South Africa’s Battlefields: an Audley specialist’s view

The hill at Isandlwana

White stone cairns now mark the spots where British soldiers fell during the Battle of Isandlwana

David is a South Africa specialist here at Audley and during a recent trip to the country he visited an area which has become legendary for its part in two famous wars: the Anglo-Zulu War and the Boer War.

Always popular with Audley clients who travel to this part of South Africa, here David gives a first-hand account of the time he spent in an area aptly named, the Battlefields.

Wreaths in honour of the fallen at Rorkes Drift

Wreaths in honour of the fallen at Rorkes Drift

On my recent trip to South Africa, Audley sent me to an area I hadn’t explored before, the Battlefields. This is a region, around 300 kilometres north of Durban, where there were numerous conflicts in the Anglo-Zulu war, the Boer-Zulu war and the Anglo-Boer wars (basically everyone fought everyone in the 1800s).

In the morning, I went on a tour of the Isandlwana battlefield, where the British were soundly beaten by a well-trained and determined Zulu army. I was shown the area from both a hilltop above the  plain to see how the battle progressed, and from the actual battleground, to understand what it was like for the individual soldiers. Experiencing both gave a balanced representation of the events that transpired under the shadow of Isandlwana hill.

Zulu dancing

Zulu dancing

This morning whetted my appetite for more tours and I spent the afternoon being shown round the site of Rorke’s Drift, the skirmish portrayed in the Michael Caine film Zulu. Unbelievably, all the action at Rorke’s Drift occurred over a small area, about the size of two tennis courts. As the main buildings involved are still standing, it is easy to picture what unfolded on the night of the 22nd January 1879.

What separates this tour from others I have been on, was the guide, Andrew Rattray. He was fantastic. It is no exaggeration to say that the group I was with was hanging on every word. Andrew had so much knowledge and his passion for history brought the battle to life.

Boer War battlefield tour

Boer War battlefield tour

Andrew explained what happened at the battle and also focused on individual soldiers, both British and Zulu. These anecdotes gave a personal touch to the story and by the end of the tour, everyone in the group genuinely cared about the fate of those involved in Rorke’s Drift. On the journey back to the lodge Andrew played Zulu war chants, Men of Harlech and the Last Post. It was a really moving end to a day where I felt I not only learnt a lot, but really was immersed in the events of both battles.

I enjoyed the experience so much, I already have my next battlefield tour planned – Spionkop, the conflict which famously brought together Louis Botha (the first Prime Minister of South Africa), Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi. Like anything, the more you find out about a subject, the more you realise you really don’t know enough.


To book a tailor-made trip to South Africa, which can include visiting the famous Battlefields, call one of our specialists on 01993 838 550 or contact us online. Alternatively browse our South Africa itinerary ideas for a little more inspiration.