The Battle of Isandlwana
Did you know?
Isandlwana is the worst defeat the British have ever suffered against an indigenous army.
Isandlwana was the first engagement in the Anglo-Zulu War on 22 January 1879. It was the Zulu nation's most glorious moment and an ignominious chapter in British military history - a place where assegai and ox-hide shields triumphed over the most modern weaponry of the day.
Underestimating the Zulu, British commander Lord Chelmsford did not order the encampment he established on 20 January at Isandlwana to entrench and form defensive positions. Little did he know that 20 000 warriors were advancing on his position.
The Zulu army, under Dabulamanzi kaMpande, had outmanoeuvred Chelmsford with the intention of attacking his rear. When a British scouting party detected their position in the Ngwebeni Valley, they decided to go on the offensive.
With the Zulu in pursuit, the scouting party sent a messenger to warn Lieutenant-Colonel Pulleine, the officer commanding Isandlwana, that an attack was imminent. When they reached the camp, kaMpande arranged his force into the traditional horns of the chest of the buffalo formation to encircle the British.
Pulleine decided to meet the Zulu head on in the Battle of Isandlwana and sent out 6 companies. Until noon the British appeared to be holding their own, but then matters changed dramatically. Some have blamed a shortage of ammunition, but it is more likely that Pulleine blundered by spreading his men too thin along a wide perimeter.
In the afternoon, when Pulleine realised his force was about to be encircled, he ordered a retreat back to the camp. The battle continued for another 3 hours until the Zulu overran the camp and killed most of the British contingent.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Battlefields of KwaZulu-Natal
Mobile: +27 (0)72 271 1766
The League of Researchers of South African Battlefields
Tel: +27 (0)12 355 6405
Tel: +27 (0)34 271 8306
Fugitive's Drift Lodge
Tel: +27 (0)34 642 1843
How to get here
The Isandlwana battlefield is in northern KwaZulu-Natal. The closest town is Dundee, about a 3 hour drive from Durban, 5 hours from Johannesburg.
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 the Zulu culture.
Exploring the battlefield requires a lot of walking and a fair level of fitness.
Length of stay
Give yourself at least a day to full explore the battlefield.
What to pack
Strong comfortable shoes or boots, preferably those that cover your ankles. Also pack a hat and sunscreen and some bottled water.
Where to stay
There are numerous lodges around the area - the Isandlwana Lodge overlooking the battlefield is particularly recommended for war history buffs.
Homemade Zulu arts and crafts for sale at roadside.