Zulu War Battlefields: Fugitive's Drift Lodge

Panoramic - Isandlwana Graves

“It’s 6pm at Rorke’s Drift, and Rob Caskie, head guide at Fugitive’s Drift Lodge, is concluding his riveting talk on this most personal of battle stories.  All the other guides from Dundee and rival properties have long-since departed.  Rob Caskie’s charges, on the other hand, are still enthralled, or in a state of mild shock verging on battle-fatigue…some are still wiping the tears from their eyes”. Angus Maclaren (April 2010). 

If one had to summarise the Fugitive’s Drift experience in a short paragraph, then this could be it.  But there’s much more besides - situated on an idyllic 2000Ha property, overlooking the deeply-incised Buffalo River, Fugitive’s Drift offers visitors the chance to relive the dramatic Zulu wars of the 19th century, against the backdrop of the battlefields on which they were played out.  The late David Rattray and his wife Nicky were pioneers of Heritage Tourism in South Africa, and David’s tradition of passionate storytelling is carried on by Rob Caskie, Joseph Ndima and George Irwin.  Their enthusiasm for this place and their deep knowledge of the area and it’s colourful past make Fugitive’s Drift a complete one-off and well worth a visit.

The Battlefields themselves are riveting places, and the guide’s lectures stir the imagination deeply - Isandlwana is an expansive stretch of country dominated by the imposing hill of the same name and this significant British defeat is recounted in the dense shade of a paper-bark acacia tree which overlooks the British defensive area and the ridges from which the Zulus poured in their thousands.  The original buildings of the Mission Station at Rorke’s Drift provide the setting for the more intimate story of its heroic and frequently desperate defense by the tiny British garrison that was established there.   What is striking about both battlefield sites and the monuments they contain is that despite being “open” sites, nothing has been defaced – the sense of history and respect for both the Zulus and British involved runs deep within the local communities.

Fugitive’s Drift is comprised of two excellent lodges - Fugitive's Drift Lodge and The Guest House; Fugitive's Drift Lodge is the older property, set in well-established gardens, and houses a veritable museum of memorabilia, artifacts and relics from the Zulu war. Accommodation is in very comfortable and spacious cottages, each with a large bathroom and verandah.  The newly built Harford Library offers a place to relax and read, and a lunch terrace from which there are wonderful views out over the river gorge.

Slightly further up the hill lies the smaller and more low-key, but nonetheless very appealing Guest House, which has an airy, more contemporary-colonial feel than the more traditional Fugitive's Drift Lodge. Here there’s an attractive outside seating area centered round an open fire, an outdoor lunch area under thatch, and a comfortable dining and sitting room.

Activities at Fugitive’s Drift

There are a range of activities that can be undertaken at Fugitive’s Drift, but the battlefields tours should be top of the list.  Tours run daily:

The Isandlwana Tour commences at 07h30 (following a 7am breakfast!), and you return to Fugitive’s Drift in time for lunch at 1pm.   Tours of Rorke’s Drift commence at 15h00.  Besides the tours, walks can be taken from the lodge, including to the Buffalo River crossing point which provided the escape route back into Natal for those that managed to flee Isandlwana (the graves of Lieutenants Melvill VC and Coghill VC are situated closeby) – this walk is best undertaken with one of the resident lecturers.  Longer walks can be accompanied by a Zulu guide. 

Other activities include visits to the Boer War Battlefields, riding, fishing, or simply relaxing in the pleasant lodge environs.