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Ladysmith 251km (156 miles) NW of Durban; Dundee 320km (198 miles) N of Durban

Most of the battles fought on South African soil took place in the northwestern corner of KwaZulu-Natal, where the rolling grasslands were regularly soaked with blood as battles for territorial supremacy would, in turn, pit Zulu against Boer (Afrikaner), Brit against Zulu, and Afrikaner against Brit. The official Battlefields Route covers 4 wars, 15 towns, and more than 50 battlefields, and includes numerous museums and memorials to the dead and victorious. Few would argue that the heroic Anglo-Zulu battles that took place on January 22, 1879, at Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift -- immortalized in the movie Zulu, starring Michael Caine -- are the most compelling, and their battlefields are the best for those with limited time to see.

Another site worth investigating is that of the Battle of Blood River (near Dundee), which took place 41 years earlier, this time between the Trekkers and the Zulus. This victory was to validate Afrikaner arrogance and religious self-righteousness. Visitors should also visit Ladysmith to immerse themselves in the siege that jumpstarted the Second Anglo-Boer War. It would take the world's mightiest nation 3 years and thousands of pounds to defeat one of the world's smallest, embroiling some of the century's most powerful leaders, such as Winston Churchill and Gandhi, in the battle.

This is one area where a guide is almost essential, and top of the line are those trained by the late David Rattray . If, however, you are eager to tackle a self-guided tour but are unfamiliar with the historical background of the wars, consider the brief chronological account supplied below.

Tip: It is important to understand that the Battlefields -- while seemingly out of the way from the usual tourist attractions -- are in many ways the historical core of the modern South African nation. If understanding this people and their history is important to you, then a visit here is essential. It is advisable to pass through here from Zululand en route to the uKhahlamba Drakensberg region, or up from the Midlands Meander. You'll gain a strong sense of historical narrative while contextualizing the great tribal population movements of that time. Those who are not interested in walking around battlefields, no matter how vivid or moving the storytelling, can take pleasure in the fact that this is one of most scenic and, ironically, tranquil parts of the country, with beautiful lodges and a range of activities, including horse riding, guided walks, rock art, mountain biking, and strolls through the bushveld.