Zululand

As the train putters north of the Dolphin Coast, passengers aboard the African rail tour will find themselves in the rural heart of KwaZulu Natal – the region of Zululand. Extending up to Richard’s Bay along the north coast of KwaZulu Natal and inland, Zululand includes the quaint towns of Ulundi and Vryheid that lie on the border of the tumultuous Battlefields Route.

The warm rays of the tepid subtropical sun warm the rolling emerald hills, waving grasslands and abundant forests of the Zululand landscape. The soil, infused with the strength of the Zulu nation, has seen a history rich in symbolism and tradition. The spirit that forged the Zulu kingdom remains; age-old Zulu culture is today as it was then and has played a huge role in the local tourist industry which is rich with traditional Zulu attractions and cultural experiences that attract and intrigue local and international visitors.

While Zululand lies on the border of the Battlefields Route and the Drakensberg, the land still teems with tea plantations, cattle farms and myriad private and provincial game reserves offering game drives and nature trails. Determined to preserve the lush vegetation and precious wildlife, the Zululand community are passionately dedicated to conservation, with a record number of initiatives, including the Siyaya Coastal Park, Umlalazi Nature Reserve and Amatikulu Nature Reserve.

The north of Zululand gives way to the atmospheric Battlefields which have seen scenes of valour, bloodshed and unprecedented bravery. Visitors to Ulundi will be able to sink their toes into the soil at the site of the final battle fought in the Anglo-Zulu war, or stand over the gravesite in Emakhosini Valley where Zulu kings lie in their final resting place. Passengers aboard Rovos Rail’s luxury train accommodation need only close their eyes and imagine the roaring resonances of bloody battles to visualise the historical significance of the land they are passing through.

The name synonymous with feared Zulu warriors and the region of Zululand is that of Shaka Zulu. The crucial turning point in Zulu history occurred from 1816 to 1828 during the reign of Shaka as King of the Zulu’s. Prior to his rule, the Zulu’s were scattered along the sweeping Natal landscape and consisted of numerous yet disorganised clans. It was the enigmatic and fearsome warrior, Shaka, who united the clans in a single powerful tribe and brought about a new system of military organisation that revolutionised his army’s weaponry and military tactics. Shaka continued to conquer and incorporate dispersed Zulu clans; in eleven years, he had increased their number from 1500 people to 50 000 warriors alone, giving rise to the powerful, proud Zulu nation and changing the face of Zulu history forever.