* In this new regular feature sponsored by Toyota Hilux, we visit some of South Africa’s most interesting towns. In this installment, Leilani Basson visits Curry’s Post.
Read more about our Toyota Hilux #Where2next? competition.
There is something about Curry’s Post that goes unnoticed if you are just passing through. But if you take a closer look at this pristine stretch of countryside between Mooi River and Howick, you will find that this is horse, Hilux and Great Dane country. And if you are not English-speaking, boy oh boy, you will be seriously outnumbered!
Curry’s Post was named after George Curry and his family, who settled there and established a wagon and cart stop-over point on the misty road above Pietermaritzburg.
The region is steeped in history. There are remnants of what are thought to be ancient hunting camps and Stone Age tools.
In more modern times, with the discovery of gold and diamonds in the hinterland, wagon and cart traffic from Port Natal increased to such an extent that Curry’s Post became a popular watering hole and place of rest for weary travellers.
During the Zulu and Anglo-Boer wars, the route was an important military highway between the Pietermaritzburg and Ladysmith garrisons.
Later, with the construction of the R103 and then the N3 roads, the Curry’s Post road became a byway that served only the local farming community. Today it is a hidden treasure of the Midlands with thriving cattle, dairy and vegetable farms, surrounded by commercial and natural forests that extend as far as the eye can see.
To people in the know, the area is a popular retreat because of its specialist hospitality venues and eateries, many of which have been established in recent years.
The interesting thing about Curry’s Post is that it is not even a village, never mind a dorpie in the South African sense. There are no shops or shopping centres at Curry’s Post – not even a grocery or hardware store to taint its beauty. It is isolated from modern-day living, with no commercial influence whatsoever. Unless you count the Woolworths cows and Pick n Pay lettuces that thrive in these surroundings.
And they are not the only ones. “Curry’s Posters” are go-getters. They are people who work hard to make a living from their land and use what they have been given in life to the best of their ability. Long-time locals and those who have moved here to enjoy the country lifestyle know they cannot depend on tourist visitors. Regular support from neighbouring towns and farms are essential if they are to prosper.
Mike and Jane of Old Halliwell Country Inn are old hands of Curry’s Post. The hotel was built on the wagon trail as a fortified homestead with stone walls a metre thick. That was a time when Zulu attacks on British outposts were at their peak. The site was chosen well by the early settlers, since it offered a commanding view of the valley below, and had clear spring water. It was the ideal place to outspan and relax after the long journey from Port Natal.
Today Old Halliwell stands surrounded by 250 acres of trees and beautiful gardens, rolling lawns and abundant bird life.
Jane and Mike Uys have been in the hospitality industry for many years, apart from a few years when they ventured out in search of something different, but all roads eventually led them back to Curry’s Post… and Old Halliwell in particular.
Jane has successfully merged the historic lodge and wedding venue with her love for horses. She runs what she calls a retirement home for horses that have worked hard as either race horses or show horses, and need a serene and loving environment where they can retire gracefully. Horses from all over the country are sent to Jane by their owners, who pay a monthly fee for their care.
But one “stallion” on the 230ha property that refuses to retire is their 1995 Toyota Hilux. It is “one of a kind” that Mike picked up from a friend at a bargain price. “Look, the steering wheel is completely removable,” says Mike with a laugh.”There’s no need for gear or steering locks when we venture to Joburg.”
The Hilux is a real work horse and has ….. km on the clock. “We’ll never trade it in for a new one,” says Jane. “It will just keep going forever. Besides, it’s an icon around here.”
Kevin Lang of Fairfield Dairy is also a Hilux man. Every morning he drives out to the pastures where his herd of Ayrshire and Holstein cows graze. They know the Hilux and gather when Kevin drives up. Kevin is a real animal man, and not merely a commercial farmer. He speaks to the cows, and they respond.
“Our biggest business is the house brand packing for Spar, Pick n Pay and Woolworths,” says Kevin, who also owns the Coach House. “We are proud of our products for each of the brands, and have enjoyed long-standing relationships of professionalism and trust.
“Our hard work has been acknowledged at a number of South African dairy championship awards. We have also won Woolworths’ Supplier of the Year award for the last three times in a row, as well as Gold and Diamond Arrow PMR awards for stimulating regional economic growth.”
Fairfield is actively involved in the Sengani development project, of which Kevin is vice chairman. Sengani works for transformation in the Kwa-Zulu Natal dairy sector by identifying development opportunities to restore, support and grow agricultural enterprises or community and state-owned farms. The project aims to provide support, skills transfer and education to partners in the industry.
Kevin is passionate about the history of Curry’s Post. He bought the Coach House a few years ago, restored it and now runs it as a self-catering establishment.
Photographs of George Curry and his extended family adorn the walls of the old Coach House. They show Curry’s Post as a “watering hole” during the hustle of traffic in the gold and diamond rush days.
Kevin also has another passion – his renowned quarter horse stud farm.
There is farming of all types in this neck of the woods. Rob Levoy is the Lettuce Man. He is the only hydroponics lettuce farmer in the country (as far as we know) and his lettuces go straight to Pick n Pay in puffed up, branded and see-through bags.
Rob is also a Hilux man, and his D4D already has 100 000km on the clock. It is just the latest of many generations of Hilux that have worked hard on the Levoy farms through the decades.
Also living off the land, but in a different way, are the folk from Groundcover – one of the establishments that Curry’s Post is known for.
As a young couple, Amanda and Justin McCarthy worked their way around the US by making sandals and fixing riding tack. They eventually returned to SA and invested in a property in the Midlands to start a leather business.
