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King Cetshwayo’s Grave

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50km from Kranskop

-28.7576, 31.0801


+27 35 870 2051


Born around 1826, Cetshwayo KaMpande was one of several sons of King Mpande, who watched on while his sons fought it out amongst themselves to establish ascendency. In a bloody battle in 1856, Cetshwayo defeated and killed his younger brother Mbuyazi, and then murdered several other siblings to effectively become heir to the throne. When Mpande died in 1873, unusually of natural causes, Cetshwayo became king, establishing his royal kraal at Ondini, ‘the great place’.

He was a large man, over two metres tall and weighing in at around 150 kg. He was also highly intelligent. Unfortunately, his plans to restore his kingdom’s military might collided with the objectives of the new British High Commissioner, Sir Bartle Frere, who viewed Zululand as a security threat and an obstacle to his goal of a South African confederation.

Frere exploited some border incidents to issue an ultimatum to Cetshwayo in December 1878 that he dismantle his army within 30 days. When Cetshwayo failed to so, British troops under Lord Chelmsford invaded Zululand. Cetshwayo’s greatest moment came on 22 January 1879, when his army inflicted a humiliating defeat on the British at Isandlwana. But thereafter, superior British firepower and reinforcements proved unstoppable. Cetshwayo sued for peace, but the British weren’t interested. In July 1879, the British routed the Zulu army at the Battle of Ulundi and torched Cetshwayo’s royal kraal. Cetshwayo was captured and imprisoned in Cape Town castle, albeit in relative comfort. After removing Cetshwayo, the British divided Zululand into 13 territories, each with its own chief, principally selected from among those who had shown little support for Cetshwayo. This divide-and-rule strategy backfired, however, proving a perfect recipe for strife as the competing chiefs squabbled for ascendency.

Meanwhile, the British mood had turned to guilt and King Cetshwayo was increasingly viewed as a wronged monarch. In July 1882, he was allowed to travel to London to meet Queen Victoria and plead his case for a resumption of the Zulu monarchy. Queen Victoria agreed, and the British tried to restore Cetshwayo as the Zulu king. It was too late. Several of the new Zulu chiefs refused to accept his authority, especially Zibhebhu kaMaphitha. A bloody civil war followed and on 22 July 1883, Zibhebhu’s army, bolstered by Boer mercenaries, overran and destroyed Cetshwayo’s palace. Most of Cetshwayo’s supporters were killed, while he escaped with a wounded leg to the Nkandla Forest, seeking protection from the British. He died in February 1884, of a heart attack. His body was carried by wagon to its burial site near the Mome Gorge.

The grave is not easy to find, since most of the roads are unnamed and/or being dug up and re-laid. However, the drive there is spectacular. Some 40km south of Nkandla, you turn right on the Kranskop road and, 7km later, right again by a panel beater. (If you reach President Zuma’s refurbished kraal, you’ve gone too far.) The narrow road then follows the spine of the hills for 13.6km. Cetshwayo’s grave is in a shady grove on the left. It’s a peaceful spot, which he probably deserved after all his troubles. Admission is free, though you might be asked to sign a register and make a donation.

Zululand & the Battlefields

KwaZulu Natal


It was from the bush and grassland of northern KwaZulu-Natal that the impis of King Shaka emerged, sweeping down onto the other tribes of the hinterland and eventually engaging the British forces and shaking the very roots of the Empire. At the height of its power, the Zulu nation covered 30 000km2, but 60 years after it was first formed, its reign was over. In those 60 years, the Zulus shaped the future of the country and were engaged in battles with the Boers and the British, but these were not the only bloody conflicts in the region. 

After the Zulu empire was broken, the English and the Boers fought for control of South Africa, with many battles taking place in Natal. While the best-known battles in the area are undoubtedly Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift, as well as the siege of Ladysmith, there is fascinating history to be had at countless other ones. 

The beauty of the scenery clashes harshly with the devastating past, while the rough terrain makes one wonder how the machines of war were manhandled across the country, and how the Zulu impis managed to cover such vast distances in a single day, barefoot.

The regions of Zululand and the Battlefields merge together and are hard to separate, stretching from the northern and western KwaZulu-Natal borders to the towns of Ladysmith and Colenso in the south and towards the Elephant Coast in the east.

Zululand has managed to remain largely unaffected by industrial expansion and much of it remains farmland, timber plantations and rural wilderness, including beautiful Big-Five game reserves and grasslands. 

On the other hand there is the industrial hub of Richards Bay, the largest port in South Africa.

Tourism revolves around the natural beauty and diversity, as well as the haunting battlefields on which so many lost their lives and which are simply fascinating to visit, especially with a knowledgeable guide, of which there are a few.

Since this is the birthplace of the Zulu nation, it is also the place to come to grips with Zulu tradition, culture and history.

A number of cultural experiences exist, where tourists can become immersed in the local tradition and culture, learning a huge amount and enjoying themselves even more.

A few reserves in the region offer good game-viewing, from Weenen and Spioenkop in the south up to Ithala in the north. The diverse ecosystem means that hundreds of bird species are present, and a few notable bird-watching spots include the Dlinza and Ongoye forests, as well as the wetlands of Richards Bay.

An area as large and diverse will always have an almost endless array of attractions, and Zululand and the Battlefields are no different, from fishing in Richards Bay to horse-riding, mountain-biking, game-viewing and bird-watching. There is even a brewery to lighten the spirits when the history gets a little heavy.

Look out for

Zululand Brewery in Eshowe is a great place to pop in for a relaxing Zulu Blonde Export Ale, a beer that has won awards and rave reviews internationally. While you’re sitting at The Happy George Bar, ask around for recommendations on what’s new to do in the area.

The Dlinza and Ongoye Forests are serious birding hotspots and both are easily accessible. In fact, the Dlinza aerial boardwalk is something that even non-birders will enjoy and appreciate.

Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift are the two seminal battlefields in the Battlefields tour and are both intensely fascinating and moving. A good guide is invaluable in bringing them to life. Ulundi and Blood River are also well worth visiting, giving different insights into the bloodshed that shaped this land.

Take a hike up Majuba or Spioenkop mountains, both of which offer sensational views in addition to stirring battlefield history. The historic O’Neills cottage, where a peace treaty was signed to end the first Anglo-War, lies at the base of Majuba.

The majestic Ithala Game Reserve in the very north of KwaZulu-Natal offers good game-viewing and bird-watching, as well as epic scenery of mountains and valleys. While there is a variety of accommodation, the pick of it is undoubtedly the bush camps that can be booked out for your group.

Every year the Zulu nation holds the Reed Ceremony near the eNyokeni Royal residence in Nongoma north of Melmoth, thousands of maidens gathering to pay their respect to their king. This happens in spring and visitors from all over the world come to watch the women dance and sing to King Goodwill Zwelithini in his ceremonial regalia.

The eMakhosini Ophate Heritage Park should not be missed by anyone with a sense of history. It is the birthplace of the Zulu clan and what is known as the Valley of the Kings. The Spirit of eMakhosini memorial and an educational multimedia centre are worth a visit, and there is also game, including the rare oribi antelope and black rhino.

Immerse yourself in the Zulu culture at a place like Shakaland and watch Zulu dancing, ask a sangoma (witch doctor) for his sage advice, sample traditional Zulu beer, listen to singing and perhaps try out a few simple phrases for yourself. Arts and crafts are also on sale and make wonderful gifts and souvenirs.

When to go

To Do

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