The vast, open landscapes of northern KwaZulu Natal are as evocative as one would hope, with rolling plains and savannah grasslands stretching to the horizons and studded with flat-topped acacias, mysterious rock formations and granite koppies. This landscape forms the stage upon which three major wars have been fought, and the battlefields of the clashes between Boers, Britons and Zulus can all be visited. Don’t expect self-explanatory sights, however – many of the battlefields are marked by little more than small commemorative plaques, and you’ll need a good guide to really bring the history of the region to life. This area also provides an eye-opening glimpse into the lives of rural Zulus, the roads passing numerous traditional subsistence kraals, with their thatched rondavals, herds of goats and waving children. The poverty of these remote areas can be striking after the affluence of the coastal resorts.
The best way to appreciate the history of the battles is to go on an organized tour; with a decent guide it can be very moving. The major sites can be visited in a day. Two of the best museums are the Siege Museum in Ladysmith and the Talana Museum in Dundee. Of the wars fought between the Voortrekkers and the Zulus, the most interesting battlefield site is Blood River, east of Dundee. Two of the most interesting historical sites of the Anglo-Zulu War are Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift; the latter has a good museum, making it the best site to visit without a guide. The most interesting Boer War sites to visit are Talana, the Siege of Ladysmith and Spioenkop.
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