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Kwazulu-Natal - Midlands and Battlefields

KZN Country Routes
Kwazulu-Natal Midlands and Historic Battlefields

The Midlands and Battlefields regions of KwaZulu-Natal draw the traveller away from the mainstream tourist attractions, off the highways and along country routes. These backroads encounter historic small towns, streams and rivers, landscapes of rolling green hills, waterfalls and picturesque farmlands. Each region however provides a unique and specific appeal to the tourist.

Highlights of the Midlands

Highlights of the Battlefields

Arrow Skip to The Battlefields.


The Midlands

Country routes and country living, for those who appreciate a slower pace of life, make the Kwazulu Natal Midlands a haven and a home. The backroads landscape changes from city to forests and small towns, from asphalt highway to rural sand roads and back to asphalt. The roads twist and turn, encountering cosy guest houses, artist’s studios and cafés along the way.

The Midlands region begins at Pietermaritzburg and ends in the foothills of the Drakensberg, a great barrier of mountains known by the Zulus as the Barrier of Spears. To explore the Midlands may take a day, or several days to fully explore and learn of the historical leaders and events that have left their mark on the region and to meet the artists, artisans and farmers who ply their trade in this serene and beautiful place.


Sporting Events - Major South African sporting events are hosted in and near Pietermaritzburg:

KwaZulu Natal Comrades Marathon and Midmar Mile swim

Acknowledgements - ( Midmar Mile, above right) Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife

Historic City Landmarks - Pietermaritzburg is reputed to have the largest all-brick building and the largest pipe organ in the southern hemisphere. The first stone of the parliament building was laid on June 21 1887, in honor of Queen Victoria’s jubilee. The city is known for its historic buildings, art and beautiful botanic gardens. Two beautiful churches dating back to the mid 1800s are now museums: Bishop Colenso’s Cathedral and Macrorie House, once the home of the Bishop of Pietermaritzburg from 1869 to 1891.

Pietermaritzburg attractions

Several trails within and outside the city limits trace the historic events and monuments, icons to the history of the city. Visit the Garden of Remembrance to see the Weeping Cross of Delville Wood. The cross was constructed from wood recovered from the scene of this great WW1 battle (July 1916). A South African Brigade of some 3,150 men was assigned to capture Delville Wood from German forces. It was one of the heaviest losses that the South African army suffered in the war. The cross is said to weep on or around the anniversary of the battle.

The young Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a young lawyer in 1893 when he was infamously evicted from a whites only train carriage on a Pietermaritzburg station. His statue is found in the Church Street Mall.

Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president following his confinement for 26 year as a political prisoner of the country, was arrested on August 5th, 1962 just outside the city near Howick. A monument to this event is located between Lion’s River and Tweedie. His trial started in October 1963 and he was convicted in June 1964. His life sentence, much of which was served on Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town ended with his release on February 11, 1990.  He had his first court appearance in Pietermaritzburg and delivered his final public speech as the South Africa’s president here.

Parks, Gardens and Attractions in the vicinity of Pietermaritzburg - Queen Elizabeth’s Park is popular for picnics. Bisley Nature Reserve's attractions include wild flowers, birdlife and small antelope.

Howick Falls, KwaZulu-Natal




Howick Falls is well worth a visit and is a national monument. It is a popular day excursion from Pietermaritzburg for picnics and hiking. An observation platform provides a view of the 100m (328 feet) drop of the Falls. More energetic visitors can follow the steep trail to the bottom of the gorge.

The Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve offers wildflowers, small antelope, walks alongside the river and birdlife.

The Midlands Meander

The Midlands Meander is an extraordinary network of country routes within the greater Midlands region and the website is a great source of information for visitors exploring these routes. Midlands Meander routes were defined and documented by a group of artists, weavers and potters in 1985 in a successful effort to feature this beautiful area and to make the arts, crafts and produce of the area more accessible to the public. They could work and sell from their homes and keep prices lower - and as their popularity grew, new businesses, restaurants and guest houses popped up. Today, the fascinating Meander routes are well documented and provide a perfect weekend getaway.  Included is a small but developing wine industry, dairies offering cheeses, yoghurts and ice creams as well as honey and lavender producers.

Leave ample time to explore the southern part of the Midlands Meander, between Midmar Dam and Nottingham Road, where the highest number of artists can be found. Drive on to the little villages of Nottingham Road and Rosetta en route to Mooi River.  This is dairy and sheep country interspersed with stud farms, offering horseback riding, short walks to waterfalls and game farms with free roaming zebra and antelope.

A special attraction for outdoor and adventure enthusiasts is Karkloof Nature Reserve and Falls, northeast of Mooi River, with trout fishing, nature walks in the two nature reserves and Karkloof Canopy Tours.

