The Battlefields Route Association

Overview

Explore the largest concentration of battlefields and game parks in southern Africa

Contact Information

P.O. Box 20295 Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa 2940

phone: view phone+27 (0)82 802 1643

website: http://www.battlefieldsroute.co.za

Photos

Ladysmith

Description

Not only does the battlefields region of KwaZulu natal encompass the greatest concentration of significant battles fought in south Africa it also contains all the great Zulu heritage and cultural sites as well as several san and cave dwellers sites plus a large number of nature and game parks and a “Big Five” game conservancy.

Now the guns are silent, no more the roar of cannons, the crash of musketry, the stamping of many feet and the rattle of assegai against rawhide shield. The hills and plains are quiet, broken only by the call of the herders and the crack of a whip. All that is left to remind us of those turbulent years are the silent cemeteries and lonely monuments.

But place yourself in the hands of one of the many skilful Guides that abound this region and once again you will thrill to the imagined sounds of battle and relive the desperate and courageous acts of gallant men fighting for what they believed was right.

The Anglo Zulu War 1879

Visit the iconic battlefields of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift

Follow the trail of Lord Chelmsford's ill-fated Central Column as they cross the Buffalo (uMzinyathi) River at Rorke's Drift and invade Zululand.

Walk on the nek below the strange rock outcrop called Isandlwana where the British made their camp on 20th January 1879. Follow the events that led to the Zulu attack at midday on 22nd January, overrunning the camp in less than 3 hours and massacring some 1400 Imperial troops, Colonial volunteers and Native levies.

Relive the night of horror spent on the battlefield by the General and the men of his half of the column on their return from the Mangeni.
Visit the Mission Station at Rorke's Drift where the 90 odd men of "B" Company 2/24th Regiment together with a handful of hospital patients and commissariat officers fought a desperate 12 hour battle against some 4 000 Zulus earning 11 Victoria Crosses in the process.

Walk through the "reconstructed" hospital building and get some idea of the fearful struggle that took place as the soldiers and patients fought hand to hand with the Zulus, while digging their way through the mud brick walls until finally exiting by a window into the yard leading to the defences around the store room.

If you are more adventurous you can visit Hlobane and Devil’s Pass where the cunning Zulu chief Mbilini tricked Colonels Wood and Buller, trapping their troops on the top of the mountain and inflicting heavy casualties on them as they tried to escape down the scree of boulders known as Devil’s Pass. Or maybe in more sombre mood visit the site of that last fateful Battle of Ulundi when the British square, 4 riflemen deep with guns and gatling guns on the corners and centres marched onto the Mahlabathini Plain. The Zulu Army watched as the horsemen rode out and set fire to first one Inkanda, then the next until it was too much for those warriors to bear, those redcoats on their hallowed ground, and they did the only thing they knew, they charged that square en masse and straight into that devastating gunfire and they were killed by the hundreds, the slaughter was dreadful. Indeed they had used the wrong tactics, but there is no doubting the courage of these warriors, and the British, being the people they are, respect this to this day.

It may have been King Shaka that created the Zulu nation but it was undoubtedly the warriors of King Cetshwayo that made them world famous! A fame they enjoy today!

Visit the monument. Unusual as it is to both armies, and read the simple plaque on the Zulu Wing “In Memory of the Brave Zulu Warriors who fell here in 1879 in Defence of the Old Zulu Order”

Emakhosini Opathe Heritage Park - Zululand

From the Ulundi monument it is only a short drive up the hill to Ondini and the Zulu Cultural Museum where you will also find the homestead of King Cetshwayo, stop and read the intriguing story of the silver beer mug given to Cetshwayo by Queen Victoria. On the way down the hill into Ulundi drop in at the Great Hut and the grave of King Mpande, father of Cetshwayo.

Another, not to be missed experience is a visit to the Emakhosini Opathe Heritage Park, alongside the R34, where you will find the grave of King Senzangakhona, father of Shaka. Also nearby you can stroll round the kraal of King Dingaan and visit the graves of Piet Retief and his men. Finally no visit to this area would be complete without a visit to the Spirit of Emakhosini, overlooking the Valley of the Kings, where Guide, Isabel Dhlamini, will intrigue you with the symbolism of it all. This is the heart and soul of the Zulu Nation!

