The Heart of Zululand | 450km
...takes its name from the Zulu people. The name belonged to an early chief and translates as 'heaven'. Guests on South African holidays can learn more about the largest cultural group in South Africa, the Zulu. They belong to the northern Nguni group of Bantu-speaking people inhabiting southeastern Africa. A fiercely independent and proud nation, the Zulu are popularly known for their beehive-shaped homesteads, iklwa (a short spear often called an assegaai), crafts and fear-inspiring dances.
Zululand covers the area from the mouth of the Thukela River northwards to the border with Mozambique and to the north of the Phongolo River. The western boundary more or less follows the course of the Mzinyati or Buffalo River from its confluence with the Thukela River to its source in the Drakensberg.
In January 1879, British troops invaded Zululand after the Zulu King Cetshwayo refused to meet the terms of a British ultimatum. After the war, Zululand was divided into six districts, and was formally declared a British possession on 19 May 1887. The territory was incorporated into Natal ten years later. In terms of South Africa's policy of creating bantustans, KwaZulu became self-governing in 1977, but unlike Transkei, Ciskei and Bophuthatswana it did not opt for 'independence'.
Vryheid, an Afrikaans name meaning 'freedom', was established in 1884 as the capital of a Voortrekker republic proclaimed on 16 August of that year. The settlement of a group of Transvaal Voortrekkers in the upper reaches of the White Mfolozi River came after a commando led by Lucas Meyer helped Dinizulu (son of Cetshwayo) to defeat Zibhebhu, a headman who drove Cetshwayo out of power.
The 'Nieuwe Republiek' (New Republic) was incorporated into the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR) on 20 July 1888 and at the end of the South African War it was transferred to Natal. Among Vryheid's places of interest are the Old Raadsaal (Council Chamber), dating back to 1885 and now a museum, and the Old Fort at the rear of the Raadsaal, which accommodated a prison and the house of President Meyer. Other noteworthy buildings that can be visited by guests on South African holidays are the imposing dressed-stone Dutch Reformed Church and the Carnegie Library, built in 1908.
Hlobane, a Zulu name for 'beautiful place', is a coal-mining centre that witnessed the defeat of British forces by a Zulu impi (regiment) on 28 March 1879 during the Anglo-Zulu War. Ascending Hlobane Mountain from the east under cover of darkness, a 675-strong British force was eventually forced to retreat along the Devil's Pass down the Ntendeka Mountain. The British lost 15 officers and 79 men killed, while over 100 irregular troops led by Colonel E Wood as well as followers of Hamu - Cetshwayo's brother, who had joined Wood earlier in March - were also killed. The number of Zulu casualties is unknown.
Louwsberg, a small rural town, serves the surrounding cattle ranching and maize farms. It was proclaimed a township in 1920 and is named after David Louw, an early pioneer of the area.
ITALA GAME RESERVE
...covers nearly 30 000 ha of undulating grassy hills, deep valleys and magnificent bushveld vegetation. Bounded by the Phongolo River in the north, the reserve is home to some 80 mammal species. Visitors on South African holidays at Ithala can see white and black rhino, the only tsessebe population in KwaZulu-Natal, eland, blue wildebeest, red hartebeest, Burchell's zebra and giraffe. Among the more than 320 bird species recorded in Itala are bald ibis, black, martial and crowned eagle, yellowthroated longclaw and yellowspotted nicator.
Visitors can follow the Nghubu Loop Auto Trail, a 30-km self-drive interpretive route, or join guided morning or afternoon game drives. Other options include guided early morning and afternoon game-viewing walks, or the four self-guided walks from Ntshondwe Camp. Set against a backdrop of impressive cliffs, Ntshondwe has been well integrated into the natural landscape, and its chalets and other facilities have been built with minimum impact to the environment. A variety of accommodation options, ranging from camping sites and chalets to a bush lodge and bush camps, are available.
Nongoma, originally known as Ndwandwe after a southern Nguni clan of that name, was later named after a Ndwandwe chief's village, KwaNongoma, which means 'the place of the witchdoctor'. Today, Nongoma is a busy commercial centre in the heart of Zululand.
Ulundi, the legislative capital of KwaZulu-Natal, lies on the northern banks of the White Mfolozi River and its Zulu name is translated as 'the high place'. Site of the royal village of the Zulu kingdom, Ulundi is inextricably linked to the history of the Zulu people and their resistance to British colonialism. To the north of the town is the grave of Mpande, who ruled Zululand as king from 1840 to 1872 and established his royal village at Nodwengu, just north of Ulundi, around 1845.
Following Mpande's death, Cetshwayo established his military capital at Ondini, about 5 km southeast of Nodwengu. The village was burned by the British after the Battle of Ulundi, but has been partially reconstructed. The KwaZulu Cultural Museum in the Ondini Historic Reserve has a fascinating collection of beads and other craftwork, weapons and other items depicting Zulu culture.
Guests on South African holidays can visit a monument about 3 km west of Ondini, which marks the site of the final battle of the Anglo-Zulu War, fought on 4 July 1879. Here, a force of 2 281 British regulars and 465 black troops under the command of Lieutenant-General Lord Chelmsford, inflicted a decisive defeat on the 15 000 to 20 000-strong Zulu force. The Zulu losses have been estimated at between 950 and 1 500 killed, while three British officers and 10 men were killed and 69 wounded.
eMakhosini, or the Valley of the Kings, is the birthplace of the Zulu nation. Among its numerous historic sites are Mthonjaneni Spring, from where water was brought for the personal use of King Dingane, and the graves of Voortrekker leader Piet Retief and 69 of his followers. They were killed at KwaMatiwane near uMgungundhlovu on 6 February 1838 on the instructions of Dingane after concluding a land treaty. In the nearby Mkhumbane Valley is the royal village established by Dingane, who became king after the assassination of Shaka by two of his brothers in 1828.
Named uMgungundhlovu ('the secret meeting place of the elephant'), the Zulu capital consisted of between 1 700 and 2 000 beehive-shaped homesteads, and had a population of between 10 000 and 12 000 people. Eight regiments, each consisting of about 1 000 soldiers, also lived in the royal village. The village has been partially reconstructed and the site museum provides a fascinating insight into the life of its people. As well as occupying a central place in Zulu culture, the Valley of the Kings is also the burial place of Zulu kings, and contains the graves of Senzangakhona, father of Shaka, Dingane and Mpande, and Dinizulu, who ruled as king from 1884 to 1888 and 1898 to 1907.