Battlefields by The Naked Barista

MAZEBEKO Site – August 2015             Alexia 

Roadtrip to Mazebeko
Roadtrip to Mazebeko

So here we are on a new adventure…the closest town is Pomeroy and Dundee in the opposite direction.

Pomeroy will be the town where provisions for our workmen will be fetched as they will be staying with the locals closest to the site. We always try and benefit the locals as we rent accommodation from them and if we need day workers.

We only heard now that this part of our country is well known by overseas visitors for tours taken, to see our Battlefields. Up until now we have not known about this…obviously we learned about the Battles of Blood River in school, but we just never knew that this was such a tourist attraction.

We were on the road with our vehicle (full of workmen) and trailer with motorbike and tools…driving for  +-1 400km. We slept over at Gariepdam – gratitude for the booking made for us by our friend, Andre.

Last night we arrived at our accommodation, a German owned retreat, Elandsheim (meaning Elands (buck) home).   This was a German missionary with a Church and cemetery on the property. The closest shop is also German owned and it seemed that most of the development here were done by Germans.

We stayed at Elandsheim for two nights and was looked after by a lovely couple who comes from Pretoria and has only been working there for about three weeks. The managers were on holiday and we were the only guests.

We are on our way to the site where Bethesda, my husband will be doing civil work for a new cellphone tower being erected.

Beautiful grasslands spread in all direction dotted with Aloe Spectabilis which is a protected species.

This morning I stood under the most amazing Thorntree and I wish I had taken a picture of this oldest of old stunning speciman. I always get goosebumps when I am this close to such magnificence.

Our long drive towards the site is very calm and peaceful, with picturesque grass huts everywhere and local people fetching water from taps seemingly sticking out of the earth. We went over a river a little while ago where Zulu woman were busy washing their clothes.

Although rural, it is good to see that Mazebeko area has its own clinic and school. Every now and again even a western looking home can be seen amidst the huts…

We have moved to another accommodation now and we are superblessed to feel at home in a (first for me) historical fort.

Penny Farthing farm has been made into beautiful accommodation quarters and is a 6th generation farm and we will call this unique and lovely space home for the next few weeks.

Our host Foy Vermaak is the 6th Generation owner as well as an experienced and trusted Tour Guide.  His right hand help, is Anne Schreiber who has been here for more than 18 years and is an amazing cook.

This weekend three couples were hosted here for the Battlefields Tour.

Foy is an impressive man with an air of quiet sophistication and we listen easily to what he says. He is 77 and his heritage dates way back as his family arrived here in 1847. They were rebels when the war broke out and after Paul Kruger left South Africa and fled to Holland (Queen Wilhelmina reigned then), they also followed. The house has been build 1500 metres above sea level.

There are a couple of dwellings on the farm as his forefathers build and moved to get closer to where more water would be.

Last night we joined in on supper with the tour group and were served a lovely full course meal in grand style with the best silverware at an enormous table. We are receiving lovely meals and there is a bar as well.

Foy told us that the house burnt down in 1995 and was renovated and rebuild.  An absolute wealth of attractive antique furniture and trinkets abound and I am always fascinated by captivating historical pieces.

One of these precious treasures, is an old cupboard in our room – which Foy told me about while he sat in his favorite chair and I treated him with some foot love… Pediblessiology

(I smoothed his feet with my special little tool for calluses and gave him a foot massage), all the while recording him while he drift down memory lane. What a beautiful blessed shared time, for him and me.

About two years ago, a young friend of mine, June, surprised me, by giving me some foot love and I felt an overwhelming sense of well being, while she pampered me.  This is how my interest were sparked to learn more about this love gift…

…back to the antique cupboard in our room – Foy said he didn’t know if it was build by his grandfather, or if maybe he commissioned someone to build it for them, but this was around 1905 and he knows that it came from Pietermaritzburg. On top of the cupboard is a hole with a wooden pen through to keep it upright. This bewitching cupboard can be folded flat to fit in an oxwagen, would you believe. When Foy’s mother inherited it, she used it as a linen cupboard and now we are blessed to be using it too.

The Fort we are staying in, is so interesting.  Foy says the holes in the walls were not closed up for accommodation, it was built as is and all the soldiers needed to do when they were going to shoot, is to knock out the stone with the butt of the rifle in the front and the hole would be opened and ready for shooting the enemy. All that has been added to make the Fort liveable, is a bathroom and enclosed stoep with two quaint little rocking chairs. On this stoep, is also an old treasured creamer they used to make butter with.

