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‘My Favourite Hotel’ review: Fugitive’s Drift Lodge, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

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Today’s ‘My Favourite Hotel’ revew is the Fugitives’ Drift Lodge in KwaZulu-Nata, South Africa, which is reader Paul’s favourite hotel.

Unless there is major news breaking, we hope to run one article in this series per day for the next few weeks.  There will be a deliberate mix of European and worldwide properties, super luxury and mid market, branded and independent.  You can read all of the published reviews to date here.

Over to Paul:

Review Fugitive's Drift Lodge, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Over the years travel has given us connections with a lot of history – from the cave art at Uluru to the iconic skyline of New York City.  Nothing has been quite as powerful as the immersive experience at Fugitives’ Drift Lodge in The Battlefields Region of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Owned by the Rattray family, the Lodge serves to honour the memory of the 1879 Zulu War.  Specifically, it focuses on the Zulu victory at Isandlwana and the British Army stand at Rorke’s Drift as researched by the late David Rattray, and kept alive through the use of the Zulu tradition of oral history.

Our road trip from Durban was a form of preparation for what was to come.

Following Audley Travels’ directions, we drove through many miles of majestic landscape, along dusty roads scattered in places with pot holes the size of small craters.  We passed many small settlements seeing women washing clothes in muddy ponds and carrying water on their heads in plastic containers of all shapes and sizes along with crowds of schoolchildren, immaculate in pristine uniforms, white shirts and blouses gleaming in the intense light, returning to their clay and straw rondavel homes. Every now and then, standing slightly aside from the main settlement, a single toilet; a striking touch of modernity.

Having dipped our toes in something entirely new, after five and half hours we finally arrived at Fugitives’ Drift Lodge and instantly became part of the extended family.

Our accommodation was a two bedroom two bathroom cottage close to the main dining area. It was perfect for us, comfortable and homely, although we spent very little time there as we had compressed our visit to two nights with one full day focussed on visits to the main battlefields.

Review Fugitive's Drift Lodge, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

We welcomed the chance to explore the extensive grounds around the lodge by taking a short trek with one of the “gappies” (gap year students) to hear about Lt Coghill and Melville and their attempt to save the Regimental Queen’s Colour after the battle of Isandlwana.

In keeping with the principle stated on the Lodge website that “family is very much at the heart and core of Fugitives’ Drift”, evenings were a communal affair. Drinks and snacks were enjoyed around a fire pit, then dinner at large tables in the dining room surrounded by memorabilia from the Zulu War.

Hosted by members of the Rattray family, conversation was convivial. One night we learned the importance of avoiding the “Dagga Boy” or solitary old buffalo and the next we shared a table with a descendant of the Zulu King Cetshwayo kaMpande, a key figure in the history we had come to hear about.

Throughout our stay food, drinks and level of service were first class. Not only did the team know our names from first introductions, they also remembered our likes and dislikes and took time and trouble to make sure that we were all happy – well fed and well watered.

Review Fugitive's Drift Lodge, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
The second day was a unique experience, and one to be treasured. Our itinerary for the day was a visit to the battlefield of Isandlwana in the morning and a visit to Rorke’s Drift in the afternoon, mirroring the events of 22nd January 1879.

When we gathered after breakfast for the trip to Isandlwana we learned that the four of us were the entirety of the party, and that Douglas Rattray would be our guide. On the journey to the battlefield Douglas filled us in on the background to the Zulu war of 1879 so we were well prepared when we arrived at Isandlwana.

Normally chairs are set out on the plain and the stories told there, but as we were a small group Douglas invited us to climb up the hill, for a magnificent view of the battlefield, to listen to the immensely moving stories of battle.

Review Fugitive's Drift Lodge, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Settling in some way up the hill, we heard about the Zulu victory. Across the plain, white stone cairns mark the last stand of groups of soldiers. And as the tale was told, we were right there with those soldiers on that hot dusty plain facing an enemy with better strategy and tactics.

In our imaginations we heard those Zulu voices and saw the warriors on the ridge surrounding the British encampment. It was terrifying and heart-breaking and utterly unforgettable.

Review Fugitive's Drift Lodge, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
After a buffet lunch back at the Lodge overlooking the Buffalo River Gorge, we moved on to Rorke’s Drift this time with Andrew Rattray as our guide.

Review Fugitive's Drift Lodge, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Here we heard of the reality of the engagement portrayed in the film “Zulu”. Once again the words made us become part of the small group of soldiers defending the supply post and hospital, finally down to a space about the size of our rear garden. The final words of the tour were the lines from Binyon’s “For The Fallen”, “At the going down of the sun” recited just as the sun set. Quite a moment.

