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Posted on Aug 6, 2008 in War College

Sojourning Sacred Ground: Tips on Visiting Isandhlwana and Rorke’s Drift

By Erich Wagner

Zulu War picture from the Illustrated London News. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.Various travel companies offer tours from Durban, ranging from day trips to tours lasting several days. Travelers who prefer setting their own itineraries can rent a vehicle and head up to the heart of Zululand, a drive of approximately three-and-a-half hours. Americans must remember that South Africans drive on the opposite side of the road, and one must be alert to livestock and people walking along the roadway.

This trip will take you through the capital of kwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, the original step-off point for the largest of three British columns that invaded Zululand. Under the Honorable Lord Frederick Thesiger, who commanded all British land forces in South Africa, it advanced from Pietermaritzburg via Greytown to Helpmakaar, and ultimately to Royal Zulu Kraal at Ulundi where the Zulu were defeated and their king Cetshwayo captured on July 4, 1879. Today, ’Maritzburg, as the British called it during the war, has many scenic and historical attractions, among them the Voortrekker (“Boer Pioneer”) Museum and the Voortrekker Volksraadsaal (parlement; the building is now the city hall and is a national monument), as well as the grave of Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Durnford—hero of Isandhlwana— at the Fort Napier Cemetery.


Rorke's Drift today, with the famous replicas of the church (left) and hospital (right). Erich Wagner.Upon reaching the area of the battlefields, travelers will find several wonderful lodges at which to stay. David Rattray’s Fugitives Drift Lodge—now run by his wife following his tragic murder in January 2007—has a staff of over 60 employees dedicated to making your stay and tour memorable. The museum-like facilities rival any elegant bed-and-breakfast and include a delectable breakfast, lunch and dinner. Zulu War memorabilia adorn the walls, and the knowledgeable staff provide incredible insight to the land and the peoples. The battles of Isandhlwana and Rorke’s Drift are brought alive by protégées of Mr. Rattray’s, one of whom had a great-grandfather who trod with the impis (Zulu regiments, organized by age) on that fateful January 22.

Other equally enjoyable places to stay include the famous Isandhlwana Lodge, carved into the iNyoni rock overlooking the battlefield. The lodge has been welcoming travelers since 1999 and affords them an unforgettable experience in which history is brought to life. It offers en suite luxury rooms and a pool built among the rocks, as well as facilities for executive conferences or team-building getaways.

Finally, there is Rorke’s Drift Lodge, a small, intimate property situated five kilometers (three-and-a-tenth miles) from Rorke’s Drift on the edge of the Biggarsberg escarpment. A stay at any of these facilities offers a wide range of activities. You can hike trails once traveled by advancing soldiers or by fugitives running from certain death. Other options include horseback rides, wildlife tours, stargazing, or white-water rafting, mountain biking and nature tours by arrangement. Over 270 different species of birds inhabit the area, making it a birder’s paradise.

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1 Comment

  1. I have to second the recommendation of the Rattray lodge and materials. I’ve listened to his excellent “Day of the Dead Moon” many, many times and believe you would be hard pressed to find someone more knowledgeable of the geography and history of the Zulu war.


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