Durban - In 2007, fires raged through the Midlands, leaving devastation in their wake.
Not long after, William Saunderson-Meyer, known by many newspaper readers as the Jaundiced Eye columnist, bought a piece of land along the Curry’s Post road, about 12km from Howick.
The farmhouse had been reduced to a smoking ruin, but he saw its potential. Now, a three-storey house stands in its place, blending against the hillside, with an eagle’s view of the Karkloof Valley stretched below.
Picture-windows make up the entire front of the house. Climb a spiral staircase to the flat rooftop, and there is an almost vertiginous view. Across the valley the forested Khyber, Mageburg and Karkloof mountains etch the horizon.
Farmlands, dams and Mondi and Sappi forests dot the landscape. It is a typical Midlands scene.
William and wife Karen MacGregor (one of the founding editors of University World News, and currently its global editor and director of the Africa Edition) decided not to squirrel away this piece of prime property to be enjoyed just by themselves.
Instead, they have added cottages, so others too can savour the pleasures of a break in the countryside on their 85ha farm.
Some fascinating neighbours either rent cottages on Kusane, or live on adjoining farms. That is part of the fun.
You never know who you might rub shoulders with. During my stay, Anthony Stidolph (better known as The Witness’s cartoonist, Stidy) came to dinner, while Peta Lee (editor of Midlands newspaper Village Talk) persuaded Karen and me to go walking with her.
Equally interesting to chat to was a woman who has fields of lavender adjoining her house. She regularly picks for the market and florists. Age (she is in her eighties) is no deterrent to her.
This being a self-catering venue, all visitors do not get to sup at the host’s table, but the chances of bumping into local “characters” are not stacked against you.
Certainly a couple of labrador dogs and the enormous, slightly tubby cats might pay a visit.
Two sheep grazing on the lawn have their own history.
William and Karen rescued Harriet as a day-old lamb standing bewilderdly in the middle of the N3 near Harrismith, and took her home. They have a cute picture of her wearing a nappy to prevent little oopses in the house in the early days.
Eventually Mara – a Damara sheep – was brought as a companion for Harriet. The two are now inseparable.
At sunset a couple of duiker and reedbuck arrived to be fed. The drought was taking its toll and clearly the wildlife was struggling, so this small oasis was a lifeline.
As to the birdfeeders, the area is so quiet you can hear the crack of beaks on seeds as the birds guzzle happily.
It really brings home the feeling of being part of nature’s community.
Koi swim placidly in a large pool which meanders alongside the main house.
There are 16 beds available in different configurations.
All cottages are fully equipped and luxurious. Mine had an enormous open-plan lounge, kitchen and dining room, with two bedrooms – one overlooking the koi pond. It even had a washing machine and dryer.
Interesting furniture comes from a local auctioneer, and the mattress was so comfy I battled to get up in the morning.
Guests can close the shutters, but leave the sash windows open to allow night breezes in, then fling them open to watch the dawn.
There was a great view from the terrace, and one morning, mist hung in the valley below.
Fascinating sculptures, which William bought during different visits to Zimbabwe, dot the gardens, adding charm.
Guests can go for walks. The more energetic might even make their way down to the river far below. You can visit different outlets on the Midlands Meander, or just relax and drink in the view.
If you think all this costs an arm and a leg, think again. The prices are surprisingly reasonable for the Midlands.
For more info call 084 505 5600.
E-mail: [email protected]