If your journey is to the coast, stop in at Mtonjaneni for lunch, the view is spectacular, and the guide will show you Dingaan’s Spring where he sent his many wives to collect his water, then move on to the legionnaire style Fort Nongqayi and the Museum Village at Eshowe where you can see some amazing basket weaving and pottery before finally moving on to Stanger and the grave of King Shaka.

There are many Zulu Cultural guides who can relate the story of this remarkable man, and this remarkable nation and show you the many sites connected to them while fascinating you with the stories of the life and culture of the Zulu Nation.

Other Zulu Conflicts

The Anglo Zulu War is by no means the only Zulu conflict. There are of course the battles of the Shakan era as well as those of the two bloody Zulu Civil Wars, of which few people know of, and then there is the Zulu and Trekker conflict of 1838 and the legendary Voortrekker Battlefield of Blood River, midway between Dundee and Vryheid, where possibly the most pivotal and incredible battle in South Africa’s history took place. Here you will find a complete laager of full sized bronzed wagons on the site of the original laager. There is also an orientation centre where you can watch a video explaining the events leading up to the battle and the battle itself.

For those interested in the “Freedom Struggles”, in the Greytown, Kranskop area, there are the sites of what is now known as the first of these struggles, the Bhambatha Rebellion of 1906. These sites are unfortunately difficult to access and the use of a guide is advised.

The Transvaal War of Independence 1880 – 1881

When the peaceful attempts of the Zuid-Afrkaansche Republiek (Transvaal) failed to negotiate a return of their independence from Britain, the free burghers of the Transvaal felt they had no option but to resort to arms and war was declared on the 14th December 1880.

The first major action took place at Bronkhorst Spruit, in the then Transvaal, and soon after all the British garrisons in the Transvaal were invested. The Governor of Natal and Commander of the British forces in South East Africa, General Sir George Pomeroy-Colley, hurriedly gathered together a mixed force of soldiers, mounted police and sailors along with six guns and set out from Durban to Newcastle where they regrouped before moving on to Mount Prospect to attack the Boers who had taken up a defensive position at Laing’s Nek alongside Majuba mountain.

The British attack on Laing’s Nek was repulsed with heavy casualties, this action was followed two weeks later by an equally disastrous action at Schuinshoogte, where they were forced to leave the battlefield
under cover of darkness and in the pouring rain, and then the final humiliating, defeat on Majuba
(Hill of Doves) where the British General lost his life.

The Battle sites of Laing’s Nek, Schuinshoogte and Majuba, along with the British camp site and cemetery at Mount Prospect and Fort Amiel are all part of a one day tour from Newcastle.

Anglo Boer War 1899 -1902

During the Anglo-Boer War, despite victories at Talana Hill in Dundee and at Elandslaagte, the British were unable to blunt the Boer advance into Natal and the Boers finally besieged the British army in Ladysmith for 118 days, an event that dominated world headlines. While doing so they also held off British attacks to break through to Ladysmith along the Thukela River line at Colenso, inTabamnyama, Spion Kop and Vaalkrans until finally succumbing to a massive 14 day offensive by the British known as the Battle of the Thukela Heights. The Boers never recovered and were forced out of Natal.

In a relatively short distance between Estcourt and Ladysmith you can visit the site of the armoured train incident where Winston Churchill was captured, the Battle of Colenso where Lieutenant Freddy Roberts lost his life and became the first posthumous recipient of the VC while trying to save the guns from capture by the Boers. Once across the Thukela, and providing you are prepared to do some walking, you can visit the many sites and monuments that make up the Battle of the Thukela Heights before reaching Ladysmith via Pieter’s station.

