As in many parts of the world, the later part of the 19th Century was a time of conflict and confrontation in South Africa, particularly the area we now call KwaZulu-Natal. The British were at the height of their empire-building zeal, the Zulu nation was one of the most powerful in Africa, and the Boers had shaken the dust of British colonialism off their velskoens, and set off into the interior to take control of their own destiny.

Well, that sounds like a recipe for disaster. And it was - for everyone concerned. A real free-for-all scrap, there were skirmishes, stand-up battles, sieges and ambushes. No one - Boer, Brit or Zulu - came away unscathed. The stories are fascinating, and the KZN battlefields are remarkably well preserved. It's not just a raa-raa recreation of sabre-rattling macho imperialism, and it's certainly not a celebration of all things bellicose.

Guided tours offer you the opportunity to stand on the very spot where history was made and hear of how decisions (good and bad) were taken; hear of heroism and heartache, of victory and defeat and of death and destruction. It's definitely food for thought - and it leaves almost everyone pondering on the futility of war.

For the historically inclined, these battles include Voortrekker-Zulu war (1836-1852), the Anglo-Zulu War (1879), two Anglo-Boer wars, one in 1881, and the big one, otherwise known as the South African war (1899-1902), and the Bambata Rebellion (1906). An interesting thing about these battlefields is that some of the biggest players on the planet chose to spend time there.

You can't help but wonder how different world history would have been if the young Winston Churchill or the equally young, zealous and idealistic Mahatma Gandhi had succumbed during these battles. Or if Prince Louis Napoleon, the last of the Bonaparte line, had survived his little altercation with a small band of Zulu warriors and had gone on to meet some lovely young lady and perpetuate the dynasty.

You can visit the Ultimatum Tree, near Tugela Mouth, where the British pulled a fast one on the Zulu chief Cetswayo, or Gingindlovu, where the Zulus were more than a little surprised to be the first people in the world to feel the force of the Gatling gun (precursor to the now ubiquitous AK 47s, Uzis and other automatic weapons), or mGungundlovu, where the Zulu chief, Dingaan, feeling somewhat threatened by the Boer's obvious land-lust, did away with the Voortrekker Piet Retief and his followers in a rather grisly way.

This was followed by a raid on the Boer encampment at Bloukrans, where the Zulus pretty well trashed the Boers. Oh - human history - and then the Boers sent a punitive expedition after the Zulus and, after making a deal with god (I kid you not) trashed the Zulus at the rather ironically named Ncome River (which means peace). It was consequently renamed Blood River, which seems far more appropriate. It's like kindergarten - 'but he hit me first....' We never learn, do we?

Other oft-visited sites include Isandlwana - the site of Britain's most humiliating defeat - and the nearby Rorke's Drift where a handful of resourceful redcoats did what they could to salvage imperial pride (not to mention their own skins), Ladysmith, site of one of the longest sieges (119 days) in the South African War, and Dundee, with its Talana Museum on the site of the Talana Battle.

The area known today as Zululand was, initially ignored by the British when they imperiously annexed what was then referred to as Natal and the Zulus retained sovereignty over all the land north of the Buffalo and Tugela Rivers - for a while, at least. The overlap is quite broad - the battlefields comprises large parts of Zululand and extends as far as Pietermaritzburg, almost to the foot of the Drakensberg, and Zululand covers much of the battlefield territory, while extending further north to St Lucia in the southern part of the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, where the border between northern Zululand and southern Maputaland is rather hazy. Zululand also includes the fantastic Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve, which is the ancestral home of all the white rhinos now living in southern Africa. Seriously - they were extinct everywhere else and were brought back from the brink in this rather lovely park. Imagine - we came a hair's breadth from never, ever seeing a white rhino.

There's loads to do here. A tour of the battlefields is a given - either by vehicle, by foot or on horseback. And it probably won't be long before someone offers cycle tours. There are some great river trips, with the Tugela and Buffalo Rivers throwing up some challenging white water. Wilderness walks in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi are a truly awesome adventure - it's a real wilderness experience in Big Five country. If you want to see the picture-book Zulus, there are a handful of cultural villages that offer dancing, an insight into traditional crafts and some historical and cultural insights. And, of course, there are the beaches - all long and lovely.

View our newsletter article Durban Now for more about the Ncome Blood River Heritage site and festivals.

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Dundee Dundee
Town of Battlefields

Dundee
Dundee as a tourist destination is perfect for the Battlefields & associated history. The Talana Museum is a lesson for how a museum can be run with everything from pre-history to the development of the town & the area and the various industries in the neighborhood.
Peter Chenery
South Africa

Dundee Dundee
Town of Battlefields

Convenient
Very convenient for visits to the Battlefields with some pleasant residential suburbs and an excellent museum run by friendly helpful staff, but what a down-at-heel, litter-strewn CBD! My British guests were quite shocked. Time to clean up and get out some pots of paint.
Simon Haw
South Africa

Dundee Dundee
Town of Battlefields

2 day visit to Dundee
Only stayed in Dundee to do a tour of the Battlefields. Sadly lacking in restaurants.
Richard Cooke
South Africa


