Activities & Destinations
There are plenty of things for the adventurous to do in the area and we invite you to review the outlines below so that you can plan sufficient time for their enjoyment. Fancy a swim or a paddle in the Buffalo River? A hike to the summit of Shiyane? Or a bike ride around the rural roads? You may like to download and enjoy Sarah’s Diary the account of one couple who spent a week with us.
See below for details on: Guiding to the Battlefields, The Local Community, Horsepower at Rorke’s Drift, Game Hunting, Trails and local attractions, Local Destinations, Day Excursions
Guiding to the Battlefields
Most visitors to Rorke’s Drift will wish to visit the famous battlefield of that name and that of Isandlwana which was fought earlier on the same day, 22 January 1879. The story of 25,000 warriors engaged leaving some 5000 dead remains compelling with the British Army suffering its greatest single-day loss between Waterloo and WW1. As a hospitality provider in this specialist destination we know that our guests’ wishes vary widely, from the detail of individuals’ actions during the dramatic battles to a basic outline of events that will allow individual exploration and discovery. Visitors are all moved by the actions all about us. We offer the widest range of options from the attention of a dedicated expert to self-guided tours. We match guest requirements to the range of skills that are available and should you wish to engage your own guide we are equally welcoming. A selection is on our link http://www.battlefieldsregionguides.co.za/. Guides will give personal presentations and enjoy the interchange of views with guests’ knowledge and opinions. The popular option is: A historian guide will take guests in their vehicle……………… from R3000 (lunch at hotel in addition) The outline of the day is for guests to be met by their guide at the hotel; get an overview of the initiation of the war and then drive to Isandlwana Battlefield (25 mins). Here you will need to register at the museum (and pay R35pp) and may chose to watch a CD of the actions and take a cup of coffee, then visit the battlefield itself and if you wish, to climb up the distinctive mountain or walk along the Fugitive’s Trail. The walking is optional but you should wear shoes (flipflops are not suitable) and protection from the weather since you will be out all day. The morning concludes about 12.30 with a return to the Hotel with your guide for lunch, overlooking the Buffalo River, the Drift, the Bridle Trail and the Wagon Road along and across which all the movements took place. Proceed after lunch to the Rorke’s Drift Mission station (5 mins) and buy a ticket again and see the museum on the site of the original hospital, the church on the site of the original store and the defensive lines; and have a presentation of the action that was recognised by the award of 11 VC’s. Further option depending on time, to visit Fugitive’s Drift; return to hotel about 1700. All of our guests admire the views from the hotel and appreciate some stories of the history that happened within them so please do spare the time for this unique experience before departure. We hope that gives you sufficient information. You will normally settle with your guide direct.
Horsepower at Rorke’s Drift
What better way to experience the countryside and the historic trails than on horseback! Follow in the steps of the warriors of 1879 to explore the Wagon Road towards Isandlwana; climb up to the summit of Shiyane to see the views that made history (‘here they come . . . etc); or take the trail to the cliffs beauty spot; or just use horsepower to visit the battlefield or to ride beside the Buffalo River and to Fort Melville.
Local to us are several game ranches where the wildlife requires management. By arrangement with our neighbours we can offer the chance to spend a day in the bush in pursuit of several species of plains game that will be a challenge and a memorable experience. You will need to have some rifle shooting experience and bring some old clothes. Our kitchen should also benefit from your endeavours, and you may end up with a trophy! We will need advance notice, at least two weeks prior to arrival and you should allow a complete day. ‘Big Five’ reserves are not far away for an intensive Game experience. See Nambiti or Hluhulwe below.
Trails and local attractions
- Battlefield of Rorke’s Drift: This is just a 12 minute walk up the hill from the hotel and you will find the museum (on the site of the original hospital) and Lutheran Church (on the site of the original church/store). Go to the orientation centre and purchase a ticket.
