After weeks of threats and ultimatums, our worst fears were realised when war finally broke out between the Zulus and the British. At this point, General Paul Marais accepted his assignment to lead a column of elite, battle hardened soldiers (the Queen’s First Bicycle Regiment which consisted of me and Heidi) into battle. After assembling at a secret rendezvous at my house, we were issued with our rations and steeds and then proceeded with as much stealth as Heidi’s Jetta could muster to the frontline close to the Natal-Zululand border.
After a sombre moment contemplating our fallen comrades’ graves at Helpmekaar we followed Colonel Durnford’s route through the spectacular rural scenery of northern KwaZulu-Natal to the site of the Rourke’s Drift battle on the Buffalo River. Here we set up camp in the guest house of the famous Rourke’s Drift Art Project (which is exactly where Durnford himself camped (but, according to the history books, couldn’t stay in the guest house itself because he had apparently left his wallet at home).
Friday afternoon we switched from the trusty (or should that be rusty) Jetta to our not-so-trusty mountain bikes and continued on Durnford’s route towards the Brtish’s confrontation with the Zulu army at the famous Battle of Isandlwana. The first day of cycling however really consisted of short distances interrupted at regular intervals with a refresher course of Basic Mechanics 101 to adjust brakes, fix punctures, eat lunch, look at the view and discuss strategy. These proved to be very useful breaks however as our esteemed leader provided a fascinating and extremely well informed running commentary of the impending battle.
Next day we cycled a spectacular route across grassy plains peppered with beehive huts, friendly locals and herds of free-range cows, to the eerie outcrop of Isandlwana looming over the countryside. Here Paul vividly took us through the events leading to the massacre the British army received at the hands of the Zulu army. We then continued to the Mangeni Falls, lunched and then headed back to the Isandlwana Lodge to finalise the next days battle plans.
However having seen that the writing was on the wall for the British, the next day we decided to switch allegiance to the Zulus (an early example of floor crossing) and followed the route of the centre horn of the Zulu army from their camp over the mountains to the battlefield site at Isandlwana. Once again our esteemed leader gave a fascinating insight into the intricacies of the march and the battle itself to both his loyal troops and, at times, most of the descendants of the original Zulu army. Luckily for us though they seemed content to let bygones be bygones and escorted us en-masse safely back to our car at Rourke’s Drift, where we packed up and headed back to Joburg.
All in all a fascinating trip and many thanks to Paul for sharing his knowledge of the battlefields with us, and Heidi for her great company and cosy car.