An archaeological, historical and cultural sweep through KwaZulu-Natal
Nine-day self-drive excursion in May with Gavin Whitelaw and other leaders
Sun, 14/05/2017 - 00:00 to Mon, 22/05/2017 - 00:00
Cost:                  Sharing double or twin R5 990.00; Single room throughout R7 575.00
Deposit:             R1 000 per person payable on confirmation of booking. Members only.       
Balance:            Payable by 15 April 2017
Payments to:    SA Archaeological Society, Standard Bank Rosebank branch, a/c 001 945 920
Bookings:         Phone Anita Arnott at 011 795 4056 or email


Sunday 14 May: Depart by own transport to Volksrust, where we meet at 12:00 for 12:15 (± three hours from Johannesburg). [Coming in on the R23 from Standerton, turn left on Adelaide Tambo St (R543). We meet at the Avelin Engen Service Centre, which lies diagonally opposite at the fourth intersection with Dr Nelson Mandela Drive (N11)]. From here we proceed in convoy to the farm on which lies aMajuba Hill (‘The hill of doves’ in Zulu) [8 km south of Volksrust on the N11 – turn right 1 km after rail bridge]. 

ArchSoc member Jaap Earle will relate the history of Majuba. Here on 27 February 1881 occurred the main battle of the First War of Independence, which was a resounding victory for the Boers. A 405-strong British force comprising soldiers of the 58th Regiment and the 92nd Highlanders, as well as a small naval brigade from HMS Dido, occupied the summit. The commander, Major-General Sir George Pomeroy Colley, did not bring artillery up to the summit, nor did he order his men to dig in, expecting that the Boers would retreat when they saw that their position on Laing’s Nek Pass below was untenable. 

However, three Boer storming parties of between 100 and 200 men each were formed and began a slow advance up the hill. Their superior marksmanship kept the British at bay. Ferreira's men captured Gordon’s Knoll and over the course of the next hour the Boers poured over the British line of defence. When more Boers were seen surrounding the hill, the British line collapsed. Colley attempted to order a fighting retreat, but was taken out by Boer marksmen. Most of the remaining British forces were hit by Boer sharpshooters on the summit and 280 British soldiers were killed, captured or wounded. As a consequence, Sir Evelyn Wood agreed to a cease-fire with General Piet Joubert on 6 March.

Although the Battle of Majuba Hill was relatively small in scale, it bears historical significance because it led to the signing of a peace treaty and later the Pretoria Convention between the British and the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek. The battle was also notable for the fire and movement tactics employed by the Boers, which were years ahead of their time. We will not climb to the summit of the 650 m hill, but gather at the lapa for a light lunch of home-made vetkoek and mince, and home-brewed ginger beer (included in tour cost). 

Then we continue over Laing’s Nek to Newcastle visiting O'Neill’s Cottage along the way. This is the cottage where the treaty that ended the First War of Independence was signed. The stone building dates to about 1870 when it was built by a Roman Catholic named PA Hayward de Barry, hence the white cross on the front gable. During the short war the home doubled as a makeshift hospital and three wounded troops who died here lie buried in the orchard nearby. On 15 March, President Paul Kruger and other Transvaal leaders arrived for negotiations and five days later President JH Brand of the Orange Free State joined them as arbitrator. Their gathering around the table in the front room is one of the scenes depicted by Anton van Wouw in the four panels at the base of the Paul Kruger statue on Church Square, Pretoria.

In Newcastle itself we visit Fort Aniel, which houses the town’s museum. Curator and local historian Louis Eksteen will show us around. We overnight in two-room en-suite chalets at Majuba Lodge, where a two-course dinner will also be enjoyed. Total travel distance from Johannesburg today: about 300 km. 