The Famous or infamous Battle of Spion Kop
Kwa Zulu Natal- South Africa - a province of excitement and mystery, where the past meets the present in a destination of astonishing natural beauty-a melting pot of traditional and western culture and Battlefields in abundance.From the ashes of the tragedy of the South African War of 1899-1902, fought between the people of South Africa and Britain and the allied men from Canada, Australia and New Zealand, who joined this war, the first time that troops from overseas fought under their national banner.The Boers (The Citizen’s Army), whose tactics and weaponry were the accepted view of warfare,...
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Lynette Heron
South Africa

Paulpietersburg Paulpietersburg
Town of Zululand

Coast and Jo'burg,Kruger
Paulpietersburg lies below Dumbe Mountain, known for paragliding and is part of the Rainbow route. It is well known for the hot/cold mineral pools at Natal Spa. It is still part of the Battlefields Route and has a Drosdy Info Centre with a small museum attached. There are numerous German communities surrounding Paulpietersburg with interesting Churches/Community Functions, dating back to the missionary movement of the 1800's. There is a lovely Wishing Well in Paulpietersburg for browsing/shopping and delicious lunches.Accommodation is spread in town and in the surrounding farming areas.Come...
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Elisabeth Kohlmeyer
South Africa

Dundee Dundee
Town of Battlefields

Historical
Clean town with good accommodation close to the Battlefields.
isabell Craigie
South Africa

Dundee Dundee
Town of Battlefields

Good for history
Very good area if you are interested in the battle area as its the centre of the battlefields. the town is small and peaceful with the Rambiti Game Reserve just an hour away.
David Northcott
South Africa

Dundee Dundee
Town of Battlefields

Quiet nice place
Quiet, non-touristic, close to Dundee with nice restaurants.
Heinz Mostosi
Switzerland

Rorkes Drift Rorkes Drift
Town of Battlefields

Getaway to another moment in time
Before going read about the events that unfolded at both Rorkes Drift and Isandhlwana and go armed with drawings of the troop movements (available in books on the battles) then you can stand on the sites and imagine the events as they happened. The beauty and peacefulness of the area with the memorials and graves will make you ask why, what for. Not far away are other historical important sad sites such as the Prince Imperials grave and the graves of Zulu kings and Piet Retief and his group.
Dennis Weeden
South Africa

Vryheid Vryheid
Town of Zululand

Passing through
The area of Vryheid is really beautiful and a part of the country which I have never before seen. We did not venture out to any historical sites, but if you wanted to there are plenty around. The size of Vryheid a s a town really surprised me.
Shane Lothian
South Africa

Suburb of Newcastle

The Place
Signal Hill is a very beautiful and quiet area, the ideal get away place from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Lizelle Willoughby
South Africa

Suburb of Newcastle

Clean, neat and peaceful
I liked the suburb. It is very clean, neat and quite tranquil. There is easy access to town and it is easily accessible to from R34 into Newcastle.We were not there long enough to explore, but I was impressed by what I saw.
Lwazi Sibanda
South Africa

Rorkes Drift Rorkes Drift
Town of Battlefields

Battlefield visit
Visiting both Rorkes Drift and Iswalanda brought home how brave the troops were on both sides. It was so quiet, you could stand and imagine the battles unfolding.
David Wray
South Africa

Newcastle Newcastle
Town of Battlefields

Good stopover
Decent selection of accommodation.
Anonymous, South Africa
South Africa

Winterton Winterton
Town of Battlefields

Winterton / Central Berg
There really is so much to do in the Winterton / Central Berg area so try not to waste a day!If you don't already have the run-down on 'what to do', then stop at one of the local restaurants or curio shops on arrival and grab a handful of brochures. Then plan your holiday activities from there.
SALLY SMITH
South Africa

Nambiti Private Game Reserve Nambiti Private Game Reserve
Game Reserve of Ladysmith (KwaZulu-Natal)

Best game experience I've been on
Saw 4 of the big 5 on my first game drive. Not as intense as other game drives have been but definitely the best in terms of animals seen. Great for first time game experiences!
Shaun Seaman
New Zealand

Vryheid Vryheid
Town of Zululand

Lack of signposts for places of interest
We used Vryheid as a stop over on our way home from Kruger National Park (4 - 6 Jan 2014). Our sole purpose was to visit the Battle fields in the area. We were disappointed to see the lack of interest in signposts to these various sites. Some signs were the old brown colour which were faded or the lettering had peeled off (one Nkambula sign). Some sites one couldn't even get to - no path or road in particular Scheepersnek along the R33. The entrance to Blood River was appalling - poorly sign posted. In fact we stopped to ask a local if we were on the right road. 21km on dirt road, which could...
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Brigitte Blignault
South Africa

Hutten Heights Hutten Heights
Suburb of Newcastle

Hutten Heights
A quiet leafy suburb of Newcastle. We were visiting family in Newcastle and stayed in Marisch Guest House in Hutten Heights.
wendy van Eyssen
South Africa

Dundee Dundee
Town of Battlefields

Dundee- Heart of the Battlefields
Dundee is centrally situated in Northern KZN. Mainly farming area, Large stock sale yard, First Coal mines in SA discovered here and many coal mines in the area. Trading centre 4 Super markets, wholesalers, Accommodation establishments
Foy Vermaak
South Africa

Glencoe Glencoe
Town of Battlefields

The tiny little town of Glencoe
The well known Country Life magazine recently came to visit Glencoe - read all about it in their July 2103 issue.
Cherice Torlage
South Africa