At the back of the Fort is an added space where his father received his education as a little boy. Foy even remember his father telling him the teacher’s name was Miss Knowles. His father was send away to school when he was older to Vrede and his aunt (father’s sister) was send to Pietermaritzburg. His father was in an Afrikaans school for a short period and then attended Pietermaritzburg college so as to learn some English too.

Foy also told me that a positive that followed after the Anglo-Boer war was that the parents decided that all the kids had to attend a school which could teach them good English education so that their kids should not feel ashamed.

Foy can speak Zulu fluently as he grew up with the Zulu kids and he says he got just as much hiding from Zulu mamma’s as from his own.

Foy’s own schooling started in 1945 and back then there were no formal schools. He went to a little farm school and this, he says, is where most of his education came from and he is a very educated man. His teacher was Mrs Elsie Schoeman and she was born in 1890.  She was an educated woman who studied in Holland (Leyden). Then she married a Boer and they had two children. Her husband died of flu in 1918 and as they were not rich, she battled to survive financially. One of Foy’s uncles took pity on her and gave her one of the houses on this farm with a few sheep in exchange for education for his kids and hers. This is how Foy’s school came about and her kids and all the others around received a very good education. Her last two years of being teacher, they were 15 kids in class. They were all seated at a long table, but individually taught each at their own pace. If he finished today’s work early, he would have to start the next days work.

Mrs Schoeman could speak 7 languages. She would take turns with certain days of the week to let the students speak either Afrikaans or English and weekends she knew they would be speaking Zulu while playing.

Mrs Elsie Schoeman left her big mortar and pestle for Foy’s mom when she became ill. She use to put mealies and water in and grind it to make samp. Foy says today’s samp is not the same anymore as it is just dry broken mealies.

The historic Mortar and Pestle in the corner next to the dressing table.

Foy tells me that his grandfather’s sister fled into the mountains with her kids and were never found and only after the war in 1910 resurfaced intact with kids to come back to this farm. There were nothing left, the houses were plundered and destroyed. The furniture were stolen. While this was happening, one of the servants started taking furniture pieces to his dwelling. When the landowners returned, he returned the saved furniture to it’s rightful owners and these pieces is still in the house today. Most of these pieces were handmade by Foy’s great grandfather. He even made a four poster bed that were inherited by Foy’s brother.

Sadly his brother died in 1998, a political death, as he was assassinated. He was Manager of a Government Research Station (BARTLO) and one morning on his way to work, they waited for him and shot him with an AK 47. Everyone knew who it was, but no-one could do anything about it.

Foy says, that 1998 was not his best year as his wife died in July and his brother was murdered in October.  The duality of life…

About two years later, justice prevailed as Foy were told that the killer was also killed – a little bit of closure.

This farm is lush with trees and I can hear birds all day long. (Just an example of how a wishlist works as this is one of my wishes and nowadays everywhere we stay, has a beautiful garden with birds…lovit to be superblessed like this.) Apparently the trees here are mostly from Australia.

I have a photo to show how big one of the trees is, this is a ‘Belambra’ from South America.

I felt so very special this morning as I went to do yoga in the furthest corner of the garden, while our room were being cleaned. Superblessed!

The setting amongst the trees were peaceful and beyond beautiful. I am definitely on a 7th generation farm as it has this air of well lived in space.  Old tractors and vehicles from a bygone era lend itself to this feeling. I am surrounded by beautiful big old trees and in the distance I see cows. So many birds live here…crows, hadidas and guinea fowl all together in this peaceful garden. Looking around -‘Angelic space’ – comes to mind…

Have to mention the amazing sunsets...
Have to mention the amazing sunsets…

I started thinking how blessed I am and how awesome it is when you receive these moments of reflection and just know that you are in the flow of your own best life.  While I am listening to my recording, I can hear the birds serenading me and adding even more serenity to my peaceful thoughts.

Getting into the flow has been happening more and more as I let go and realise that the Universe has always got my back. We need to know that we are always at the right place at the right time, but that we are also the only one that can create our reality. We need to go inside and find these moments of peace even if there are challenging situations in our life that we have no control over. These challenges is exactly the kinda stuff which teaches us the lessons we need to get into the flow of our lives.  Challenges in our lives aids only to “speeding up the process” for healing.  What an amazing insight.  If you please, read the previous sentence again. “Wow”!