Review Fugitive's Drift Lodge, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Our South African adventure has now been four years ago, and I believe that the Lodge has continued to enhance its offering with new and refurbished accommodation and additional trips.  The tariffs include accommodation and meals, but exclude drinks and tours and the conservation levy that supports local schools and communities.

  • Thinking “it’s a bit isolated”? It is (quite literally) off the beaten track, but the quality of the hospitality is second to none
  • Thinking “I’m not at all interested in military history”? The story tellers’ art will draw you in
  • Thinking “too much military history for me”? You can take downtime, explore the wildlife or have a sundowner on the veranda

A visit to Fugitives Drift provides an opportunity to learn some of the history of the Zulu people and the British soldiers they encountered.  It encourages you to walk in their footsteps and to touch a part of history that would otherwise be left in dusty books on forgotten shelves.

The Fugitives’ Drift Lodge website is here if you want to find out more.

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Comments (23)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Aston100 says:

    Sounds very nice, but a bit pricey. If I calculated correctly, the lodge is about £500 per night for a couple, and there are various charges on top of that too.
    Are there similar’ish places in the vicinity which don’t charge so much?

    I dislike long continuous driving. Hence, reading about a 5.5 hour drive from Durban is off putting for me somewhat. Are there places to stop and things to see & do on the way? perhaps setting off in the morning with various stops on the way, in order to arrive in the evening (assuming it is safe to travel late in the day given the state of the roads etc).

    Anyway, thanks for the report. Sounds like a great area to visit.

    • Paul Higham says:

      It would have been a sight shorter had we followed the directions properly and not missed a right turn. It was counter intuitive, but was (as we found on the return journey) intended to keep you on better maintained roads. There were a couple of places on the way to buy fuel, but we didn’t see anywhere to take a break.

      There probably are other places at a different price point, but we decided on Fugitives’ largely because of the history and experience of the Rattray family.

  • Novice says:

    Good review and also sounds fun. I must admit after reading the name of the lodge I was pretty sold.

    What a name!

  • CherylD says:

    We also visited Fugitives Drift a couple of years ago. It was my husband’s choice and to be honest I wasn’t keen to go, fortunately I did as it was an experience not to be missed. I’d recommend a three night stay if you have the time as it’s a lot to cram in to one day. Douglas is a wonderful orator, there wasn’t a dry eye amongst us at the end of the story of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift

  • Tony Currie says:

    Great report, Paul, thanks.

    2015 must have been a busy year, we did a 2 night trip there as well, out from Durban and on to Kruger. The experience at the Lodge and the battlefield sites was a truly memorable piece of theatre, telling the story from both the Zulu and the British perspectives. It was based on their father/father in law’s great work in recording the oral history from Zulu eye witnesses, before his death in 2007. I would have loved to have met him.

    The drive there was memorable, too.

    We drove through a couple of towns which had obviously been built with the aim of trying to persuade locals to convert to Western style shops….but they were mainly empty whilst the locals continued to use the lively street markets outside, complete with meandering cattle and goats.

    And on one of the twisty hill climbs we were greeted by a work party who were winching up the wreck of a car that had gone over the edge. It didn’t look in great condition, and made us a bit nervous travelling onwards.

    And then, entering the Lodge grounds, we were greeted by some curious giraffes and their calf. Even the young calf towered over us.

    A truly memorable trip, thanks for bringing it all back to me so vividly.

    • Paul Higham says:

      We did Durban – Fugitives’ Drift – Phinda – Cape Town. It was end to end a fantastic trip. We particularly wanted to do the battlefields after my late parents in law had enthused about having been and having David Rattray as their guide.

    • Paul74 says:

      Ha ha yes the giraffes.

  • Eve Ralls says:

    We also went in 2015 and then with a different group two years later, as it is so very special.
    We stayed at the lodge but in Buntings old farm house which was wonderful.
    This is story telling and history at its very best. A visit is an absolute must. We go to SA every year and Kwa Zulu Natal has everything.

  • Bob Kelly says:

    I stayed there a number of years ago and did the guided tours of Rorke’s Drift and Islandwana. Great experience and fantastic hospitality. Not so easy to find so make sure you have plenty of fuel. I did the last 40km with the petrol light on not sure if we would make it. Fortunately I called the lodge and they gave me directions to the nearest petrol station.

  • Hardpack says:

    Flew Durban – Fugitives Drift- Oysterbox afterwards. Fugitives Drift lodge was an outstanding experience. Oysterbox Hotel near Durban is an outstanding Grande Dame of a hotel before or after your trip

  • Lyn says:

    A wonderful review, thank you Paul. Also thanks to Anika for this series of articles.

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