Monday 15 May: Breakfast at Majuba lodge and depart for Wasbank some 50 km away to visit the recently restored Trappist Monastery of Maria Ratschitz, which nestles against hills surrounded by tranquil gardens. The church has a beautiful painted interior with frescoes in the Bavarian style [travel down the N11 passing Fort Mistake; at Biggarsberg 8 km further on turn left and follow the dirt road to the monastery a little further on]. Afterwards return to the N11 and head for Ladysmith, where we visit the Siege Museum, considered to be one of the county’s most comprehensive Anglo-Boer War museums. It began as a vegetable store in 1884 and now also houses a great collection of artefacts from the Siege of Ladysmith. Also visit the Anglican Church, whose walls are decorated with marble plaques displaying the names of the British and colonial soldiers that died in the siege and relief. A picnic lunch (included) will be had at a suitable location.

Then join the N3 and proceed south. At Mooi River turn right to Kamberg for two night’s accommodation at the Glengarry Holiday Farm, Highmoor Road. The thatch-roofed chalets with either 1, 2 or 4-bedrooms have magnificent views of the Little Berg and the Little Mooi River. Facilities include a fully-equipped kitchen, bathroom and lounge/dining room with a fire place. Linen and bath towels are provided, but bring own soap. Breakfasts and dinners will be served by Glengarry. Tonight, we will have Kamberg lamb stew and pudding. Participants need to prepare a picnic lunch for the next day. Total travelling distance today: about 230 km.

Tuesday 16 May:  After breakfast, visit the Kamberg Rock Art Centre and Game Pass Shelter, which is often referred to as the ‘Rosetta Stone’ of southern African rock art as it was here that archaeologists first uncovered a vital key to understanding the symbolism of San rock art. Game Pass Shelter was one of the first sites ever to be seen by Europeans and featured in the Scientific American as early as 1915. The route to the shelter is can be relatively strenuous at times and will take from one-and-a-half to two-hours (one way). We will be accompanied by a local guide. The shelter provides a superb experience in Khoisan rock art. The walk is preceded by an excellent DVD presentation at the interpretive centre. Participants who believe they may have difficulty reaching Game Pass Shelter can relax in the lovely surroundings near the base. 

Return to Glengarry for a braai and overnight. Total travelling distance today: 60 km.

Wednesday 17 May: Early departure for Pietermaritzburg. On the way, we will turn off to Howick to visit the Nelson Mandela Capture Site Monument (without visiting the museum). After parking our cars at the Aha Imperial Hotel, walk across the road to the KwaZulu-Natal Museum where we meet Gavin Whitelaw, the museum’s archaeologist and ArchSoc’s KwaZulu-Natal Branch chairman, at 10:00. He will take us around the archaeological exhibitions. At about noon, walk the short distance to the excellent Tatham Art Gallery where we also have the opportunity to have a light lunch (for own account). Afterwards continue by foot to the Msunduzi Museum (previously the Voortrekker Museum) 1 km distant. 

Return to the Imperial Hotel to condense into the necessary cars and drive to the 153-year-old Maritzburg College. Here, at 16:00, we meet historian John Deane who will show us historic Clarke House and Victoria Hall. John serves on the school’s archive and museum committees. During his talk on the history of the buildings, he will include comments and illustrations on Bishopstowe, the home of Bishop Colenso outside Pietermaritzburg, which we will not visit. From 1995 to 2009 John was chairman of the Colenso Homestead Restoration Project. 

Return to the Aha Imperial Hotel in Pietermaritzburg and check in. Dinner will be at what is considered one of the best restaurants in town, Tandoor, which is close by. Tadoor serves northern Indian dishes and excellent curries (for own account). It. Total travelling distance today: about 100 km.

Thursday 18 May: After breakfast and accompanied by Gavin, who will accompany us for the next three days,  we proceed to Muden via Greytown, travelling through a part of KZN that was initially settled by Germans, and stopping at the Albert Falls along the way. Near Muden we visit the Early Iron Age (EIA) site of Ntshekane, which was excavated in 1973 by Tim Maggs and is currently being re-excavated by Gavin. Maggs gave particular attention to the description and illustration of the EIA pottery as a first sample of its kind was found here. However, the bulk of the material, while related, appears to date to the 9th century. The faunal remains show that domestic stock supplied the bulk of the diet. Gavin will tell us about his latest findings. 