Canopy Tours, Karkloof Gorge

Acknowledgements - Canopy Tours South Africa (Karkloof Canopy Tours)

Nottingham Road – There is just so much to see and do in this little town, it is a recommended overnight stop. The town was established in 1905 when the Nottingham Regiment was stationed here. Fort Nottingham (south of town) was built in 1856 and served as a base for the military to help stop cattle rustling and provided an operational base during the Langalibalele Rebellion led by Chief Langalibalele in 1873. Here too, health hydros and spas offering Turkish Steam treatments will restore and reinvigorate the traveller. Don't forget to include the treatments offered by a traditional African Healer.

Fishing is popular with the locals and there are a number of excellent spots to be tried. A day spent in the tranquility of the rivers and reserves is priceless. Golf here is beautiful too, which is perhaps not how one would normally describe the game - but step onto a course in this neck of the woods and you will easily understand. Golf courses ‘meander’ through the most picturesque terrain imaginable.

Shuttleworth Weavers, Knotingham Road, KwaZulu-Natal

Shuttleworth Weavers are a small group of Spinners, Dyers and Weavers based in Nottingham Road

A hot air balloon flight as the sun rises over the Drakensberg can only be described as breathtaking and provides a perfect start to another day exploring and wine tasting (Kleinberg Wines or Stables Wine Estate). Browse through Shuttleworth Weaving where beautiful carpets, throws and scarves are hand made. Stop at any of the many restaurants for delightful local cuisine before visiting the Nottingham Road Brewing Company to taste ales and lagers.

Greytown - The picturesque little town of Greytown is surrounded by sugar cane and wattle plantations and forests of pine and poplar. Interesting buildings in the town include a Mosque, a Hindu temple and Victorian architecture. There is an amazing museum (rated one of South Africa's best country museums) that recounts the events of the Anglo-Zulu War. Hiking, mountain biking and 4x4 trails wind past lakes, indigenous forest and waterfalls. Visit the Mhlopeni Nature Reserve where evidence of early Zulu and Iron Age settlements have been found, along with wagon tracks of early explorers and settlers.

Thukela Gorge - For the adventure seeker, Thukela Gorge offers white water rafting.

Wartburg - Founded in 1850’s by cotton growing farmers from Germany, some of the residents are 4th generation German. Many town folk still speak their native language. The Wartburger Hof Hotel and the Orion Wartburg Inn provide the ambience and style of a German mountain inn.

Albert Falls and Ixopo (Buddhist Retreat Center) 

Buddhist Retreat Center, Ixopo

Acknowledgements - Buddhist Retreat Center, Ixopo

The Boston-Bulwer Beat

The Boston-Bulwer Beat is a relatively new game viewing and adventure route but also offers arts and crafts. Boston and Bulwer are located in the foothills of the Drakensburg and demarcate the route. Magwaqa Mountain (The Frowning One) has earned international recognition for hang-gliding and paragliding. Other adventures include river tubing, rafting, kayaking, abseiling, hiking the trails (some with overnight camps), bird watching, 4x4 and mountain bike trails.

The Kwazulu Natal Midlands is a melting pot of culture, history, cuisine and art, where fresh air, friendly faces, hospitality and great accommodation will inspire the soul, refresh the senses and infuse the visitor with a love of life.

South Africa's National Flower, the King ProteaSouth Africa's National Fower,
the King Protea.






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The Battlefields

The Zulu King Shaka reigned for 12 years following his coronation in 1816. Shaka trained and led powerful and intimidating regiments of impis armed with short stabbing spears, body-length shields and innovative battle strategies, defeating all rival tribes across modern-day KwaZulu-Natal.

The arrival of the British

During his reign, the British had ventured up the coastline from the Cape Colony and established a small settlement at Port Natal (modern-day Durban). A colonial negotiating party from Port Natal had arrived at Shaka’s homestead to seek trading rights and found Shaka injured from an attempted assassination attempt. They rendered help in his recovery and in gratitude, Shaka ceded Port Natal and vicinity to the British.

Shaka was not able to escape assassination a second time and he was succeeded as king by his half brother and co-assassin, Dingane.

Dingane's rule resulted in a wave of executions of anyone thought to be loyal to Shaka. The British at Port Natal offered refuge to thousands fleeing the rule of Dingane, training some in the use of British weaponry. Dingane was unhappy with the increasing growth in British population of Port Natal, the shelter and arming of dissidents and the overland arrival in 1837 of Voortrekkers.