In 1999, they sold their Sussex cattle and bought a registered Nguni herd from a breeder near Pongola. Their reasoning was simple: they just wanted beautiful and hardy cattle. Nguni cattle are regarded as a “sensible” production animal. Little did they know that the demand for Nguni products would sky-rocket in a few years. Nguni skins are now popular worldwide in interior decorating and as fashion accessories.
“Today we have around 90 breeding cattle, which we trade at the annual breeder’s sale in Mooi River,” says Amanda. “We have collected outstanding animals of different patterns and colours. As a result, our Ngunis are perhaps the most photographed, painted and admired herd in the country.”
Don Tully, who took over as manager after Justin’s tragic death a few years ago, says that from small beginnings in 1990, the business has grown into a sustainable enterprise. It has become well known as makers of original, finely hand-crafted leather footwear and accessories.
“Thanks to the quality of our products and the skill and dedication of our artisans, our service and our brand’s association with ‘goodness’ in every way, we have been able to thrive in the face of tough economic conditions and the challenges of globalisation.”
Don, who comes from a more formal background in men’s leather footwear, says the single most important reason for Groundcover’s success has been the people who make up the “Groundcover family”.
“They have been working with one another for a very long time,” says Don. “They share vast experience and skills which, in a small company, has allowed them to be creative and innovative, and to master a variety of techniques in producing different types of footwear and other products.”
Amos Buthelezi has been with Groundcover for 20 years, Cyril Khuswayo for 17 years and Happy Zondi for 16 years.
Just down the road from Groundcover is another interesting establishment – Dirt Roads. This is a family-owned clothing business, operated by husband and wife team Andrew and Marion Findlay. Their range is the culmination of many years of experience in the design, manufacture and distribution of outdoor and safari clothing.
Andrew, the founder and later franchisor of the Trappers Trading chain of outdoor stores, has been manufacturing clothing for the outdoor retail trade and safari industry for 25 years. He knows the essential features of comfortable workwear and safari clothing. The fabrics are all woven locally.
In addition to the clothing, Marion began crafting her range of exclusive canvas and leather luggage in 1994, starting with one machinist in a converted garage. While her range of products has grown considerably over the years, the manufacturing facility remains small.
One of only two Afrikaans families we found in Curry’s Post, Werner and Michelle Jacobs, started Tumble Downs Restaurant and Cafe in 2006. Situated on a former stud farm in the Karkloof, Tumble Downs has transformed a once run-down stable block into a comfortable café and restaurant, with a warm and friendly atmosphere – not to mention the excellent food.
“When we bought the place, my then six-year-old daughter just looked at the dilapidated buildings and said we should call the restaurant Tumble Downs, since everything was tumbling down,” says Werner, who seemingly never stops laughing.
“We were warned by many people that we were making a mistake. We did everything we were told not to do. Not only did we open a restaurant which no one believed would work, but we decided not to combine the restaurant with another business.
“There was no appointment executive chef, either. Michelle, who had no formal training whatsoever, decided to take care of the menu and the cooking herself. People said we would never survive, but seven years later we are still going strong.”
The “Great Dane people” of Terbodore Coffee Roastery are the other Afrikaans-speaking residents we encountered. Marian Macaskill started the coffee roastery out of desperation.
“We had just sold our previous restaurant and were not in the mood to try it again,” says Marian while stroking the giant head of Sultan, the Great Dane whose image appears on every pack of Terbodore Coffee. Shadow, the other Great Dane in the family, is lazing in the sun outside the restaurant, which is surprisingly packed for a week day.
“I asked a friend if I could ‘rep’ for his coffee roastery for a while, until we could find something permanent to do, but he refused. ‘Go and roast your own coffee,’ he responded irritably. And that planted the seed… or well, the coffee bean, for our next venture.
“We knew nothing about coffee and had to teach ourselves. That was in 2004. Today our coffee is available throughout SA and my son’s Terbodore Roastery in Franschhoek is a huge success.
“Despite our pursuit of the perfect cup, our Great Dane, now grey around the muzzle, still has a keener interest in the whereabouts of farm cats than the rich, defined flavours of the perfect brew. But still, his presence has become symbolic of everything we strive for – courage, patience and dependability.”
Liesl Jewitt is one of Curry’s Post’s most interesting characters. She is a specialist social worker in child and family therapy, bereavement and HIV/AIDS counselling. She is also internationally certified trainer in horsemanship and “advanced equine assisted personal development”.
On her farm, Mizpah, which means “Place of sanctuary and hopeful anticipation”, Liesl runs a “healing with horses” retreat. She describes it as a place for anyone (children, families or small groups), whether they are tired, stressed, traumatised or just seeking a getaway where they can experience the healing power of nature and horses.
The retreat was established in 2004 when Liesl acquired the farm in a relatively run-down state, with three neglected horses and a dream of some day running a “therapeutic ranch”.
“There was no food for animals, too many noxious weeds, alien trees and 35ha of rather sad and unkempt land,” says Liesl. “Soon after I moved in, a near-fatal accident with a nasty fence left me and my horse, Dancer, injured. That led me to discover the path to the magic of healing with horses, which today constitutes what I do.”
Without having to visit Liesl specifically, Curry’s Post has a positive and wholesome, even healing, influence on everyone who has made the misty stretch of land between Mooi River and Howick their home. There is good karma here, and more than enough interest to make it a worthwhile place to visit and explore.
“Curry Posters” are people’s people and the longer you stay, the more magic you will find. So next time you are meandering through the Midlands, skip the well known towns and villages and take the Balgowan/Curry’s Post off-ramp from the N3. You won’t be disappointed.