A RAV, a road trip and some R&R

The sprawling beauty of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands is always a good idea for a road trip.

It didn’t take much to convince my long-time friend, Karen, to abandon her responsibilities for a weekend away in the Midlands. We had been dreaming about a getaway for some time and when Toyota offered us a RAV4 Hybrid to test, we were on the road without a second thought.

The Midlands is just shy of 600km from Jozi and with the ever-increasing fuel price we certainly didn’t want to waste too much of our R&R fund on fuel. With a claimed fuel consumption of 4.7 litres/100km, the RAV 4 2.5 GX-R CVT Hybrid E-Four was just what the doctor ordered. Despite our fuel prices, South Africans have been rather slow to embrace hybrids, and after this trip – with a very frugal 5.4 litres/100km – a hybrid has certainly become very attractive.

Rockwood Karkloof Lodge

So, with the first R (ride) sorted, we needed to look into the second important R: a place to rest our heads. There are myriad options in the Midlands, ranging from pampered luxurious stays to self-catering accommodation. Since our third R – relaxation – would be achieved with ample natural beauty and seclusion, we opted for the Rockwood Karkloof Lodge. This piece of heaven is situated on the Spitzkop Farm within the Karkloof Nature Reserve and offers a variety of accommodation options, catering for both big groups and smaller intimate lodgings.

Rockwood Karkloof Lodge, a luxurious accommodation surrounded by natural beauty

We were advised that a vehicle with a decent ground clearance was necessary, which gave me an opportunity to test the RAV’s off-road ability. Arriving at the lodge, we were met by the lodge manager who told us to follow him in his bakkie to the Mountain Cabin. Bearing in mind that the first-ever hybrid vehicle sold in South Africa (the Toyota Prius, launched in 2005) could, at that point, not even drive on gravel I was interested to see how the RAV would tackle the rather rough looking tweespoor up the mountain. Suffice to say it was as if it was made for it.

The beauty of the Karkloof Falls - get there in a RAV 4

While there is enough to do in the reserve — activities include birding, fishing, horse riding, swimming, tubing and canoeing in the rivers and dams — perfect for families, we had an itinerary planned.

A Midlands Meander

We were up early the next morning determined to begin ‘meandering the Midlands’ and headed off on Karkloof Road. First up was the Old Mushroom Farm, where old mushroom-growing tunnels were turned into artisanal spaces occupied by a couple of boutiques, a bakery, coffee shops, an event space and even a gym. The Karkloof Farmers’ Market en route to town was another great pitstop where you can sample the fresh produce and other goodies from the region, all under one roof in an old shed. Other Karkloof Road highlights include the Karkloof Country Club, Karkloof Conservancy and, of course, the Karkloof Canopy Tour.

Karkloof Canopy Tour, an exciting and scenic adventure activity

Breakfast was taken care of at the famous Piggly Wiggly before we headed out to another must-stop: the Nelson Mandela Capture Site. This exhibit — commemorating the moment in history with a visitor centre and renowned sculpture at the spot where Nelson Mandla was arrested on 5 August 1962 — is world-class. Driving past it on the R103, the sculpture resembles randomly erected driftwood pieces, but when nearing this beautiful creation by Marco Cianfanelli, it morphs into a side profile of our most respected statesman.

The Nelson Mandela Capture Site is a must-see

Our next stop was the Highgate Wine Estate, one of only three certified wine farms in the province, for a touch of culture with a wine tasting. We sampled four wines made on the estate and while difficult to pick a favourite we agreed that it had to be the Pinotage, called Sakkie (after the estate dog, a beautiful boxer whose face graces the label). While we could have spent the rest of the afternoon in the beautiful estate gardens, we still wanted to take a slow drive down the most famous road in the Midlands — Notties (or rather Nottingham Road).

Another early start the next morning had us turning the RAV’s nose to Karkloof Road again, this time in the direction of the Karkloof Canopy Tour. I have to admit that this was the one activity I was not too excited about! You see, I am petrified of heights. I’m not a fan of roller coasters either. So why on earth would what essentially combines these two things, with me sliding at speeds of up to 70km/hour from up to 40m-high platforms, be a good idea? Turns out it was a great idea; the views were spectacular and the exhilaration indescribable. It was a great way to end off a brilliant weekend of reconnecting with my bestie, enjoying nature and getting re-acquainted with a favourite from the Toyota stable.

The Karkloof Canopy Tour is an adventure-filled activity.