filmed.

Beer drinkers should make a stop at the Nottingham Road Brewery, based at Rawdons Hotel in Balgowan to sample their famous collection, which includes a lager, an ale and a pilsner. Then there's the Bierfassl, a popular pub not far away, where a roaring fire burns in winter.

A monument marking the spot where former South African President Nelson Mandela was arrested, has been erected along the R103 near Tweedie, and is a popular photo location.

Midmar Dam, which is less than 10km from Howick, offers a number of relaxing cycling routes around the massive expanse of water.

Tour packages for cycling the Midlands Meander are available from operators such as Escape Cycle Tours, who can arrange bicycles, accommodation and transport to the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.

Some of South Africa’s top mountain bikers and downhill cyclists, such as Greg Minaar, Brandon Stewart, Rowan Exelby and Travis Browning, all grew up in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands and they all agree that they were blessed to have had such a great location in which to hone their skills.

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