Berg, Battlefields and Bush. Escort to Thukela | 240km

Giants Castle.

ESTCOURT

Estcourt, an important industrial town, also serves a prosperous stock breeding and agricultural area. It is a convenient gateway to some of the Battlefields Route sites. Estcourt , on the banks of the Bushman's River,  was first named Bushmans River Post, or Bushmans Drift. In 1863, it was renamed after Thomas HS Estcourt, who had sponsored a number of British settlers under the Byrne immigration scheme. Visitors on South African holidays can see the historic buildings like the Powder Magazine (1859), first Government School (1876) and Railway Bridge (1885).

GIANT'S CASTLE GAME RESERVE

...lies on a grassy plateau amid the deep valleys of the Bushman's and Little Thukela rivers, with the Drakensberg forming an impressive backdrop. Proclaimed in 1904, the 34 000-ha reserve forms part of the Natal Drakensberg Park, and is home to herds of eland, as well as grey rhebok, mountain reedbuck, common duiker and oribi. It is also a sanctuary for the endangered bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), which can be seen gliding overhead or from the hide where carcasses are put during the winter months to supplement the birds' diet.

Giant's Castle is renowned for its rock paintings. Guests on South African holidays can see these paintings on a guided tour of the Main Caves, which contain over 540 individual paintings. Visitors can explore the valleys and undulating grassy hills along a network of trails covering 285 km. These range from under 2 km to self-guided overnight trails and guided wilderness trails in the reserve's Injasuti section. The Hillside section of the reserve is the base for daily horse rides and overnight horseback trails. A variety of accommodation types are available for overnight visitors.

THE MOOR PARK NATURE RESERVE

...covers 264 ha of grassland, thornveld, valley bushveld and sandstone cliffs at the head of the Wagendrift Dam. Among the species of game to be seen are black wildebeest, blesbok, Burchell's zebra, mountain reedbuck and impala, while some 190 bird species have been recorded to date. Picnic facilities are provided and visitors can set off on the Old Furrow Trail, a 6-km-long self-guided interpretive trail. Veglaer, where the Voortrekkers fought a three-day battle against a large Zulu force from 13 to 15 August 1838, has been inundated by the Wagendrift Dam. The dam is a popular destination for visitors on South African holidays. It offers boating, yachting, canoeing and angling.

FORT DURNFORD

Situated on the crest of a hill overlooking the Bushman's River, Fort Durnford was built on the site of a post established in 1847 against San raiders. Originally named the Ordnance Reserve, the post provided an excellent vantage point over the area and the two drifts over the river. A detachment of the 45th Regiment was stationed here, and various rough walls were built. Following the Langalibalele Rebellion of 1873, a sturdy stone fort was built in 1874-75 to protect the town from a possible attack by the Zulu.

It was named after Major Anthony Durnford who commanded the Natal Carbineers during the ill-fated attack on Langalibalele in which three carbineers and two black auxiliaries were killed. Durnford, who commanded the Number 2 Column when British forces invaded Zululand, was killed during the heroic last stand at Isandlwana. The fort is now a museum, with interesting defence mechanisms and a reconstructed Amangwane homestead in the grounds.

SAAILAAGER

...was the site where Voortrekker leader Gert Maritz formed a laager on the banks of the Bushman's River in early 1838 to guard against a possible Zulu attack. While the trekkers were encamped here, plots were laid out for cultivation and irrigated with water from the river. Following the murder of Piet Retief on 6 February 1838, Zulu forces attacked the Voortrekker laagers and camps in the Bloukrans and Bushman's river valleys on 16 and 17 February. Since Saailaager was off the line of attack of the main force, it was not attacked until later in the day, giving Maritz time to prepare. Another factor in the trekkers' favour was that the Bushman's River was in flood, and the Zulu strategy of crossing the river by forming a human chain could be thwarted by shooting the anchor men on the banks. As a result, Maritz and his party were able to repel the attack successfully.

ARMOURED TRAIN CEMETERY AND MEMORIAL

A plaque and the graves of four British soldiers mark the site where Winston Churchill, war correspondent for the London Morning Post, was captured on 15 November 1899. The 25-year-old Churchill was one of 164 people aboard an armoured train that came under Boer fire as it approached a bend in the railway line near the Bloukrans River. The driver increased speed, and as the train rounded a bend it crashed into rocks which had been placed on the line. The three trucks were derailed, but the locomotive managed to break through and continue on to Frere. Losses to the British totalled seven dead (three died of wounds), 45 wounded and 74 taken prisoner.

COLENSO

Colenso, on the banks of the Thukela River in the foothills of the Drakensberg, was originally known as Commando Drift. On 15 December 1899, the town made headlines when British forces under General Sir Redvers Buller made a disastrous attempt to cross the Thukela River in order to relieve Ladysmith. Mistaking the position of a ford where they intended to cross, the 5th Brigade came under heavy fire from the Boers in a loop of the river, forcing Buller to order the evacuation of the troops. Meanwhile, Colonel CJ Long had moved twelve 15-pounder guns forward to within rifle range of the Boer positions across the river. The marksmanship of the Boers eventually forced the gunners to abandon the guns, ten of which subsequently fell into Boer hands. British casualties totalled 214 killed or died of wounds, 693 wounded and 199 taken prisoner or reported missing, against 8 Boers killed or died of wounds and 30 wounded. Reminders of the battle may be seen at the Clouston Garden of Remembrance and the Ambleside cemetery, where the remains of most of the 5th Brigade soldiers killed on 15 December were buried in a mass grave.

THUKELA BIOSPHERE

This reserve of about 100 000 ha consists of the 6 500-ha Weenen Game Reserve and several privately owned conservation areas and farms. Established in terms of the criteria laid down by UNESCO, the biosphere aims at promoting conservation and community upliftment through the sustainable development of natural resources and the development of tourism. There is a variety of accommodation facilities, ranging from tented camps to thatched stone cottages. Activities for guests on South African holidays at Thukela include wilderness walks, game-viewing and night drives, horse trails, river-rafting, mountain biking, fishing and birding.

WEENEN GAME RESERVE

...forms the core area of the Thukela Biosphere. Visitors can explore the 6 500-ha reserve along the 47-km network of roads, or follow a fairly easy 4x4 route. Game to be seen includes giraffe, black and white rhino, buffalo, zebra and a variety of antelope, including roan, eland and red hartebeest. The reserve's bird list stands at 279 species, among them black stork, bald ibis, blue crane, whitethroated robin and redbilled oxpecker. There are three picnic sites, and overnight visitors can either camp in the campsite, opt for the tented camp or book a five-bedded cottage.

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