- Fort Melvill: just a ten minute walk along the river and across the road, the foundations of this fortification of 1879 are interesting and can be compared with the original drawings at the hotel. It overlooks the site of the British Army pontoons that crossed the River. It can be accessed by vehicle with key to the wire gate at reception.
- The River: The Mzinyathi (Buffalo) River runs below the hotel and there is a path and gate in the perimeter fence that will allow access to it. Please ask at reception for a key to the padlock. There is prolific birdlife in the plants beside the river and it is a delightful swim off the sandbanks.
- Shiyane Mountain: Shiyane (‘leave it’) towers over the hotel and a track to climb to the summit can be followed. The ascent takes about 45mins. Access is through the gate beside the water tank. Please ask at reception for a key to the padlock.
- Cave Paintings: The slopes of Shiyane have a cave with some bushman paintings still visible that show the animal life of the area when the San people still lived here. It is about a half hour walk from the top gate and a guide will be required (AMAFA requirement)
- Beauty Spot – The Cliffs: our riverside walk takes visitors to our local beauty spot which also houses a nesting site for the Bald Ibis. A clean sandbank in the river is an ideal picnic or sundowner spot from which we will collect you with a vehicle – just a one-way service.
- Bird life: recent categorisation of the plentiful birdlife all around us and by the river and on the slopes of the mountain reveals a list of over 115 species. download BIRD LIST
- Rafting and tubing and boatin: Depending on the water level in the river it may be possible to float down to the hotel from above the bridge. Or to enjoy the calm water below the hotel; or to shoot the rapids and arrive at the Ibis nesting site above.
- Bridle Track: This runs from Rorke’s Drift towards Isandlwana, terminating some 3km short of the battlesite. Ideally it is walked in the afternoon from the Isandlwana end and the graveyard opposite the hotel is visited before crossing the river. This takes about 2.5 hours and is a wonderful walk through open countryside and past traditional Zulu houses.
- Craft Centre, Rorke’s Drift: The workshops for pottery, weaving and screen printing of cloth can be visited during working hours and their products can be purchased. Hand carding and spinning of wool for weaving of carpets is particularly interesting since this method of yarn production has now almost died out.
Local destinations – these are places at less than an hour’s drive away. To enjoy them fully each destination should be considered as a half day.
- Isandlwana Battlefield: Cross the Buffalo River at the bridge and there is just one right turn at a T junction and you will see the mountain on the right. Go on to the museum to purchase a ticket. If you do not have a guide with you, then purchase the self-guided trail leaflet also.
- Mangeni Falls: This is beyond Isandlwana Battlefield and a good picnic spot. Dramatic gorge with overhanging rocks and the level of water varies greatly. This is where Lord Chelmsford, Commander in Chief of the British Army in Zululand in 1879, enjoyed his picnic lunch while his camp at Isandlwana was being overrun by the Zulus.
- Fugitive’s Drift: The crossing of the Buffalo where fugitives from the Battle of Isandlwana attempted to reach safety. About 50 succeeded. Site of the memorial to Lts Melville and Coghill who were awarded Victoria Crosses posthumously for saving the Colours of the 24th Regiment. Fugitive’s Drift Lodge is owned and run by Nicki Rattray and visitors should call first to make arrangements to visit.
- Elandskraal: past the RD battlesite, about 20 minutes on the gravel road is the Lutheran church at Elandskraal. The road goes sharp right signed up to Helpmekaar but if you turn left you will find an interesting village store just 300m on the right. Petrol and diesel are available here. The store generally has stocks of locally made beer pots, spears and grass utensils for beer making etc. Normal weekday opening.
- Helpmekaar Village: This was the original British Army base during the Zulu War 1879 and was fortified in the SAW of 1900. There is a small well tended cemetery behind the Police Station, which is all that remains of the village. The fortified encampment was to the NW of the cemetery.
- Fort Pine: More properly described as a castle, this fort was built in 1878 as protection for the settlers against Zulu attack. It is remarkable evidence of the percieved Zulu threat and an excellent opening point for the Zulu War. The gate access key is held at the Hotel.