The sooner we embrace a challenge, we can learn the lesson it is offering us and receive the gift of “knowing”.

Penny Farthing


The battlefields route which also includes some areas of Zululand, stretches up the North Coast to Mthubathuba, inland to Nongoma, Mahlabathini, Ulundi, Melmoth and Eshowe and then North West to Vryheid, Paulpietersburg, Utrecht and Dundee.

We have been blessed to have stayed in Eshowe before and we have done a previous article on that region. Now we are blessed once again to be in the midst of grasslands and beautiful hills and what irony to think that this peaceful beauty have witnessed over 70 years of historical bloody conflict.

The Voortrekkers were looking for an independent haven to settle and as such moved inland and engaged in several skirmishes with the Zulu inhabitants which grew to become the historically well known Battle of Blood River on 16 December 1838.

The British saw defeats as well as triumphs in The Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. At Isandlwana they had major loss of lives, yet a few hopelessly outnumbered British soldiers celebrated a legendary defence at Rorke’s Drift. Then came the First War of Independence between the British and Boer’s in 1800 – 1881 and to follow was the Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902).

Biggarsberg lies between Ladysmith and Newcastle and is a convenient base from which to tour the Battlefields route. Biggarsberg offers good farmstyle accommodation and can be reached via the N11. The most battles took place in this valley which is formed by the lower area as the mountains themselves forms a natural barrier between Ladysmith and Dundee. Around 50 historical sites can be viewed.

Colenso was used as a base by the British army during the Anglo Boer War and was the site where the Battle of Colenso waged on 15 December 1899. This was the first of five to relieve the siege on Ladysmith. Here you will also find gun positions that was taken under the leadership of General Louis Botha. There are many monuments to the fallen, particularly the son of Field Marshall Lord Roberts, Lieutenant Freddy Roberts, who died while trying to retrieve said guns. His grave is at Chively Military Cemetery which was also the site of the Nr4 Military Hospital.

Danhauser was named after Renier Danhauser who purchased the farm Palmfontein from the Natal Government in 1872. Danhauser was proclaimed a village in 1937, formerly being a coal-mining centre. Nowadays Danhauser presents a small-town appeal and lies nestled in the valley of the Biggarsberg Mountains.

Dundee was named after a Scott who named his farm after his hometown. In 1899 this farm, Dundee Coal Company was listed on the London Stock Exchange and the area blossomed with elegant homesteads as well as a theatre. Dundee is known as the Gateway to the Battlefields. There are 68 skirmish and battle sites within a two-hour drive of Dundee.

The towns popularity was due to it’s convenient position being the crossroads for seven routes leading inland. Dundee is a prominent feature of the Battlefields route. Most of the British Contingent resided around Dundee and Ladysmith.

Some more sunset on Foy's Farm...
Some more sunset on Foy’s Farm…

On the outskirts of Dundee, is Talana hill where the first salvos of the Anglo Boer War were fired. In 1979 the Talana Museum were opened on the site of “The Battle of Tilana” to the public in memory of the Anglo Boer war. This museum offers more information on farming as well as the manufacturing times and coal and glass mining. There are 16 themed buildings as well as a cemetery featuring an honouring wall of Peace and Reconciliation. Excellent exhibits can be found as well as a curio shop and lovely restaurant.

Fugitive’s Trail is signposted from Rorke’s Drift and shows the route taken by the survivors of the Battle of Isandlwana who crossed the Buffalo River which is now named, Fugitive’s Drift. On the hillside above this drift, is the grave sites of Lieutenants Melville and Coghill who were killed while attempting to rescue the Queen’s Colours.

The Blood River Battlefield and Ncombe Zulu Cultural Museum is found just off the R22 between Dundee and Vryheid. Ndlela was the leader of around 12000 Zulu warriors who fought against 464 armed Voortrekkers. The battle raged for a long time, but the Voortrekkers won when the Zulu’s fled eventually. The laager formation of 64 bronzed full sized wagons can be viewed here.  Very impressive…


The coal mining industry, which sustained the area economically for over a century, is now being revived.

Apart from tours specializing in military and Zulu culture, adventure sports such as white water rafting and abseiling can also be done as well as hiking, horse trails, game watching, birding, hunting and fishing. For the sportsman, an 18 hole golf course, tennis, squash, bowling greens, hockey, cricket, football and rugby is available.

The weather is usually hot and sunny. From October to March is rainy season. This is a non-malaria area.

