Surrounded by an UNESCO World Heritage Site, this town is at the heart of magnificent natural coastal forests, wild animals, majestic bird life, breathtaking beaches and hospitable people. There are at least 1 200 crocodiles and 800 hippos found in Lake St Lucia.
The Zululand Historical Museum is housed at Fort Nongqayi. The Fort was built in 1883 by the British to house the Zulu Native Policemen called Nongqayi and was completed in 1894. The Nongqayi were trained in this fort and were led by Colonel Addison.
As we drove through KwaZulu Natal towards the coast the weather began to close in and by the time we reached the airport in Durban, we were in the midst of a powerful thunderstorm. We quickly exchanged cars and headed north towards Eshowe.
Eshowe is the oldest town of European settlements in Zululand and is the heart of the Zula culture. The siege of Eshowe took place during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879.
We arrived in Eshowe just as the weather broke. Our accommodation was in a small guest house, called Sugar Hill Manor, just outside of town. The gate was closed so we called the number on the gate. It took a little while for the phone to be answered, but a man eventually did pick up and was given the code to get in. We were greeted by a man called Anthony, a friend of the owner Graham Chennells, who was away playing in a golf tournament. Our room was a huge family room with three beds. It was a little dated, but we were not paying a lot to stay here. After settling in we headed into Eshowe to go to the shops to buy food and sort out Karen’s mobile phone. We found a Spar superstore and got some provisions and headed back. Our room at Sugar Hill Manor didn’t have a kitchen but there was a shared kitchen in the main house – but for dinner, we decided to head out and get a pizza back in town.
Our plans for the day were a bit loose, but we wanted to see if we could visit some places to learn more about the history of the area and Zulu culture.
I had read about a place called Shakaland, which was a tourist attraction dedicated to Zulu culture. Shakaland is on the site of the Shaka Zulu series, which was immensely popular in South Africa and further afield during the 1980s. This told the story of a man of the same name, who was the king and an acclaimed warrior. Born in the late 18th century, King Shaka played an integral role in the identity of his people, and in their wars and techniques. In fact, it was through these fighting techniques that Shaka Zulu managed to unite the Northern Nguni folk in their battles against Europeans and Boers. After the film, all but one of the Zulu kraals were destroyed. The last one is what remains today and forms the basis of Shakaland.
It was only a short distance to Shakaland, but it was a little way off the main road. The signage was not great, so I missed the turning and after a mile or two we had to backtrack. Once we got on the right road, we arrived at the gate to Shakaland, only to find that the gate was closed and locked. We later found out that Shakaland had closed for business – another casualty of the covid-19 pandemic.
The other thing I looked at when researching Eshowe was the Fort Nonqayi Historical Museum, located in Eshowe itself. Having had the disappointment of Shakaland we headed here instead. Once we arrived at the museum, we were a bit concerned it was also closed for business as the car park was empty. No sooner had we pulled in when a parking attendant appeared. He escorted us into the office where we were greeted by a large, jolly man who was in charge of the museum for the day. Rather strangely he wanted to take some selfies with us before we headed out on the tour.
Constructed in 1883, the fort was never completed because the authorities ran out of money after three of the planned four turrets had been built.
During the Bambata rebellion the citizens of Eshowe, then the colonial capital of the Crown Colony of Zululand, took refuge in the fort, where they were besieged by a considerable Zulu impi.
Our guide took us into the small chapel before we headed over to the fort. The fort today is a museum dedicated to Zulu culture and colonial history. The fort itself contains many artefacts of early Zulu-British contacts, including an amazing recreation of the office of John Dunn, the first (and only) white Zulu chief who befriended King Mpande, and many of whose descendants still live in Eshowe.
The whole tour was a little rushed, and our guide seemed to be very impatient whenever we stopped to read any of the display panels.
It only took about half an hour to finish the tour and from there we headed over to the Vukani Craft Museum, which is in the museum grounds. The Vukani Museum boasts the largest and most valuable collection of Zulu crafts in the world. Amazing baskets, many of the pieces by the doyenne of weavers, Rubin Ndwandwe, share the museum’s space with “khamba” pots, the clay pots made for the communal drinking of Zulu “umqombothi” traditional beer. The displays were amazing, and we enjoyed this more than the visit to the fort. The lady who was on duty in the museum was fantastic and had an interesting life story.
Best time to visit Eshowe
Where to Eshowe
SUGAR HILL MANOR
During our time in Eshowe, we stayed at Sugar Hill Manor which is situated in a quiet area of the town. We had a huge spacious family room with three double beds. It also had a small sitting area and large.
The bathroom was large and a little dated, but very functional.
The wi-fi is not brilliant and the only place where it works is in the main house, where there is a lounge and the kitchen.
Getting around Eshowe and the area generally requires a car. There are no restaurants or shops close by so you will need a car to reach them.
We were lucky enough to spend time with owner Graham who was extremely hospitable and a jovial host with lots of local knowledge and is also a great story teller.