Zulu ladies in colourful headdress. Picture Myrtle Ryan
Zulu ladies in colourful headdress. Picture Myrtle Ryan
The Bhambatha ambush rock on the road to Tugela Ferry. Picture Myrtle Ryan
The Bhambatha ambush rock on the road to Tugela Ferry. Picture Myrtle Ryan

As the price of petrol escalates, siphoning off hard-earned cash like a thirsty camel taking its fill, some families might find they can only afford a day’s outing, rather than an overnight stop.

It is surprising what you can cram into a day, and perhaps learn a thing or two in the process. A recent foray into the countryside proved an ideal example of how you can have fun without breaking the bank.

Leaving Durban early in the morning, I headed via Stanger to Greytown. One of the interesting spots to visit en route is the Hermannsburg Mission Station.

One of the school’s more famous pupils was Louis Botha, who attended there for a short while, until the family left the district when he was about 12.

History has it that his mother could not make it back in time to the family farm, Onrust, outside of Greytown because the Heine Spruit was in flood. As a consequence, in 1862, the later statesman was born on the farm Honeyfontein on the road towards Pietermaritzburg. The spot where he entered the world is said to be marked by a cairn – but I ran out of time and couldn’t visit it.

A short synopsis of his chequered life shows that Botha was part of a group of Boers that in 1884 supported Dinizulu against Zibhebhu kaMaphitha (when the two vied for the royal succession to Cetshwayo).

He represented the district of Vryheid as a member of Parliament of Transvaal in 1897; he initially fought under Lucas Meyer in the Anglo Boer War, then commanded with great skill at the battles of Colenso and Spioenkop. When PJ Joubert died, Botha became the commander-in-chief of the Transvaal Boers.

A mark of the man was that after the battle at the Tugela, he granted a 24-hour armistice to General Buller to enable him to bury his dead.

Botha was also one of those who led a guerrilla campaign against the British, along with Christiaan de Wet and Koos de la Rey.

When he met Winston Churchill at a private lunch – while trying to arrange loans to assist in the reconstruction of this country after the war – the British statesman recognised him as the man who had captured him at the time of the famous ambush of the British armoured train on which he was travelling in November 1899.

Botha went on to become the first prime minister of the Union of SA and in 1919 he attended the peace conference in Versailles.

Outside Greytown, off the D479, you can also visit the graves of Sarie Marais and Aya Jana.

Jana was orphaned when the Voortrekkers and Matabeles under Mzilikazi did battle.

She was taken in by the Voortrekkers and was with them when the Zulus attacked the Voortrekkers at Bloukrans, near Weenen.

While seriously wounded, she escaped with her life by feigning death while being prodded with assegais.

She was nursed back to health and adopted by an aunt and uncle of Sarie, raised as one of their children, and went on to live to the ripe old age of 93. Honour was bestowed on her during the historic festival of the Voortrekker Vow in December 1912. At that time she planted a tree to commemorate the event and took her place on a bench with the VIPs.

The song Sarie Marais is based on the American My Darling Ellie Rhee and gets its name from Sarie Mare (note spelling) who married at 17 and died two days after having given birth to her 11th child at 35. There is some debate about whether she is the Sarie Mare, but Greytown is claiming her among its famous people.

Turning away towards Tugela Ferry takes the visitor into the heart of Zululand. Along this road is Bambatha’s ambush rock – with a figure made out of stones. This gives those interested in history a chance to read more about the Bambatha Rebellion.

On the road between Tugela Ferry and Pomeroy, a turn-off to Msinga Top – 24km to the end of the tar – takes you back in time. Here round Zulu huts still wear a metal cone on top of the thatch roof. At one point there is a phenomenal view of the Buffalo River snaking its way through the valley far below. As much of the land around here is bare and red, the scenery is particularly striking. Children rushed up to peer at me; others were walking steadily on the long trek uphill as I took the easy way, with wheels to propel me.

Just as I was lamenting the fact I had not seen even one woman wearing the traditional Zulu headdress there, to prove me wrong, in Tugela Ferry, sat a group of older women with magnificent head attire. Skidding to a halt, I rushed across to admire them, and though we could only exchange a few word – my Zulu is infinitely limited – it was a good encounter.

Finally leaving Greytown, the traveller can take the back roads via the pretty countryside around York. Shalom Ministries (think Faith Like Potatoes and the Mighty Men conferences) are located not far from Greytown.

The Blinkwater area offers some wonderful hiking, if you do happen to be able to overnight. The lovely Umvoti Vlei, with its prolific birdlife is also in this area. If you are running out of time, head straight for Pietermaritzburg and the highway back to Durban.

Visitors have a multitude of options to choose from on such a day outing. It all depends on your interests. - Sunday Tribune