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HOLIDAYS: ZULU COUNTRY; Remember the classic Michael Caine movie..? Well now you can relive it.

Byline: ROBIN NEILLANDS

SOUTH Africa offers many attractions to the British visitor, not to mention the fact that it's remarkably cheap.

With the rand standing at around 12 to the pounds 1, a holiday here is a real bargain.

Add to that marvellous weather, wonderful food and wine, superb hotels and plenty of wildlife in the game parks, and all the ingredients are there for the perfect winter holiday.

As a bonus there's all that history, not least in the heart of Zululand, where the battlefields of Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift - made famous by the Michael Caine movie Zulu - now pull in visitors from all over the world.

Superb scenery

This year they're expecting record numbers of visitors because it's the year that marks the centenary of the death of Queen Victoria, whose reign saw the establishment of Britain's now-defunct African empire.

Zululand is part of the province of KwaZulu-Natal and a visit to Isandlwana can easily be fitted in between a tour of the Kruger National Park and a few days on the great beaches of Durban.

Allow two weeks for the visit, hire a car and just wander at will on empty roads through superb scenery.

Your base could be the newly-opened Isandlwana Lodge, which overlooks the battlefield. It's handy for all the sights and was opened by Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Chairman of the Zulu House of Chiefs.

If you're a movie buff, you'll recall that he played the part of king Cetewayo in the film Zulu.

The Zulu homeland is quite beautiful - open, rolling grassland fringed with blue mountains, the plains dotted with Zulu villages (kraals) full of thatched huts and crowded with cheerful, friendly people.

Tours of Zululand from the Lodge begin with an early morning visit to the Isandlwana battlefield which lies underneath the mountain where, on January 22, 1879, the men of the 24th Foot made their brief stand against an overwhelming force of Zulu warriors. Most of the soldiers were killed in the massacre after their camp was overrun.

The tour is guided by Rob Gerrard, the resident historian at Isandlwana Lodge, who brings all the events of that day to vivid life. From the slopes of Isandlwana hill, the events of the battle are easy to follow, from the moment the Zulus appeared on the crest of the nearby ridges to the retreat of the few survivors to the Buffalo river.

From Isandlwana, the tour moves across the Buffalo River to the restored settlement at Rorke's Drift, a hospital and ferry post in 1879 where a small force of 139 Welsh soldiers stood off 4,500 Zulus for most of the day and earned 11 VCs in the process.

Not much has changed at either of these two places since 1879 and neither should be missed on any visit to Zululand. Apart from the usual guided tours in mini-buses, it's possible to explore the battlefield on foot or on horseback.

Battlefield buffs will find plenty more to see around the Lodge, not least some battlefields of the South African War of 1899-1902, notably at Ladysmith, Colenso and Spion Kop.

Campaigns

Those who are less interested in old military campaigns can explore some of the rich wildlife heritage of Zululand in the game reserves of Umfolozi and Hluhlewe, which have plenty of the 'Big Five' - elephant, lion, rhino, leopard and buffalo - and are famous among conservationists for their work in protecting and preserving Africa's dwindling stock of white rhino.

Bird watchers should head for the Mkuzi Reserve beneath the Lokombo Mountains. This reserve is home to over 500 bird species and comes well-equipped with observation hides set beside the lakes and rivers.

Zululand, in short, has all the ingredients for the perfect South African holiday; wildlife, scenery, good food, handy beaches and some dramatic history. Better go soon before the rush starts.

TRAVEL FILE

Robin Neilland stayed at The Isandlwana Lodge (027 34 271 8301).

A double room with dinner and breakfast starts at R750 (pounds 62) a night.

The Isandlwana Tour costs from R200 (pounds 16.50).

Isandlwsana Lodge is also featured by tour operator Abercrombie & Kent (0207 730 9600) in their South African tours brochure.

The National Army Museum in London (020 7730 0717) is offering a ZULU! weekend on February 3 and 4. Admission free.

A good book on the 1879 Zulu War is 'The Washing of the Spears' by Donald Morris (Sphere Books).

CAPTION(S):

ZULUUUU... your chance to stay in the heart of Zululand made famous by the all-star movie and (right) a re-enactment of the battle of Isandlwana DURBAN... great beaches and an exciting city
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jan 21, 2001
Words:768
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