The Anglo-Zulu War was one of the great 19th century dramas that played out in northern KwaZulu-Natal. While relatively short-lived, the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 has been the subject of numerous historical studies, works of fiction and a number of international films. Today the various Anglo-Zulu battlefields are major tourist attractions.

Did you know?

The Anglo-Zulu War was waged illegally, as war was never officially declared by Britain.

There are numerous Anglo-Zulu War battlefields in northern KwaZulu-Natal. This is a result of British forces invading Zululand to subjugate the Zulu, who were led by Cetshwayo.

As with all conflicts the causes of the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 are complex, but should be seen in the overall light of the British imperial intention to create a federation of states in southern Africa.

The spark for war was provided by border incidents, especially along a disputed strip of land on the Zululand border with Natal running from Rorke's Drift to the Pongola River. An ultimatum was delivered to Cetshwayo on 11 December 1878, which would expire on 11 January the following year.

Cetshwayo did not respond and Lord Chelmsford invaded Zululand in January 1879 without waiting for British authority to do so. He had three columns, their objective the royal capital at Ulundi, which entered Zululand unopposed at Lower Tugela, Utrecht and Rorke's Drift.

Part of Chelmsford's column advancing from Rorke's Drift encamped at Isandlwana under Lieutenant Colonel Henry Pulleine while Chelmsford moved on to join a reconnoitring party. Largely unprepared, the camp was surprised by 20 000 Zulu in what was to be their most decisive victory.

A 4 000 strong Zulu reserve group moved on from here to Rorke's Drift, but were repulsed after 10 hours of fierce battle. While the Zulu besieged Eshowe and won further battles at Hlobane and Intombi Spruit, they were eventually defeated at the Battle of Ulundi on 4 July, which brought an end to the Anglo-Zulu War.

Zululand was annexed in 1887 and a decade later incorporated into Natal. The Anglo-Zulu War in South Africa still resonates strongly and the battlefields are a popular tourist destination.

Travel tips & Planning info

How to get here

The Anglo-Zulu War battlefields are spread across northern KwaZulu-Natal from Rorke’s Drift to Ulundi. The battlefields are all easily accessible by car.

Best time to visit

All year round, but winter is better as it is cool and dry.

Around the area

Visit a traditional Zulu homestead to learn more about their fascinating culture.

Get around

There are Anglo-Zulu War battlefields brochures available at tourism information offices in KwaZulu-Natal . You will have to drive to go from one battlefield to the next.

Length of stay

Give yourself at least three days, more if possible.

What to pack

Comfortable walking shoes or boots.

Where to stay

There are a number of quality lodges and guesthouses in the battlefields region.

What to eat

While you are in the region, why not try some Zulu cuisine. Many lodges and restaurants in the area serve local fare.

Best buys

Handmade Zulu arts and crafts sold at the roadside.