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Unathi drops in for whirlwind Midlands tour

TKZN proudly promoting the region

Unathi had the time of her life when she visited Karkloof Canopy Tours in the Midlands. The Idols judge, singer and radio personality zip-lined between 10 zip-lines and 12 platforms, taking in the magical views of the Karkloof and stunning indigenous forests as she went. Pictures: Supplied

TV and radio presenter Unathi Nkayi dropped int o the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands for a visit recently to experience the beauty and some of the highlights of the region on a whirlwind tour.

Unathi was a guest of Tourism KwaZulu-Natal, which is on an aggressive marketing drive to boost visitor numbers and the Midlands’ recovery in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The entity is determined to do all it can to highlight what the province has to offer. The week before TKZN had focused on the North Coast’s Dolphin Coast area.

According to Marian Evans, general manager of the Midlands Meander Association, tourism visitor numbers are growing considerably since restrictions have been eased.

Bookings picking up

“We do have quiet periods, but visitor numbers have increased, particularly over the weekends, and midweek bookings are picking up. When the beaches were closed, the area welcomed holidaymakers from Gauteng. We owe this to the domestic campaign we undertake throughout the year.”

While restrictions, particularly in the hard lockdown during the first wave of the virus, had a devastating effect on Midlands tourism, there had not been as many businesses closing down as one would have expected, said Marian.

Hospitality has remained resilient and while there have been some unfortunate closures, there have been promising signs and many of the bigger operators and venues, who employ large numbers, have stayed in business.

Johannesburg resident and radio producer Ayob Vania experienced the thrills of the Karkloof region when he ziplined up to 200m, taking his introduction to extreme sports to a new level.

According to TKZN’s Tourism Performance Report, KZN’s December hotel occupancy rates were among the highest in the country – and the best since February last year. This is revealed in the statistics of the report for the last quarter of 2020. It suggests that from October to December 2020, the hotel occupancy in KZN improved steadily.

Positive and steady

KZN’s hotel occupancy rate was 56% in January 2020, increasing to 64.9% in February 2020. Then, just as figures dropped elsewhere across the country, they fell to a low of 12.2% in May.

They climbed to 21.6% in June before yo-yoing to 14.9% in July.

After that, there was a welcoming climb every month, until figures topped 51.90% occupancy in December, second only to the North West region, which shot up to 59.70%.

More Meander Chronicle news here

In the Midlands, businesses have reported a positive and steady growth in visitor numbers.

Unathi and the team last week visited the Nelson Mandela Capture Site and Museum near Howick; enjoyed a hot-air balloon ride launched from Granny Mouse Country House; visited Yellowwood Action Combat Paintball Centre; took a joyride at Karkloof Canopy Tours; and met some talented Midlands artists.

KZN Midlands a coffee lover’s dream

Idols judge and radio and television presenter Unathi Nkayi, pictured with Angelique Benson and Erin Cusack, had her breath taken away at the Nelson Mandela Capture Site near Howick – now reopened under reduced operating hours – when she visited the museum for the first time. Unathi said: ‘The thing I love about KZN is its rich heritage and diversity. Walking through the exhibition made me feel like I was going down memory lane. The mood also makes you feel like you’re in the story when you are being taken on a tour.’
South Coast resident Brian Chang, who recently arrived from China, holds his hands up after being defeated at the Yellowwood Action Combat Paintball Centre in the Midlands. The centre is designed to recreate the adrenaline rush of combat action at a supervised outdoor action site. Chang was part of a group who were guests of Tourism KwaZulu-Natal, which is on an aggressive marketing drive to boost visitor numbers.
Unathi Nkayi and Ayob Vania pondering the breathtaking scenic views from their hot-air balloon, which launched from Granny Mouse Country House. Enjoying the picturesque rolling hills and Midlands Meander scenery was the ultimate treat for Gautenger Unathi, who said KZN simply took her breath away after being huddled indoors during the lockdown.
Gifted wood-carver Alson Zuma, who creates beautiful hand-carved panels and replicas of bushman art, found his business did not escape the harsh impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. But it is starting to pick up. ‘I am hopeful for the future, as the Midlands is now slowly recovering and getting more tourists every day. While some craftsmen’s businesses closed completely, I am fortunate, as I still have customers coming in,’ Zuma said.
Arts and crafts have always been a big drawcard for visitors to the Midlands and although artists struggled due to Covid restrictions, their industry is now starting to bounce back. Well-known ceramicist Astrid Dahl was lucky to have orders that kept her occupied. ‘Business was a little slow at the beginning of the year, but it has now picked up.’ Dahl, who is pictured holding one of her artworks at her studio during the TKZN-hosted tour of the Midlands, has displayed her work around the world, included in New York, Paris and Dubai.

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