Elandslaagte can be found on the R602 between Ladysmith and Dundee. Initially seized by the Boers and then reclaimed by the British, the now obsolete Railway Station played a huge role in the Anglo Boer War. Two cemeteries records the struggle that took place here on 21 October 1899 between British Colonel Ian Hamilton and General Jan Kock who lost his life. Next to this site is the Nambiti Hills Private Game Reserve.

Estcourt named after the English parliamentarian Thomas Estcourt, is the Gateway to the central Drakensberg. This town was originally known as Bushman’s River and immigrants were sponsored by Thomas Estcourt to settle here. Zulu’s attacked laagers on 12 February 1938, but the Voortrekkers managed to fight them. On this site now can be found a restored Voortrekker house (Saailaager). Follow Alfred Street pass the quarry and over the stream. Fort Durnford is a stone structure overlooking Estcourt and worth a visit.

There are many more battles and markings of those battles around this area, but I am getting depressed by writing about this…Yesterday we visited the Tilana Museum in Dundee and although sad, well worth a visit.

Maybe a mention of a famous name, Sir Winston Churchill who was a war correspondent at the time of the Anglo Boer War. Sir Winston Churchill coerced his friend, Captain Haldane, into allowing him to tag along on an armored train monitoring the railway line between Estcourt and Colenso. They were captured by the Boers on their return. On the R103 turnoff on the old Estcourt Road a plaque can be found to commemorate this event.

Today it is hard to believe that some of South Africa’s most ferocious battles took place here on this very peaceful wide plains where now a more relaxed focus is to experience the exciting and diverse wildlife.

The battlefields route – where now only the wind can be heard bearing silent testimony to the struggles of our forefathers and no gunfire. The area is largely dominated by historical landmarks. The only evidence of ferocious battles being the crumbling remains of stone forts and grave-sites.

Picturesque and worth a mention, is Wagendrift Reserve near Estcourt. Moor Park Reserve and Wagendrift dam is also part of this 980 hectare protected area. The resort’s main activities is boating and fishing. Common species of fish caught in the dam is: bass, carp, eel and trout. This area abounds in bird life and Fish Eagle and Black Eagle have nested here for many years.

Along the Bush river is a three kilometre self guided trail for game viewing.

On Makhabeni Hill overlooking Moor Park one of the oldest Iron Age sites can be found dating to around 1300 CE.

Glencoe was also named after a valley in Argyleshire by Scottish who came to settle here in the late 1800’s. Also nestled in a valley among the Biggarsberg Mountains, it was close to numerous battle sites.

Karel Landman was a commander at the Battle of Blood River and his house (a typical example of a Voortrekker House) can be viewed as well as various Iron Age smelting sites.

Just off the R68 between Nqutu and Babanango is the site of the greatest defeat suffered by British troops at the hands of the Zulus. This battle took place on 22 January 1879 and left around 1300 Brittish troops and between 1500 and 2000 Zulus dead. The grave markings are still visible as they were buried where they fell.

Ladysmith was established in 1850 and named after Sir Harry Smith’s wife. On the banks of the Klipriver, this town is most famous for the siege between October 1899 and March 1900 during the Anglo Boer War.

Ladysmith was the stopover for fortune-seekers on their way to the goldfields of the Transvaal or Kimberley’s diamond mines.

Spearman’s Military Cemetery lies on the R600 between Ladysmith and Winterton and this is the former site of The British Field Hospital.

The Battle of Spioenkop (23 and 24 January 1900) was one of the fiercest, but achieving the least. The British occupied Spioenkop while the Boers tried to take it. This battlefield is found off the R616 between Ladysmith and Bergville.

The Ladysmith Siege Museum is considered the best Anglo Boer War museum in the country.

The Big Five can be found in the Nambhiti Private Game Reserve and comprises savannah, woodland, grassland, thornveld and Acacia Trees.

Some 35 kilometres from Ladysmith, the Spioenkop Dam Nature Reserve, all 4400 hectares is found. The tranquillity of the dam offers opportunity for yachting and water-skiing. A discovery trail provides a three or six kilometre trail free from dangerous game. There is also numerous picnic sites around the dam.

More to admire here is the Wagon Hill Battle site as well as the Burgher Monument, old forts and gun positions.