- Round tour (2.5hrs): to Fort Pine and then along the Biggarsberg to Helpmekaar and then down the Knostrope Pass to the Buffalo River Valley.
- Dundee: follow all signs and the recommended route is via the Nqutu road R68. Take the Right turn at the Nxala sign and pass the isolated school. Supermarkets, ATM’s and Post Office as well as garages, tyre repair etc. Your route will enter Dundee past the Talana Museum complex.
- Talana Battlefield and Musuem: As you enter the town on the R33 the museum is on the slopes of Talana Hill on the right. Talana was the first pitched battle of the South African War 1899-1902. Café and gift shop.
- Van Tonder’s Pass: This is the route taken by the British Brigade when they withdrew from Dundee and went to join the garrison at Ladysmith; mostly to be besieged there for four months. From Helpmekaar go towards Dundee on the R33 and the P103 is the next turning on the left. At the bottom of the pass turn right and you will pass thro pretty country before reaching a T junction which, if you go right will lead you over another pretty pass of the Biggarsberg and back to Dundee. [Round trip about 2 hours]
- Nqutu: the nearest town to the Hotel is just 22km and 20 minutes away. It has a modern shopping centre with all the banks, a chemist and a supermarket as well as a garage for fuel. Selections may be limited to the choice of the local Zulu market.
- Prince Imperial memorial: This is the site where the Prince Imperial of France was killed while on a patrol, in 1879. He was serving with Lord Chelmsford and his death terminated the aspirations of Bonapartiste’s for a member of the family to take power in France. He was grandson of Emperor Napoleon. Cross the river and go to Nqutu and it is 1.25 hrs journey
- Blood River: the impressive ring of bronze wagons is on the site where the Boers confronted the Zulus after a year of aggression in 1838, that started with the assassination of Piet Retrief. The memorial to the Vow and its reasons and influence are poignant. Again via Nqutu and this is only 45mins drive away.
Day excursions should be contemplated in conjuction with Local destinations – Guests are welcome to order a Safari lunch from the kitchen so that they can be independent. The destinations below are not exclusive.
- Itala Game Reserve: This KZN Wildlife reserve is within easy reach and you can drive in your own vehicle around the well maintained road network. The reserve is well known for good sightings of elephant and rhino.
- Nambiti Private Game Reserve: Now with the Big Five and a diverse habitat and just North of Ladysmith, It may form a part of your tour in that direction.
- Ladysmith and environs: The town’s Siege Museum is excellent and visits to Wagon Hill, Spion Kop, or other points of interest with a guide are worthwhile. This Natal town was besieged by the Boers for four months in 1900 and was a focal point of the South African War until its relief.
- Colenso: Battle site, South African War 1899-1902. Actually the town was fought over twice and the surrounds are full of interest.
- Majuba Mountain, Volksrust. Site of the defeat of the British force under Gen Colley that ended the First Boer War 0f 1880-1881. The boundaries of the Free State, Transvaal and Natal meet in this area which is rich in history. Territorial disputes abounded and pitched battles in the area from the 1880 Anglo Boer War and the South African War 1899-1902. You may chose to come to Rorke’s Drift via this area if coming from the North.
- Luneburg: Battle site, Zulu War
- Kambula: Battle site, Zulu War
- Hloblane: Battle site, Zulu War
- Ulundi: Battle site, Zulu War Site of Zulu capital under Cetswayo
- Eshowe: Battle site, Zulu War. The besieged coastal column’s fort is preserved
- Greytown: Staging post for the British invasion of Zululand and good museum covering the Bambatha rebellion of 1906
- Elandslaagte: Battle site, South African War 1899-1902. In defence of Ladysmith.
- Maria Ratchritz mission: A fascinating glimpse of missionary work in the area that dates back to 19th century. Now run by German Nuns from Bavaria.