The Fugitives' Trail, Isandlwana to the Buffalo River

  • Isandlwana From behind the saddle - © William Mackesy
  • The Fugitives" Drift - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy

Key information: The Fugitives' Trail, Isandlwana to the Buffalo River

  • A remarkable walk from the great rock of Isandlwana to the Fugitives' Drift on the Buffalo River.
    • Survey the scene of a famous victory of a courageous, disciplined Zulu army over a large British column. Follow the route of the few who escaped the carnage, through an area that is pregnant with history.
      • Walk through beautiful scenery, made poignant by the whitewashed rocks that mark the graves of those who died that day.

Walkopedia rating

(Top 100)
  • Walkopedia rating88
  • Beauty28
  • Natural interest13
  • Human interest15
  • Charisma32
  • Negative points0
  • Total rating88

Vital Statistics

  • Length: 8km, 3 hours
  • Maximum Altitude: Not High
  • Level of Difficulty: Moderate
The Fugitives' Drift - © William Mackesy


Walk from the great rock of Isandlwana, scene of a stunning British defeat at the hands of a huge Zulu army, along the route of the fugitives from the massacre back to the Natal border at the Buffalo River.

From the poignant plain under the rock, strewn with whitewashed cairns that mark where the combatants fell, the trail winds through peaceful grassland, down a long slope dotted with cairns where the fugitives were picked off. Occasional larger clusters indicate where exhausted or trapped groups stood and fought.

The scenery is fine, the whole area pregnant with history. After crossing a beautiful stream, then scrambling up a rough hillside and winding across a broken hilltop, the trail comes suddenly to a cliff top above the drift (ford) where the desperate fugitives tried to swim the Buffalo in full spate. Many drowned or were picked off on its banks.

On the Natal bank, wind your way thorough browsing game in a little reserve to the Fugitives Drift Lodge.

of this walk

Zululand, 22 January, 1879. A column of an invading British army has been surprised by some 25,000 Zulus and its defences are disintegrating into a desperate rout. In imperial Britain's worst disaster on African soil, more than 1,300 soldiers and camp followers are to die around the base of the great sphinx-like rock of Isandlwana.

The overstretched defensive lines in front of the rock have cracked under the weight of the onslaught and are driven back, in surrounded groups, to their camp under the rock.

Colonel Durnford's Natal Native Horse, on the right, have fallen.....


Other accounts: share your experiences

Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.


See also expedition planning, including our universal expedition checklist. Walkopedia encourages responsible travel.

Guidebooks/maps/background reading

Suggest books and maps




Other books

The Washing of the Spears – Donald. R. Morris. Superb, faultless account of the Zulu Wars, including the Battle of Isandlwana.



Stanfords:  An excellent (and user-friendly) online specialist source of worldwide maps (it is also good for guidebooks).


Best times to walk/weather

Best times to walk

You can go any time, but spring and autumn are best.



Varies with the seasons. Very hot in summer, can be cold and dank in winter.


For detailed weather information, have a look at: or


Getting there/transport/permits/fees

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You need to drive, or be on an organized expedition, to get to the trail. 



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See the descriptions above. The trail is fairly clearly marked. Beware of trying to cross the Buffalo River without good local knowledge.


Possible problems, health, other warnings

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  • Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
  • Dangerous animals including snakes; stinging insects and plants. Take all appropriate precautions.

See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.


Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.


Make sure you have appropriate insurance.


Guided or independent?

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The trail can be walked independently, although you will learn much more if you have a knowledgeable guide.


While this walk can be done independently, many people form or join organised/supported expeditions. Given the remoteness of the country and difficulty of getting supplies, many will prefer to do it this way, and travelling here with a knowledgeable guide has real advantages. Do not try to cross the Buffalo River without good local knowledge. Expedition organisers include:



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The obvious place to stay is the Fugitives’ Drift Lodge, whose existence has resulted from these events. They can organise guides and transport.

Also see Rorke's Drift Hotel, who you can contact at


Other information and tips

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Useful websites and information

There are various websites with information relating to this walk. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.

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Other things to do in the area

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Other walks

The Drakensbergs are a walking "must". 

Other activities

See the Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift battlefields.

© William Mackesy

share your experiences

Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

© William Mackesy...

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