Return to Greytown and continue to the Deutsche Schule Hermannsburg to visit the Mission House Museum. This was the first mission station of the Hermannsburg Missionary Society, founded at the initiative of Pastor Louis Harms of the Saints Peter and Paul Lutheran Congregation in Hermannsburg, Germany. The mission house was erected in 1854 and here Lutheran missionaries learnt Zulu before departing for their appointed mission stations in Zululand. In the 1860s a start was made with the training of Zulu pastors. This German school, one of five in southern Africa, is the oldest boarding school in KwaZulu-Natal, being founded in 1856.  The mission house and the village church gained monumental status in 1977. The kitchen of the mission house is one of the 15 oldest buildings in KZN. Over sandwiches and coffee/tea (included) we will be told the history of the mission and visit the museum. 

Via Kranskop we continue to the area of Stanger to experience the historic atmosphere and colonial charm of Kearsney Manor, where we will overnight. Situated on the original sugar estate near KwaDukuza in the iLembe District, Kearsney Manor is an English mansion built in the late 1800s by Sir James Leigh Hulett. This renovated colonial estate, now a heritage site, was also the first home of Kearsney College. Dinner consisting of a choice of chicken fillet, curry and rice or lasagne and salad will be at Kearsney Manor. Total travelling distance today: about 310 km.

Friday 19 May: After breakfast, travel the short distance to Eshowe, where we check into the 110-year-old George Hotel, which was built on the site of the residency of British Residential Commissioner, Sir Charles Saunders. During the mining boom of the 1920s, the building served as a stock exchange for four months. 

The rest of the day is available to enjoy the pleasant atmosphere of Eshowe and visit the Fort Nongqayi Museum Village, which houses the Zululand Historical Museum. Although depicting Zululand’s EIA history, the museum’s central focus is the fascinating cross-cultural influences of the past 200 years. Pride of place goes to the mobile wooden chair made for the ailing King Mpande by the first Norwegian missionary in Zululand, Hans Schreuder. The museum also houses a collection of fine mahogany and teak furniture and memorabilia from the main residences of the only White Chief of Zululand, John Dunn, his 49 wives and 117 children. The museum is housed in a contemporary version of a traditional Norwegian mission chapel.

Another feature of the village is the Vukani Zulu Cultural Museum. More than 40 years ago, the Vukani Association was founded to revive the then-dying art of basketry. Through Vukani, men and women have pooled their inherited knowledge of grasses, palm leaves, natural dyes, beadwork, woodcarving and ceramics to produce contemporary items with a traditional theme. The Swedish missionary Kjell Lofröth was instrumental in establishing the project and collected some of the finest works of the early Vukani crafters. 

Our hotel lies adjacent the 300 ha Dlinza Forest, which offers some very nice walks, as well as an aerial boardwalk with a 20 m high tower, which is well worth going up. The George Hotel also brews its own, reputedly very good beer. 

Lunch (for own account) can be had at the Nongqayi Museum Village and a buffet dinner is included at our hotel. Total travelling distance today: 60 km. 

Saturday 20 May: After breakfast, we leave for Ulundi to visit the KwaZulu Cultural Museum and Ondini Historic Reserve. The museum will give us insight into the rich cultural heritage of the KwaZulu-Natal region. It houses one of the most representative collections of Zulu material culture in the country, in particular a fabulous collection of Zulu beadwork. The Ondini site museum focuses on the life of King Cetshwayo, the last king of an independent Zululand, and provides insight into the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. King Cetshwayo’s royal residence has been reconstructed on the basis of archaeological findings. Our visit should take about three hours. A packed lunch (included) will be had at a suitable spot.

Afterwards we proceed to Nondwengu, the site of King Mpande's homestead. Following Dingane's murder of King Shaka, Mpande, fearing the same treatment, moved away from the uMgungundlovu area and was spared - unlike many of his family members.  In 1839, following defeat by the Boers at the Battle of Ncome (Blood River), Dingane set fire to uMgungundlovu and fled north across the Pongola River where he was killed three months later. Mpande, third son of Senzangakona, was proclaimed King of the Zulus and returned to the Emakhosini area, building his royal residence at Ulundi. He ruled for 32 years and died in 1872 at Nondwengu, where he is buried.  The large iqukane hut built on the site in traditional style serves as an interpretation centre. Arthur Konigkramer, owner of the lodge we will be overnighting at, will meet us at Nondwengu and give us more information as he was involved in the construction of the iqukane.

