The famous Mooi River Bridge. Pictures: Marion Smith.
A spur of the moment weekend road trip is always fun but what makes it even more enjoyable is when I can hop on a bus. I am a huge bus fan, I love sitting back and starring out the big window watching the country side and people go by and loosing track of time.
The decision was made, my son and I would take a bus from Park Station to Mooi River and back for the long weekend. I admit I am guilty of comparing our busses to overseas bus trips and I am always sorely disappointed however this time I was pleasantly surprised. We had a friendly attendant who came through with coffee made with creamer and a biscuit what felt like every 2 - 3 hours. This was a pleasant surprise that I will look forward to next time.
The pit - stops always surprise me, why are the small towns with toilets that need to be paid for chosen? But if the bus never stopped here you would never get to experience these towns because they are after all just pass throughs.
It is a day trip, not something recommended for small children. We left at 8am and only arrived in Mooi River after 5pm. This is normally a four hour car drive but then , you don't get to sight see the way we did . South African’s have one of the most diverse and beautiful country sides in the world. From children running around in the dust rolling tyres, to people cooking and selling food on the side of the road and then there was the annual festival in Giants Castle there can’t be a better way to enjoy this than from the comfort of a seat raised above other motorists.
A piece of history
The first European Settlement in the area was at the Mooi River Drift in 1852. This was formally named Weston in 1866 after the first governor of Natal, Martin West. In 1879, an Irishman named Alexander Lawrence purchased the farm “ Grantleigh” upstream from Weston, on the banks of the Mooi River. When the new railway line was built across his land, the village of Lawrenceville on his farm “ Grantleigh “ it was renamed Mooi River in 1921 when it was declared a town.
What to see and do
Much to my son’s dismay , I fell in love with the town of Mooi River. I spotted the quaint church on the side of the road and was immediately drawn to its simplistic beauty. This was the first church of the town, St John’s Anglican Church was built in 1872 and is still standing, the original wooden gate from the entrance has been moved to St Paul’s Church in the main town.There are graves of the British from the Boer war to be found in the cemetery. The church is now being used as a creche and is in still in a very good condition.
Across the road is the original bridge that was built over the Mooi River . It was named the Helen Bridge by Colonel J.J Bisset who named it after his second daughter on the 19 November 1886. I stood in the middle up the bridge looking both upstream and down stream while admiring the waters of The Mooi River, lined by a vast array of landscapes and communities, it’s waters run in different shades of sparkling blue or even muddy brown after heavy rains. Make sure you take the time to listen to the birdsong in the trees and the sheep bells as the local shepherd herds them out too eat, this is not the place to be in a hurry but to enjoy the tranquility of country life.
Drive back into town and stop at the Rohde House Museum. Small but interesting it gives a person the knowledge of the Rhode father and son team who became prominent business men from around 1906.
Mooi Loft on the far side of town is open 7 days a week, a large textile factory runs alongside it .The drive over the old metal bridge amongst the beautiful forest of trees makes the factory almost seem attractive.
Nobody should pass through this town without stopping at the Biltong Shop at the Engen Garage next to the highway. The constant flow of feet in and out of tis shop speaks for itself . They have a wide range of traditionally made South African biltong of outstanding quality.
Station Master Arms on Station road took the owner Godfrey 2 years to renovate and it is been open for 3 years now. This pub style restaurant is well worth a visit. Housed in an old railway building at Mooi River railway station, patrons can enjoy watching the trains while sitting outside on the platform and ordering something from the menu. Live music adds to the ambience on the weekend.
Where should you sleep?
Towns of this size don't offer much variety when it comes to accommodation. The most known spot in the town itself would be Glen Eagles.
Sierra Resort set on 935 hectares of farmlands was a single story outpost affectionately known as The Grove when it was first established back in the early 1900’s. It has now grown to be a very popular destination.
Just outside of town lies Hartford House , a country lodge renowned for its beautiful decor and one of KZN’S most famous gardens, its an absolute spoil.
My best discovery
Nothing makes a girl happier than finding a barn fill of antiques so when I discovered this spot I was in heaven. I have always dreamed of having an old stone house with wooden floors dressed with antiques. Just outside Mooi River on Old Main Road is Hey Jude’s barn. This is a treasure trove of of furniture, crockery, silverware, old furniture and so much more. Shelves adorned with a mismatch of teacups and saucers made me realise this was the perfect stop for someone wanting to open a coffee shop. A lick of paint would give new life to some preloved goods. The enormous trees outside welcome visitors onto the farm and Jude’s signature pink vehicle will probably be parked under them.
What was most amusing during my weekend getaway?
This moment had to go to the lady who got off the bus at the garage in Mooi River even though it wasn't a designated toilet stop and went inside. The driver dropped us off then left, the lady came out the toilet and asked me with a very surprised look on her face “ has the bus left ?” we had to jump into the car of our lift and chase the bus . They hadn't done a passenger count so were oblivious to the shortage of a passenger. We caught the bus after phoning head office and having them call the driver. I doubt that lady will ever get off a bus again.
Best time to visit
I love the cold so winter time for me always has me hoping I will catch some snow fall. However in summer time with the beautiful colours of the landscape and the sparkling river this is when most tourists will go and enjoy the Midlands Meander area.
Did you know?
Candice Swanepoel the model best known for her work with Victoria’s Secret was born and raised in Mooi River. In 2012, she came in 10th on the Forbes top earning models list
Was it what I had expected?
I was pleasantly surprised, I have been passing through this town since a small child on our annual holiday going to Durban and it never occurred to me that it had so much to offer and its definitely growing. A town worth watching in the next few years. A new shopping centre is being built with some big retailers and this is a sure sign of growth for a small farming community. The town emanates pleasant, relaxed vibes and the people are friendly. It felt good to be there and I cant wait to return.
We returned on the bus with no serious adventures like loosing passengers. On arrival to Park Station we called for an Uber, this proved to be more difficult than we had anticipated as they are not to keen to pick up passengers from the station so three Ubers later we got home. Bus travel is affordable and fun and with reputable companies this is a mode of transport more travellers should consider.