by | Nov 16, 2017 | Travel Stories | 0 comments

I recently joined a group of media folk on a journey to explore the King Cetshwayo District Municipality and the thing that impacted me the most is how times have changed and how communities have evolved. The King’s Experience,  taught me how the story of the past is interwoven into the present and makes the tourism encounter that much more meaningful.

Steeped in history, this region offers a mixed menu for tourists from dynamic African dancers to agricultural and urban communities with stunning forests and beaches. In other words, there is something to interest everyone.


The King Cetshwayo District is one of eleven municipalities of KwaZulu-Natal, in South Africa, and encompasses the heart of isiZulu history. It is named after Cetshwayo kaMpande, King of the Zulus from 1872 to 1879, who led his nation to victory against the British in the Battle of Isandlawana.

Our journey began in the uMlalazi Nature Reserve and we were transported back in time by our knowledgeable guide, Bruce Hopwood, to the days when a white man adopted Zulu customs and lifestyle and was appointed chief of Ongoye by Cetshwayo. The land teemed with wildlife and John Dunn was famous for his prolific hunting and trading. Aside from his British wife, he had 48 Zulu wives and sired 117 children.

As I stood listening to the arresting call of a Purple-Crested Turaco, a quiet stretch of water tucked around the protruding stems of mangroves. Hopwood explained that, in John Dunn’s day, hippos and crocodiles were prolific and he had to create a safe pool,  for his family to bathe. We stared at the peaceful, muddy scene trying to visualise the domestic activity that took place a few hundred years previously.

King's Experience, John Dunns pool in the uMlalazi Nature Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

John Dunn’s pool – uMlalazi Nature Reserve

The story unfolds that, “in 1878, with the onset of the Anglo/Zulu war, John Dunn was concerned for his family’s safety and he opted to side with the British by crossing the Thukela river into British Natal with 2000 supporters and 3000 head of cattle. Naturally, this caused an unfavourable rift with some people. Following the defeat of the Zulu army at Ulundi and the arrest of Cetshwayo, Dunn was given back his former chiefdom with increased powers. Later, he retired from politics under the colonial rule and settled as a cattle farmer in Emoyeni where there are still Dunn descendants living today.”

On our journey, we passed further landmarks of significance – “ Fort Chelmsford and the Battles of Gingindlovu and Nyezane. Today, the landscape is a collage of commercial and rural subsistence farmers. Hopwood pointed out different religious nodes – an old Catholic mission school that currently operates as a hospice and; Judea hill where the Shembe church gather annually.

In order to grasp the full extent of the region’s history we made sure not to miss the Zululand Historical Museum Village, in Eshowe, where the impact of the Norwegian missionaries on education is illustrated and the remains of the British Fort Nongqayi can be viewed. The Vukani Zulu Cultural museum and KZN Papermakers house a range of talented art and craft products and is well worth a visit.

King's Experience, Zululand Historical Museum Village in Eshowe, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Zululand Historical Museum Village – Eshowe


King's Experience, Craftwork items on display at Vukani Zulu Cultural Museum in Eshowe, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Craftwork items on display at the Vukani Zulu Cultural Museum.

An absolute highlight on our cultural journey was the guided tour at Shakaland. Authentic storytelling transported us back into a traditional village of the isiZulu where customs and rituals were well explained. Dynamic dancing by both warriors and maidens held us spellbound as the rhythmic beat of Zulu drums pounded and bounced around our senses. The restaurant overlooks Phobane dam and offers a view that stirs the soul. Anyone wishing to sample an understanding of the isiZulu culture should definitely bookmark this on their itinerary.

King's Experience, Community life at Shakaland and the view over Phobane dam on the Mhlatuze river.

Community life at Shakaland and the view over Phobane dam on the Mhlatuze river.

To crown our cultural journey, we stopped at the top of the Melmoth pass and viewed the rolling, green hills below. Incredible to think that during the reign of King Shaka, he conquered a factional foe, Zwide in 1818 to emerge  as the most powerful king in Nguni history.

The Mtonjaneni Lodge offers a private museum of both British and Zulu artefacts and one can take a guided walk to “Dingaan’s Spring”, where King Dingaan’s maidens used to collect water.

King's Experience, Mtonjaneni Zulu Historical Museum in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Mtonjaneni Zulu Historical Museum

South Africa and Britain both have a monarch and the historical relationship between these countries yields both positive and negative accounts. After King Cetshwayo had been exiled by the British, he requested an audience with Queen Victoria and promised that he would not go to war again with them. He was transported via ship from Port Durnford to England but once he returned to South Africa in 1883, he met with factional resistance from opposing clans. He died suddenly after a meal in Eshowe and it is suspected that he had been poisoned.

Overlooking Port Durnford in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Overlooking Port Durnford where Cetshwayo set sail many years to meet Queen Victoria in England.

The current Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelitini kaBhekuzulu, is a direct descendant from King Cetshwayo and has several palaces. He rekindled relations with the British monarchy by hosting a visit from Prince Charles and Lady Camilla in November 2011. He remains a symbol of unity and is committed to the socio-economic development of the Zulu nation in the establishment of the Ngonyama Trust. Tourists who wish to experience a dynamic cultural event should diarise the annual maidens’ Royal Reed Dance at KwaNyokeni Palace palace in early September.

Ongoing relations between the United Kingdom and KwaZulu-Natal were strengthened in August, 2017 when the Zulu choir and a group of Zulu warriors travelled to the 135th King Cetshwayo Celebrations in Cardiff, Wales to re-enact the Battle of Isandlwana.

This fascinating backdrop to our region’s tour helped deepen the impact and understanding of the current communities we interacted with on the King’s Experience. Following this article, Part 2 will explore the community life that offers a dynamic range of things to do and experience as a modern tourist in the King Cetshwayo District





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