Luneberg ‘place of the moon’ was originally settled by German Lutheran missionaries in 1854 and named after their hometown. It is found close to Paulpietersburg almost on the border of Mpumalanga and it is now the site of the oldest German school in Northern Kwa-Zulu Natal and supports a quiet farming community. Two beautiful churches as well as Fort Cleary, erected in 1879 can be visited. Visitors of Luneberg can enjoy biking, hiking, birding and horse trails.

Newcastle once known as Post Halt Two served as a stopover en route from Port Natal to the Transvaal. This town offers easy access to a number of Battle sites, since it is well rooted in the battle history, but the national road no longer runs through it. Well worth the visit.

During the Anglo Boer War in 1876, Major Charles Frederick Amiel and 200 troops of 80th Staffordshire Regiment build Fort Amiel. This was used as a transit camp, commissariat dept and hospital. Rebuild in the 1980s now serves as a museum, while a Zulu hut or ‘umuzi’ with detailed interior is also open for visitors.

Beyond Newcastle lies the battle sites of Laing’s Nek, Majuba and Schuinshoogte.

Other interests includes Hilltop House, once the retreat of novelist Rider Haggard, O’Neil’s Cottage which serves as a makeshift hospital. Some more attractions features a Hindu Temple on Kirkland Street and Snowy’s home-bakery.

Rorke’s Drift was named by the owner who lived on the farm near the crossing. It is about 45 km southeast of Dundee. It lies near a natural rock formation (the ‘drift’) and provides easy passage into Zululand past Isandlwana and the Siphezi Mountains. The river enters a gorge which makes it difficult to cross until it joins the Thukela River. A well-known landmark where140 British soldiers who were occupying the Mission Station Hospital fought for 11 hours against the attack of 4000 Zulus. In the aftermath of this heroic stand, 11 Victoria Cross Medals were awarded. After the death of owner James Rorke, the farm was occupied by a Swedish Mission. Present day Rorke’s Drift Museum has achieved international acclaim for it’s displays and audio-visual recreation of the actual battle.

Utrecht where both Sir Evelyn Wood and Lord Chelmsford had their headquarters was titled after a Dutch town. In 1843, with the Brittish Annexation of Natal, nearly two-thirds of the Voortrekkers left the area. Land, just East of the Buffalo River was granted by the Zulu King Mpande in 1847 to a small group of Voortrekkers. They first named it ‘Buffalo River se Maatchapij’ and then the Old Republic, before Utrecht was adopted in 1856.

The Old Parsonage was built in 1888 for the Reverend and Mrs Neethling. Restored by the Municipality it is a National Monument and houses the Utrecht Museum.

Utrecht was incorporated into the Transvaal in 1859 and the first appointed Landdrost was Petrus Lafras Uys. A monument was erected in his honour in 1881. Uys was killed in the Battle of Hlobane in 1879 while fighting with his four sons with the British against the Zulus.

Uys House, the residence of Commandant Dirk Uys is yet another National Monument as well as the Town Hall erected in 1913.

Utrecht lies within the Balele Game Park and the Utrecht Community Game Farm and boasts a total reserve area of 2500 hectares with 11 species of game, including blesbuck, bushbuck, waterbuck, blue wildebeest and many others. Small game frequents the parks and gardens of the town.

Weenen near the banks of the Bushman’s River some    47 km east of the town Estcourt, is the second oldest (1838) settled by Europeans.

Weenen means ‘weeping’ and is named for the massacre of the Voortrekkers by Zulus at Bloukrans and Moordspruit. The ‘Cabbage Express’ railed fresh produce from Weenen to Estcourt between 1907 and 1983. Andries Pretorius’s waterwheel can be viewed at the Weenen Museum.

Both day and overnight visitors are welcome at the Weenen Nature Reserve as it offers and excellent road system and walking trails and guided tours are available. This reserve was proclaimed in 1974 and has been repopulated with both black and white rhino, giraffe, buffalo, red hartebeest, eland, zebra, klipspringer, ostrich, bushbuck, black-backed jackal, hyena and mountain reedbuck. It even has a vulture feeding site as well as caravan and camping sites.

The Thukela Biosphere Reserve integrates conservation with farming and covers the Thukela, Bushman’s and Bloukrans river valleys.

Activities includes horse trails, game viewing and bird watching, in particular the white storks.

Wildlife includes giraffe, buffalo, kudu, leopard, hyena, elephant, rhino, zebra, wildebeest and many more.

November and May provides the best opportunity for river rafting along a 30 km stretch of river.

Superblessed on our journey…so much gratitude!


Sharing my life so openly is my legacy and symbol of gratitude and love.