The arrival and betrayal of the Voortrekkers (Boers)

These Afrikaans pioneers of Dutch descent (also known as the Boers) were distancing themselves from British rule in the Cape. Hundreds of Afrikaners packed up their possessions and cattle and moved in covered ox-wagons across the Orange River. Some led by Piet Retief ventured east into Zulu territory and attempted to negotiate land rights with the Zulu.

On February 6 1838, the Voortrekkers met with the Zulu King at his royal kraal in Ulundi, to finalise their agreement. Instead, Dingane had Piet Retief and 101 Voortrekkers put to death and his impis went on to massacre other Voortrekkers camped at what would become known by the Afrikaans as Weenen - the 'Place of Weeping'. Survivors fled inland, intent on revenge.

The Battle of Blood River

The surviving Boers regrouped 10 months later and advanced back onto Zulu territory. On December 16 1838 - a week after making a 'vow to God' - they stopped at the Ncome River to pray and prepare to face a bloody conflict. In the resulting battle, 464 Boers defeated an army of 10,000 Zulu warriors, where over 3,000 Zulus lost their lives. The river was said to have run red with blood and the battle at the Ncome River became known as the Battle of Blood River. Today, two monuments stand alongside the river, commemorating the bravery of both sides - Zulus and Afrikaners.

Laager at Blood River Monument






Laager at the Blood River Memorial

After putting his royal household to the torch, King Dingane fled north to rebuild his authority. Six months later he attempted to defeat and occupy the Swazi kingdom with what remained of his military resources. Dingane failed, and his humiliation was compounded by his half-brother Mpande's defection to the Boers, along with 17,000 Zulus. Mpande and the Boers then launched a joint campaign against the Zulu king, who was eventually hunted down and assassinated near the Swaziland border.

The Battle of Isandlwana

After the Battle of Blood River there was peace in the Natal area for a short time. The Zulus tolerated the colony that was forming in Natal’s Port simply because it offered them a trading post. It was not long before the British and the Afrikaners came into conflict over who was to rule the area and they fought it out bitterly. In 1879, however the British, motivated by word of the discovery of gold inland, laid claim to the whole of Zululand and gave Zulu King Cetshwayo notice that the Zulu must surrender their weapons. When that did not materialize, British troops were mobilized and marched inland from Port Natal in search of the Zulus.

This resulted in the Battle of Isandlwana in January 1879, where 20,000 Zulu warriors descended on the British army encamped at the foot of Isandlwana, over-running and defeating them in the bloody battle that ensued. Nearly 2,000 British soldiers were killed beneath the mountain with very few survivors.

KwaZulu Battlefields Reenactment

Acknowledgements - KwaZulu-Natal Tourism Authority

Rorke’s Drift

Not long after Isandlwana, a handful of only 100 British soldiers held off an army of 4,000 Zulus during the Battle of Rorke’s Drift. The heroic actions of the vastly outnumbered British resulted in the award of 11 Victoria Crosses.

Britain was intent on responding with force to their defeat at Isandlwana. Reinforcements were dispatched and the Anglo-Zulu War raged on until Britain eventually emerged the victor in 1887.

Across much of the KwaZulu-Natal midlands, monuments commemorate the brave warriors who fought for their land and the soldiers who fought for their country and their lives. Expert guides and historians now offer guided tours to the very foothills and grasslands where these mighty battles took place.

Battlefield Memorials, KwaZulu-Natal

Memorials to the Battle of Isandlwana (left) and the Siege of Ladysmith, Anglo-Boer War (right)

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10 More Things to do on the
KZN Midlands-Battlefields Route

 1 Walk through a tropical butterfly house in Pietermaritzburg – a fantasyland of free-flying colorful butterflies from around the world.
 2 Enjoy the outdoor ambience of the Midlands, fly fishing for trout in Nottingham Road.
 3 Let the kids take a break - pony rides, paint ball, raft building, learn to bake bread in the ground, picnics, tubing and slip n slide - Nottingham Road-Mooi River.
 4 Take a break during your tour of the Midlands for an eco-friendly spa in the heart of Karkloof Game Reserve.
 5 Take the kids candle-dipping in Nottingham Road.
 6 Visit Tatham Art Gallery in Pietermaritzburg, one of South Africa's major art museums.
 7 Sit on the battlefield of Isandlwana, mesmerized by the remarkable narration of this great Zulu victory on an expert-guided tour.
 8 Visit a Zulu homestead at Isibindi Zulu Lodge (Rorkes Drift) to experience life of a rural Zulu family, largely unchanged since the days of Shaka Zulu.
 9 Take home a precious souvenir of your visit from the Arts and Crafts Center, Rorke's Drift
10 Reflect on the historic conflict of the Battle of Blood River - visit both monuments to the heroism and tragic lives lost.







Food and Wine
Arts and Crafts