Of all the battles fought in this campaign none are more tragic, bloody and fruitless than the Battle of Spion Kop. “This acre of massacre” is a must for all Anglo Boer War enthusiasts. This beautiful hill top, with its magnificent view of the Drakensberg, is now adorned with the mass graves of the British, who so stoically defended this site from day break to sunset, before finally abandoning it. Around its perimeter are the graves of many the Boers who gave their lives trying to retake it. This is one of the great stories of soldiers’ courage and Generals bungling.

While in Ladysmith one should not miss a visit to the incredible Siege Museum, next to the old Town Hall in the centre of town. Here you will find a most remarkable collection of Boer War material and artefacts that will amaze you.

There are of course many other sites in and around Ladysmith related to the siege for one to visit including the Platrand, the Burgher monument and the Battles of Wagon Hill and Caesar’s Camp where the British repulsed the Boer attempt to break the British line defending Ladysmith.

Museums

The Battlefields Route boasts some 80 sites several of them being Museums such as the Siege Museum in Ladysmith, the multifaceted Talana Museum and Battlefield in Dundee, Fort Durnford in Estcourt, Ncome Zulu Cultural Museum on the opposite bank of the Ncome, or Blood River, from the Trekkers’ laager. The Zulu Cultural Museum at Ondini in Ulundi, Fort Nongqayi and the Village Museum at Eshowe, Mtonjaneni Museum at Mtonjaneni Lodge, Fort Amiel Museum in Newcastle, the “Ou Pastorie” in Utrecht, just to name a few.

Battlefield Guides

There are so many remarkable stories and sites abounding the Battlefields that it is a good idea to engage the services of a Guide when making a visit in order to more fully appreciate these events. You will find them on www.battlefieldsregionguides.co.za

Nature and Game Reserves

The Battlefields Region is not just about battles. It also includes a number of interesting Game Reserves like the Balele Reserve, Dam and camping site at Utrecht. This lovely park, nestled into a re-entrant into the surrounding Balele Mountains is well known for its fishing and Giraffe. The surrounding mountains abound with streams, many of which are stocked with trout.

On the plains near Newcastle is the Chelmsford Nature Reserve with its game park and boating facilities on Ntshingwayo Dam. Further down the road to Ladysmith, and still out of the malaria area, is the “Big Five” Game Conservancy of Nambiti which boasts a number of excellent, top quality, lodges each with their own Game Guides.

Going north into Zululand you will find the great parks of Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, Mkhuze and iSmangaliso.

Birding

There are numerous bird sanctuaries and bird watching areas in the region and Bird Life Northern Natal members are always delighted to take visitors out and show them around. Areas include the Balele mountains, Bloedrivier Poort and the wetlands that stretch right across the R34 and R33 past Blood River Station. Near Newcastle you will find the Madadeni Duck Ponds that boast more species than many of the so called “top spots” in the country. There are also the Blue Crane and Stork sanctuaries in the mountains by Normandien. To visit these areas you are advised to contact Bird Life Northern Natal on www.blnn.org.za

Hiking and Riding

The region also abounds with hiking and riding trails. These trails invariable belong to private lodges and it is necessary to approach the various community tourism offices in the region for details.

Conferencing and Weddings

Because of the region being roughly midway between Durban and Johannesburg it is also a popular conferencing and wedding area giving participants a great opportunity to be away from their normal surroundings and interferences so that they can concentrate more on the conference or enjoy the wedding as well as giving them a chance to break away a see something new.
Excellent Conferencing and Wedding facilities can be found in most of the larger hotels and Lodges.

Accommodation

There is plenty of accommodation wherever one travels in the Battlefields Region, from typical Zulu umuzis, to back packer lodges, to comfortable country lodges and bread and breakfast establishments.

Many Hotels and Lodges in the main centres offer special weekend packages for large groups like car and social clubs, where Guides give orientation talks in the evening after supper and engage with the group so that they have a better understanding of what they will be visiting the next day.

Where to find all this information?

A great place to start is www.battlefieldsregionguides.co.za and www.battlefieldsroute.co.za on these sites you will not only find an interactive map of the Battlefields Route along with details of the battles and wars that have taken place but also details of all the guides servicing the Route and connections to all the main towns and their service providers. You can also get some details on www.battlefields.kzn.org.za

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