Explore the Unexplored

The Midlands MagazineDecember 20, 2021
Beverley Country Cottages 1 - Kate Kelly
Copperleigh Trout Cottages, Ashley Crookes - Inhlosane Mountain with snow
Nikki Brighton
Caroline McKerrow
Copperleigh Trout Cottages, Meryl Mukenge with Shep the Sheepdog

Unearth the wonders of Boston, Dargle and Impendle with what this all-inclusive and environmentally friendly Community Tourism Organisation has to offer.

The iconic Inhlosane ridge, visible from across the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, rises to 2026m from the surrounding settlements of Impendle, Boston, and Dargle. From the peak, the views of the countryside and the Drakensberg are incredible.

In this area, you are likely to spot the Cape Parrot flying between patches of indigenous forest, Wattled Crane foraging in wetlands, endangered Blue Swallows swooping across grasslands, or an Oribi sitting quietly in the long grass. It is a bio-diverse region, the catchment of the mighty Mkhomazi River and the Mngeni River, a thriving farming community, and a hub of hiking, walking, fishing, cycling, motor-biking, horse-riding, and birding activities that have been a bit of a secret – until recently.

In 2018, owners and managers of tourist establishments in the area joined forces with the local municipality to form the Boston, Dargle, Impendle Community Tourism Organisation (BDI) to create awareness of the relatively unexplored area and create employment.

There are accommodation options to suit every taste. With Midlands country weddings very much on-trend, BDI offers a fabulous variety – from elegant, old school, or rustic – choose between Calderwood Hall, Dargle Forest Lodge, Mount Park Guest Farm, Crab Apple Chapel, and Old Furth Estate. If it’s a party venue that you are after, then Boston T Party is a great spot for a celebration! There is no need to drive far afterwards, with plenty of beds available at these venues or on neighbouring properties.

Should a quiet afternoon of trout fishing be your thing, the waters at Copperleigh Trout Cottages, Tillietudlem Nature Reserve, Boschberg Cottages, and Star Dam Estate will keep you well entertained. Perhaps some of your family would rather walk in the forest at Khula Shanti or explore the hills on horseback at Stormy Hill Horse Trails.

Just along the road are para-gliding and hang-gliding heaven – from Mahaqwa in the village of Bulwer.  Not that keen on an active escape? Then the views of Impendle Mountain from the deck at Maphanga Lodge might suit you best, or the friendly farm stays and cosy cottages at KhulaShanti, Elvesida Guest Farm, Fine-Alley Country Cottage, Everwood Estates, Beverley Country Cottages, or Le Bonne Vie, that all offer an authentic Midlands experience.

Chairperson Sue Brighton comments, “We put a lot of effort into assisting those members who have not benefitted from the formal tourism industry in the past – supporting rural homestays and local guides in the beautiful Nzinga area just outside the town of Impendle. Here there are opportunities for cross-cultural experiences, exploring rock art, local craft, tasting traditional lifestyles, and learning about indigenous agricultural and spiritual practices. We engage with local schools, educating the next generation about the benefits and opportunities that tourism can provide our region.” This means that unique experiences are available to visitors who head (just slightly) off the beaten track.

Impendle is an important Birding Area where many specials can be found. Twitchers are likely to tick off African Marsh Harrier Circus ranivorus, Grey Crowned Crane, Wattled Crane, Denham’s Bustard, Southern Ground-Hornbill, Bush Blackcap, or the Black-winged Lapwing Lioptilus nigricapillus on their ambles. Make sure to take your eyes off the birds for a moment, and marvel at the vleis filled with Satyrium hallackii in spring, the banks of the Elands River rimmed with red-hot pokers, the variety of orchids in the grasslands, and Anemone faninnii waving in the summer breeze.

The flora on Inhlosane is worth investigating, too – the altitude and geology mean it is different from the area below. The climb is steep but not difficult and worth doing if you are in the area: walk through proteas and deep blue agapanthus, magenta Senecio macrocephalus, and swathes of pink Watsonia in springtime. Here you may spot black-backed jackal on the slopes, Natal red rock rabbit between the boulders, and certainly hear baboon calls echoing across the valley.

The 8759ha Impendle Nature Reserve is not open to the public, but special arrangements can be made to visit.  The value of this land to conservation (particularly Eastern Mistbelt Forest, Midlands Mistbelt Grassland, and rare species such as Drakensberg cycad, dwarf chameleon, and blue swallow) was recognised in 1983, with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife managing the reserve since 1994.

These valleys certainly contain a lot of history – from the wagon tracks and stonewalls that crisscross the hills to stories of elusive leopards, legendary farmers, and heroic Chief Duma.  The BDI region was one of the original haunts of Bushmen hunter-gatherers who moved between these foothills and the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg.

In the early 1800s, the Bushmen found themselves trapped between Shaka’s army and Boer settlers who laid claim to the forests and pastures. Those who could, took refuge in the mountains of the ‘Berg.

Find a pub to chat to the locals, or settle in at the Picklepot Café for breakfast or homemade burgers accompanied by the famous Picklepot pickles, and share your discoveries with other patrons. It may be your first visit to the area, but there can be little doubt that you will make new friends here and it won’t be your last.

Many roads lead towards Impendle. Take the picturesque Dargle Road and trek all the way through to Boston. Or turn right after Boston onto the P127 and trundle through the hills. Follow your nose with the peak of Inhlosane to navigate by – who knows what unexpected treasures you will find. Don’t keep them secret.