The Day of the Dead Moon

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Thanda Private Game Reserve now offers a new package named ‘Battlefields and Bush‘ in cooperation with a place called Fugitives’ Drift. I went to have a look at this new package-partner and to take a few images which we will be able to use for our advertisement and for our social media messages. I did not have particular expectations as I knew very little of the Anglo-Zulu war  of 1879 and I did not have any great interest in the subject before my visit.

But, it was amazing!

The art of storytelling, together with this fascinating part of South Africa’s and Britain’s history, combined with the stunning scenery of the battlefields made this one of my best trips in a long time. The Fugitives’ Drift lodge is very beautifully located on a 5,000ha heritage site. It is very comfortable with excellent food and very good service. 20150706 - CS0_1336 - F

Below is a picture record of my stay. It documents me experiencing  ‘The Day of The Dead Moon‘, which is the title of the story of this war, as it has been recorded, superbly told by David Rattray.
The audio record is available online at

Upon my arrival I was greeted by a Giraffe as I entered the Fugutives’ Drift Heritage Site. The Isandlawna mountain, which plays an important role in this story, is visible in the background.20150704 - CS2_6159 - E

From a high-point on the reserve one gets an excellent view down to the Buffalo River, the border between Natal and Zululand.20150704 - CS2_6216 - E

What a sunset on my first evening!20150704 - CS2_6335 - E

Mphiwa Ntanzi was the most excellent guide and story teller for the visit to the Isandlwana Battelfield on the second day of my stay.20150705 - CS2_6451 - E

The Battle of Isandlwana was the first major confrontation in the Anglo-Zulu war. On 22 January 1879, midday – in a very hot and humid summer climate and during an eclipse of the sun (which the Zulus call ‘The Day of the Dead Moon’) – the Zulu Nation won its greatest victory in this war and the British Empire experienced its most devastating defeat. Of the  1,412 British soldiers at the start of the battle only 55 survived. A disciplined army of over 20,000 Zulu warriors was victorious. The British camp was on the left-hand slope of the mountain. The viewpoint -from which this image was taken – was the ridge, from which the main body of the Zulu army moved towards the mountain and attacked the British position.20150705 - CS2_6473 - E

Just imagine how you would feel to be one the British soldiers (who were in average around 5’2″-5’4″ tall) standing in the high grass (which at the time was up to 6′ high) listening to the war cries and shield-bashing of 20,000 Zulu warriors advancing on you. And remember it was quite dark on that day as the moon blocked out part of the sun around the time of the battle.20150706 - CS3_5851 - F 3

This picture shows some of the markers and memorials of British graves on the battlefield of Isandlawana…20150706 - CS3_5779 - E

… and this is an image of the memorial to the fallen Zulus. It represents a Zulu necklace, which is awarded to a Zulu warrior for exceptional valour in battle. It is arranged in a horn formation, which symbolizes the traditional attack structure of a Zulu army.20150705 - CS3_5718 - E

The ‘Day of the Dead Moon’ came alive when Mphiwa told us the story as we were sitting in the shade of the tree on the edge of the battlefield. It was a very moving story, masterly presented.20150705 - CS3_5625 - E

In the late afternoon (on the same day – 22 January 1879), and during the subsequent night, the British fought one of the most heroic battles in history (this story is the basis for the famous film ‘Zulu’). As we visited this site, where a mere 137 men defended the small mission station at Rorke’s Drift against thousands of Zulus, Doug Rattray was telling us the story of the second battle of this historical day. Only 16 of the British soldiers died in this fierce encounter. Victoria crosses were awarded to 12 of the British for their bravery, more than in any other battle in history. Doug’s excellent storytelling skills turned this afternoon into much more than just another visit to a historical site.20150706 - CS3_6027 - E

I also took a walk to the Buffalo River at Fugitives’ Drift, where some of the survivors from the Isandlwana disaster crossed on their flight from the pursuing Zulus at the same time as the Zulus started their assault on Rorke’s Drift. Dickon, our guide on this walk, told us the gripping story of the British soldiers who died in the attempt to save the Regimental Queens Colours. Two more Victoria crosses were awarded for bravery on this occasion.20150705 - CS2_6620 - E

It was great to hear all the stories, especially because the three guides always tried to explain the British view and the Zulu view of these tragedies.20150704 - CS2_6415 - E

As I left Fugitives’ Drift I was certain that I will be back. If you are interested in history and if you enjoy stunning scenery, then Fugitives’ Drift should be part of your agenda when visiting KwaZulu Natal.20150706 - CS2_6671 - E

All pictures: Christian Sperka Photography (C) 2015




7 Replies to “The Day of the Dead Moon”

  1. Reblogged this on Thanda Private Game Reserve and commented:
    Thanda’s Resident Wildlife Photographer, Christian Sperka, has recently visited some of the battlefields of the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879 and stayed at the Fugities’ Drift Lodge. This is an interesting ‘visual’ record of his trip!

    Thanda offers a special ‘Battlefields and Bush’ package which incorporates a safari at Thanda and a battlefields experience with a stay at Fugities’ Drift – More details at

  2. Christian, Great travel log! Wondering if you would let me use it for either the August or September issue of the Camera Club Council of TN’s newsletter “3CT in Focus”? We now have 22 member clubs across the state. You can check out our newsletters at It has won one second and two first place awards in PSA’s Newsletter contest and we are hopeing for another first this year.

    1. Hello Sue, I am glad you like the post. Feel free to use it for your newsletter. Do you need the images in a particular resolution? Please let me know if I can be of any assistance to get this into the newsletter format. Thanks and best regards – Christian

  3. Christian, Thoroughly enjoyed the narrative history and photos of Fugitives Drift and Day of the Dead Moon . It’s been years (actually decades) since I watched the film, ‘Zulu”. I am going to make a point to order Rattray’s audio record and then watch ‘Zulu’ again. Thanks for your blog. Kirk

    1. Hello Kirk – Thanks for your comments – You will see (or rather hear 🙂 ) that David’s telling of the story is superb! – All the best – Christian

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