Tours to the Battles of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift

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Natal Battlefields

One of the most memorable experiences in rural Zululand is to visit the battle-sites of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift. We really recommend staying at least two nights at one of the Battlefield lodges (see below). Then you take their  guided excursions. we actually recommend staying three nights if you have the time as each tour is full-on and therefore a morning and afternoon excursion is quite mentally exhausting. (There are plenty of walks and other activities to occupy you.)

But what is the background to these battles and why were they so significant?

During the mid 19th century, the Zulu people confined themselves mainly to the north of KwaZulu Natal. Whilst the English Settlers took over from the Afrikaners to colonialise the south of the province near to Durban. This was not an easy situation. And the Zulus repeatedly attacked the border areas to claim back their land. By the 1870’s the English decided to counter-attack both to assert their dominance. But also to get closer to the prized Boer Republic of the Transvaal (with its gold and mineral riches).

Battle of Isandlwana

At Isandlwana, some 20,000 Zulu warriors, angered by the British encroachment attacked the British on 22nd January 1879. It was in the middle of the blistering heat of summer. Here, the Zulus using Shaka’s classic ‘horns of the buffalo’ formation, inflicted one of the worst defeats on the British. Ever…  From their vantage point on the eastern slopes of Isandlwana mountain. Lord Chelmsford had crucially underestimated the force of the Zulus. The Zulus attacked descending on the British with their short stabbing spears. And after only two hours of pitched and terrifying close combat battle, the British fled. In all 1,000 Zulus died as did 1,300 British.

Battle of Rorke’s Drift

The nearby fort and military hospital of Rorke’s Drift was the scene of high drama later that day. Here 141 British soldiers were holed up in the fort, including 35 wounded. They repeatedly repelled 4,500 Zulu warriors over the course of 12 hours using biscuit tins and flour bags as barricades. When the smoke cleared some 500 Zulus and 17 British were dead. A total of 11 Victoria Crosses were earned at Rorke’s Drift. Which is the most ever given in one single battle in British History.

To learn more about this fascinating piece of history, stay in the Zulu Battlefields at either Fugitives Drift or Isandlwana Lodge

Logistics

If you are really short of time, you could stay overnight and do the Battle of Rorke’s Drift in the afternoon. And then the battle of Isandlwana the following morning. But as you saw above, that is getting the timeline back to front.

Note: But we really don’t recommend visiting for the day from Durban! (Though some tour companies offer this). You would be left exhausted from the 3-4 hour drive each way (!) and probably not able to take in the full drama of the sites.