I have to admit that the Anglo Zulu Battlefields tour is one of my favorite tours. Many years ago I read “Washing of the Spears” as well as watched “Zulu” and “Zulu Dawn“. Back then I never would have imagined that could walk and explore the very battlefields described in all the books and films. I’m privileged these days to do exactly that, walk Isandlwana and Rorkes Drift, and more so, I’m thrilled to be able to take people to these very special places.
Anglo Zulu Battlefields Day Tour
I picked my clients up from the Benjamin Hotel in Florida Road (the trendy part of Durban) at 6am and headed off right away. It’s a 4 hour drive to the battlefields with a stop along the way to stretch legs and get a cup of coffee. I followed the actual route taken by the central column during the war, from Durban to Pietermaritzburg, through to Tugela Ferry then on to Helpmekaar and finally Rorkes Drift.
Even if you’re not a huge fan of the battlefields, the scenery itself is absolutely breathtaking! It doesn’t really look much different today for us as it did some 130 years ago to the British solder marching through the landscape. Though we did get to enjoy it in the comfort of an air-conditioned vehicle unlike the British redcoat who didn’t!
We arrived at the drift a bit later then usual, my fault entirely as I sometimes get a little carried away in chatting about the history of the area and the war itself, which causes me too slow a little. But my guests seemed to enjoy it so no worries.
I stopped on what was then the Zulu side of the Buffalo River and chatted about the morning of the 11th January 1879 when the British crossed the Buffalo river under the watching gaze of Lord Chemlsford and his staff.
After a few pictures taken we moved onto viewing Sihayo’s stronghold located not far from the crossing where the British tested the NNC in their first skirmish. I told my clients about Lieutenant Harford, a wonderful character that during the skirmish actually paused to capture a rare beetle!
But it’s Isandlwana that’s the main attraction so soon we were off to the site of the worst defeat at the hands of a colonial force Britain was ever to suffer. I like to drive to the top of the Nqutu plateau for a lovely birds-eye view of the battle before driving to the site itself.
So under a hot African sun, seated in comfortable camping chairs, I told my clients about the events of the day as they unfolded; about the incredible bravery of Colonel Durnford and his Basuthos, and of Younghusband and his final stand. We chatted about Lord Chelmsfords movements on the day, and of Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Pulleine, Glyn, the rough diamond New Zealander George Hamilton-Browne and more.
We also talked of Cetswayo, Ntshingwayo kaMahole Khoza, Dabulamanzi kaMpande, the Zulu generals who standing on the rocky crest of the Nqutu Plateau guided their impi’s to victory, but suffered a huge loss in doing so.
After a quiet respectful walk on the battlefield to inspect the memorials and reflect on all those lost lives, we departed Isandlwana for lunch at Rorkes Drift hotel.
Rorkes Drift is well know for two reasons. The first is obvious; it’s the site where some 140 British troops (some ailing) were able to beat off attack after attack of 4000 Zulu warriors. This coming so hours after a major British defeat ensured the battle’s place in history.
Rorkes Drift though has a 2nd claim to fame. During the 1960’s right up until the 1980’s, Rorkes Drift became a landmark spot, being one of the few places that offered training to black artists during Apartheid. The story of the center is fascinating and well worth reading up on.
Of course we were here to have a look at what would later become one of Britain’s defining moments, the Battle of Rorkes Drift.
We explored the little museum at Rorkes Drift, and then chatted about the battle and those who participated from Dubalamanzi, to Bromhead, Chard, Hook, Williams and the many others who went down in history here.
Back to Durban
Every good day must come to an end and so at 3:30pm we got back on the road to Durban. This time I followed the route the Zulu’s would have taken from Ulundi (well as much as the road would let me in any case). Along the way we chatted about South Africa, Britain and a whole host of other subjects that just helped the time whizz by!
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