I’ve been reflecting on my recent visit to South Africa and trying to decide what part was the highlight of the three-week adventure.
There was the fantastic experience of exploring the outstanding Grootbos Nature Reserve overlooking the beautiful rugged coast of Walkers Bay where the Southern Right Whales can be seen from the shore. Then there was the sheer indulgent luxury of the Rovos Rail journey from Cape Town to Pretoria – amazing!
So too was the incredible Mont Rochelle Hotel in Franschoek where the food and wine-tasting experiences were outstanding.
But, in the end, I knew it had to be my stay at Fugitive’s Drift Lodge: a very special place set in a 5,000 acre Natural Heritage Site adjacent to both Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift and including the site where Lieutenants Melvill and Coghill lost their lives attempting to save the Queen’s Colour of their regiment.
On our first full day, we headed out to Isandlwana in a Range Rover with our knowledgeable guide, Alistair, whose easygoing nature made him seem more like a family friend. First of all, we looked down from the hill over which the Zulu attack was launched onto the plain where the battle took place as Alistair explained the strategies of the opposing armies. He then drove us into the World Heritage Site and set up three chairs in the shade of a tree where we sat with mugs of coffee and homemade biscuits for over an hour (maybe two – the time flew by) whilst he told us all about the battle and how it unfolded.
We were mesmerised by the remarkable story of the great Zulu victory and took time to walk to the cave where the last brave – and, sadly, unknown – British soldier died. The many cairns – piles of whitepainted stones – around the battlefield mark where the bones of British soldiers were gathered together (the ground was too hard to dig graves).
On our second day we visited Rorke’s Drift – the scene of one of the most heroic actions in the history of the British Army. This time, our equally knowledgeable guide was Douglas – the son of the owner of Fugitive’s Drift. As I walked around the site and into the reconstructed hospital building, listening to Doug’s insightful stories about the individuals whose incredible bravery and determination was hard to imagine, I felt truly honoured to be there and to understand and appreciate the enormity of their plight – albeit without the danger! It is incredible to think that 139 British troops – many of who were hospital patients – successfully defended their position against a force of around 4,000 Zulu warriors, winning more Victoria Crosses than in any other single battle in history.
The battle of Rorke’s Drift was immortalised by the 1964 film “Zulu” – starring a young Michael Caine – and in 1979 the battle of Isandlwana was portrayed by the film “Zulu Dawn”.
The Battlefields can be visited from Durban and incorporated into a longer itinerary to South Africa. But, whether you are a real history buff or simply a curious traveller like me, the Fugitive’s Drift experience is one that you really should not miss: it will remain one of my travel highlights for years to come.
Time Difference: + 2 hours
Currency: South African rand
Flying Time: 13 hours 20 minutes
· Make sure you stay at least two nights, otherwise you will not see everything.
· Take warm clothing as some of the tours start early before the sun warms the atmosphere.
· Hire a 4 x 4 for the drive as it involves a lot of inclines and some rough tracks.
· Read David Rattray – the “White Zulu” who founded Fugitive’s Drift.