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First visit to Zululand October 2002
By Melvin Hunt

My wife (Pauline) and I flew out from Heathrow on Friday Oct. 19th at 20.45

Sat. Day 1. Arrived Durban 13.30, picked up the car from the airport and spent the afternoon chilling out around the seafront area.

Sun. Day 2. Drove to the Mont Aux Sources hotel in the Northern Drakensberg to visit the Amphitheatre, location for the film ‘Zulu’. The hotel is first class offering good food and a friendly atmosphere. The scenery from the grounds of the hotel is stunning with views of the Amphitheatre and the mountain which doubled as Isandlwana in the films opening scenes. The Amphitheatre is in the Royal Natal Park about two miles from the hotel. (The road passes the fields where the Isandlwana scene was shot.)

“Isandlwana” film set location from ‘Zulu’
There is only one road into the Park with magnificent views of the Amphitheatre looming up all the way. Then you round a bend in the road and it’s there! You are suddenly in ‘Zulu’. Nothing has changed at first glance and as you look around the very familiar landscape, the various characters acting out their scenes from the film flash through your mind.

The Amphitheatre
The hospital/storehouse set is now overgrown but we took some stills from the film and we lined it up exactly. We then walked over to the river/pont location. (It was dammed hot work!) I found myself looking across to try and spot the two riders from the column!!

The really big surprise is that the wedding kraal set is only about two hundred yards further up the road tucked away over to the right. It is much smaller than it appears on the film. There are also bits of it still there. If you are a fan of the film it really is worth going out of the way to visit this area. Apart from some undergrowth nothing has changed and it really is a case of Deja Vu.

The Set location for Cetewayo’s Kraal. ( A lot smaller than it looks in the film)

Tues. Day 4. Travelled to Penny Farthing Farm via Ladysmith. Stopped off for lunch at the George Hotel in Dundee. Well worthwhile to see all the Zulu War memorabilia that is displayed around the Hotel. Penny Farthing is owned by Foy Vermaak a registered Guide whose family established the farm early last century. It is situated on a large reserve and being only four kilometres from Helpmakaar it is a good base for the Rorkes Drift area.

Wed. Day 5. Down the escarpment to Rorkes Drift. This is a very scenic drive with a marvellous view of Isandlwana down below in the distance. Walked around the marked out defence perimeters and stood at the rocky ledge and again wondered about the events there so long ago. When we climbed up to the terraces I was surprised at how far they actually are from the British position. Surely the range would have been too great for the old rifles the Zulus are supposed to have used from there?
In the afternoon we drove on to Dave Rattray’s place and visited Melville and Coghills grave. Again a very scenic drive with Isandlwana on your left in the distance. Parking the car at the grave we walked down to Fugitives Drift and marvelled at the effort that must have been required for Coghill to climb up encumbered as he was with his injured knee.

On the trail above Fugitives Drift. (She’s not carrying me, honest.)

Thurs. Day 6. To Isandlwana Lodge.
It is hard to contain the excitement as you drive towards Isandlwana via Sihayo’s kraal. The Sphynx just looms up at you as it gets nearer. The road takes you over the spur and Isandlwana Lodge nestles against the iNyoni Ridge on top of which the Zulu commander stood during the battle.
The Lodge is owned and run by Pat Stubbs and, trust me on this one, she has got it right. Pat has exceptional friendly and helpful Staff among the likes of Phillip, Audrey, Glenrose and Dalton and with the added bonus of resident guide Rob Gerrard (Thanks again Rob) this must be the ultimate place to stay. Yes, I know that there is established competition in the area but the Lodge has been thoughtfully designed for comfort, asthetics and location, and how can you possibly beat sitting out on your own personal balcony with a view like this?

It goes without saying that Isandlwana is the main reason that most people visit Zululand and to walk around that area knowing what happened is almost beyond words. Enough said.

Fri. Day 7. Walked the Fugitives Trail. For those who have done it you know the score. For those who haven’t, then do it and ponder on what it must have been like on that day in 1879. These days there is a lot of thornbush around which restricts the views in certain places, but the first part of the walk down to the Manzimyama River is very poignant as you come upon the small clusters of graves scattered along the trail.

This is a view looking back towards Isandlwana with the Manzimyama river in the centre of the photo.

Sat. Day 8. From Isandlwana we drove to Babanango Valley Lodge via Isipezi Hill where Zulu Dawn was filmed. The Lodge is owned by John Turner and is literally in a valley reached by driving down a 12 Kilometre dirt road. And a more peaceful, tranquil place would be hard to find.

Sun. Day 9. There are two ways to get to Devils Pass at Hlobane. (Three if you can ride a horse.) You can either walk up to the summit and then walk along the top to the Pass and then walk back and down again, (all day job) or you can go with John Turner in his 4 wheel drive. I really don’t think we missed anything by not walking up as the top of Hlobane is quite featureless until you get to the Pass itself. We more or less followed Bullers ascent (with a short detour to the grave of Campbell and Lloyd) and as we travelled along the undulating top we lost site of the surrounding countryside. I wondered how Buller had managed to find his way to the Pass in the first place. On reaching the edge of the Pass I was amazed that he could have considered getting down it with horses. Talk about desperation.

By carefully selecting your next move you can slowly step, hop, jump, and clamber down the rocks to the bottom. It looks even steeper when you climb back up.

John then took us to Kambula. It was not long before some of the locals joined us to trade “goodies”. As remote as it is, there was one surreal moment when a Zulu gentleman who was obviously stoned out of his head, appeared and stood by the memorial playing a guitar. And not a bad job he was making of it. I thought I’d show him how to play some Beatle stuff and then, immediately becoming the new centre of attraction, I struck the first chord and, Lennon and McCartney not, realised to my horror that he had tuned the guitar in a totally different way known only to himself. It took a few minutes of retuning before battle honours were restored.

Mon. Day 10. To Ulundi.
We travelled through the Emakhosini valley, “place of the kings”, and visited the site of King Digane’s kraal at Mgungunlovu. This should not be missed. It is partially reconstructed and there is a real historical atmosphere about the place especially when you stand next to Piet Retiefs grave on “execution hill” and look back over the site.

View from Piet Retiefs grave showing the Kings kraal site on top of the nearby hill.

In the afternoon we visited Ondini and the Cultural Museum.

Tues. Day 11. Full day in Hluhluwe/Umfolozi Game Park. We drove from Ulundi to the Cengeni Gate entrance about 30 kilometers. Take care if you use this route as the road can be a little “gravelly”. Like many of the roads we travelled on in Zululand it is not a case of needing a 4 wheel drive (the gravel roads were quite flat with only a small number of potholes) but I feel that an additional extra spare wheel would go a long way in easing the tension from the threat of punctures from the sharp stones. Even though I had a mobile phone, It is always on your mind that two punctures within quick succession would cripple you. The extra wheel would give you a better than good chance of getting to your destination on such roads.

Weds. Day 12. To Durban via Shaka Land. I was pleasantly surprised at the way this theme village is presented and is well worth visiting as a half day trip.

Overall I can say that after reading the books and seeing the films over so many years, this trip has been the experience of a lifetime ( a pilgrimage even) and we have made some new friends to visit when we return and yes, we took the sweets. They were really appreciated by the children.