We end our visits in Ulundi at the Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi Museum and Documentation Centre. As a Zulu tribal leader, Buthelezi founded the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) in 1975 and was Chief Minister of KwaZulu until 1994 and Minister of Home Affairs from 1994 to 2004. Throughout much of the apartheid area, Buthelezi was considered one of the foremost internal black leaders. He played a key role in creating a framework for a negotiated solution to South Africa's racial conflict, signing the landmark Mahlabatini Declaration of Faith in 1974 with Harry Schwarz. During the CODESA negotiations of the early 1990s, he represented the IFP, and in the 1994 general election he led the IFP to join the Nelson Mandela government of national unity. Buthelezi continues to serve as both leader of the IFP and an MP. In 1964 he played King Cetshwayo kaMpande (his own maternal great-grandfather) in the film Zulu.

Then proceed to the 23 000 ha eMakhosini-Opathe Heritage Park on the banks of the White Mfolozi River. The eMakhosini Valley is considered the birthplace of the Zulus; here Shaka spent much of his youth and Dingane fought the Voortrekkers. It is also the resting place of seven Zulu kings. Bird life is abundant and several species of game, including black rhino, have been reintroduced to the park. At the centre of the park lies Owen’s Camp, which offers comfortable, fully catered accommodation. (The camp houses 22 people only; if our group is larger, late bookers will be housed in alternative accommodation in Ulundi 10 km away and their tour price may increase). 

Before reaching Owen’s Camp, Arthur will show us the impressive Spirit of eMakhosini or Amakhosini Monument erected by Amafa aKwaZulu-Natali (‘Heritage KwaZulu-Natal’). Overlooking the valley, the monument’s platform is decorated with bronze plaques depicting scenes from Zulu life. On top rests a huge bronze imbiza or beer pot, which symbolises friendship in Zulu culture. Total travelling distance today: about 100 km. 

Sunday 21 May: After breakfast and farewell to Gavin Whitelaw, travel to nearby uMgunghundlovu (‘Secret Conclave of the Elephant’), site of the partially restored royal residence of King Dingane from 1829 to 1838. We will proceed direct to Dingane’s partly reconstructed capital and the mass grave of Voortrekker Piet Retief and his party, who were killed at uMgungundlovu in February 1838. At the nearby display centre, there is an audio-visual presentation on 400 years of Zulu history. Praises of the Zulu kings, sung by Inyosi Mdletshe, the current praise-singer to King Goodwill Zwelenthini, guide the visitor from the present to the earliest king in the 17th century. An exhibition of 17 tapestries created by artists from the famous Rorke’s Drift Art and Craft Centre illustrates the history of the Zulu kings. It is well worthwhile climbing up the tower for an overall view of the site.

After about one-and-a-half to two hours, we proceed to Dundee and check into the Royal Country Inn. Lunch may be had at Miner’s Rest (for own account) at the excellent Talana Museum, which we will visit together with a museum guide in the afternoon. Talana was the first major battle of the Anglo-Boer War. The Boers occupied Talana Hill during the night of 19 October 1899. Early the following morning, when the mist lifted, they shelled the British camp on the opposite side of Dundee. The British drove the Boers off Talana Hill, but suffered significant causalities, including their commanding officer, Maj. Gen. Sir William Penn-Symons. Faced with a major threat by the advancing main Boer army, the British evacuated Dundee two days later. A two-course dinner will be enjoyed at our hotel. Total travelling distance today: about 120 km.

Monday 22 May: Participants return to Gauteng via Newcastle and Volksrust independently. [There is a possibility of visiting a farm 30 minutes out of Dundee with an original Boer homestead, one of the few farm houses not burnt down by the British in the war. Tea may be served here.] Overall travelling distance for tour: about 1 600 km.