For most travellers, the verdant farmland that makes up the Midlands is picture-postcard terrain, to be whizzed through on the two-hour journey from Durban or Pietermaritzburg to the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg. There’s little reason to dally here, unless you fancy taking in the region’s quaint, English-style country inns, tea shops and craft shops, several of which are on the so-called Midlands Meander, a route that weaves its way around the N3 on back roads between Pietermaritzburg and the Mooi River 60km to the northwest.
As you head north out of Pietermaritzburg on the N3 through the Midlands, you’re roughly tracing the last journey of Nelson Mandela as a free man before his arrest in 1962. On the run from the police, Mandela had been continuing his political activities, often travelling in disguise – a practice that earned him the nickname of the “Black Pimpernel”. Howick, 18km northwest of Pietermaritzburg, is recorded as the place where his historic detention began; the actual spot is on the R103, 2km north of a side road heading to the Tweedie junction. On this occasion, he was masquerading as the chauffeur of a white friend, when their car was stopped on the old Howick road, apparently because of a tip-off. A memorial unveiled by Mandela himself in 1996 marks the unassuming spot, amid farmland between a railway line and the road.