This picturesque, historic town originally known as Bushman's River - thanks to its waterside location - was renamed to honour the North Wiltshire MP who sponsored British settlers during the 1850s. In addition to its World Heritage Site access, Estcourt lies just a short drive away from both the Weenen Game Reserve and the Thukela Biosphere the latter a joint conservation and community initiative dealing with 100 000 hectares of Valley Bushveld.
Adventure sports abound in this terrain, along with horse riding, golf, fishing, 4 X 4 trails, hiking, bird watching and wildlife drives.
Estcourt and environs witnessed a fair amount of our somewhat turbulent past, from the Zulu nation's first encounters with Boer settlers to the Anglo-Boer War. Following the execution on 6 February 1838 of Voortrekker leader Piet Retief and his followers at the hands of King Dingane, many Boer families were annihilated 10 days later at Bloukrans, near Estcourt, where a memorial now stands. The Zulu army was less successful at Saailaager, Rensburg Koppie and Veglaer battlefields all within easy reach of the town.
Regarding the Anglo-Boer War, Willow Grange in the hills south of Estcourt marks the most southern point reached by Boer fighters while north of the town lies the famous Armoured Train Cemetery, where Britain's enemy captured a young newspaperman destined to generate many headlines of his own - Winston Churchill.
Battles and sites
The following battle sites are located in the vicinity of Estcourt:
Many Voortekker families were killed here following the murder of Piet Retief by the Zulus in February 1838.
Brynbella Hill - Willow Grange:
The Boers were highly motivated after their successful ambushing of the reconnaissance/armoured Train near Frere on the 15 November. General Joubert decided to press further southwards and to occupy high ground, particularly Brynbella(now Harris) Hill, to the south of Estcourt.
The British engaged these forces on the 22 and 23 November. However they were forced back.
After this battle General Joubert was of the opinion that his force was too small to advance further into Natal. He thus decided to withdraw them behind the natural 'barricade' of the Thukela River.
This site is,some 10 km from Escourt. It is located to the left of the N3 to Johannesburg. It can be accessed by a gravel road from the R103 and a bridge which traverses the N3. The stone wall used by both the Boer and British forces during the skirmish on 23 Nov 1899 is still visible, and is a national monument.
Winston Churchill Capture Site/ The Armoured Train Incident:
After Ladysmith had been effectively besieged in early November 1899, the Boer made a decision to invade further into Natal. The British used to send out reconnaissance trains from Estcourt to monitor the movements of the Boers. On the 15 November 1899, the twenty-five year old cavalryman and newspaper correspondent, Winston Churchill joined one of these missions. This train was derailed and ambushed by Boers. Churchill was captured and taken as a prisoner of war. This site is located between the station at Frere and the Chieveley Military Cemetery on the R103, between Estcourt and Colenso.
Some 10 km from Estcourt. In 1838 Marthinus Oosthuizen saved a group of encamped Voortrekkers from Zulu attack.
This battle was fought on 12 February 1838, as one of the battles fought during the Zulu attack on the Voortrekkers following the execution of Piet Retief. The zulus were successfully repelled by Andries Pretorius and his party, who occupied the site with about forty wagons from 12 January to 25 February 1838. A restored Voortrekker house is also on the site. It is located on the farm Zaai Lager; below Fort Durnford in the Estcourt area, at a bend in the Bushman's River.
Originally known as Gatran, it was renamed Veghtlaager after withstanding an attack by Zulus in 1838. The site has been under water since the commissioning of the Wagendrift Dam.
Fort Durnford Museum:
Built in 1874 to protect the townspeople against possible Zulu attack. Houses a museum where the main exhibit is the fort itself. Features interesting defensive mechanisms. There is a reconstructed Amangwane Zulu Kraal in the grounds. Open Monday - Sunday from 09h00 - 12h00 and 13h00 - 16h00.
Monuments & Memorials
Garden of Remembrance A memorial to the 152 Imperial soldiers, that are buried in these gardens, can be found at this site. These gardens are located in Alexandra Street, near the banks of the Bushmans River.
Old Civic Buildings:
Originally built as the agricultural hall, now the home of the Bushmans River Tourism Association. It has been declared a national monument. Tel/Fax: (036)352-6253. The inauguration of these buildings was postponed for a week as Queen Victoria died on the intended day of its dedication.It is situated in Harding Street.
The settler cottage is a national monument. Currently used as a backpackers cottage and bed and breakfast by the Peach Palace. 87 Lorne Street.
OTHER CULTURAL ATTRACTIONS
Built in 1929. Estcourt became the cradle of the Augustinian Order on Natal in 1891.
The laager was formed on the farm Twyfelfontein twenty years before the Anglo-Zulu war. It was finally abandoned, as it was vulnerable to rifle fire from high ground. Twyfelfontein, Near Estcourt
The laager was proclaimed the central post of defence for the settlers in Weenen country prior to the start of the war in 1879. two kms south-east of Estcourt on the Bushman's river. Situated on a hill overlooking the town of Estcourt.036 352 6253
The country residence of the last premier of Natal, Sir Frederick R Moor. Among other things Sir Fredrick was the founder of Natal Co-operative Dairies and the Estcourt Sausage Factory. Now the Greystones Campsite offering camping and caravanning, as well as accommodation in rondavels and dormitories, for larger groups and leadership courses.
Old Magistrates Residency:
The Old Court House and Magistrates Offices in MacFarlane Street. Built in 1884/85. The Powder Magazine was built at the same time, when magistrates had sole control over the traffic in gunpowder.
Old Natal Government Railway Bridge:
Built in 1885, and still in use.
The First Government School:
Built circa 1886. Located in Alexandra Street, it is today Estcourt Secondary School.
Visitors can watch hand-crafted glass being made.Gift shop sells glass products from the factory. Groups of eight or more welcome, by prior arrangement. Quaint coffee shop on the premises. Open 08h00 - 15h00 daily, and on the first and last Saturday of every month from 08h00 - 15h00. Tel: (036) 352-3144.
Estcourt offers some fine factory shops where tourists are welcome to browse or do a factory tour. These factories produce glassware, soft toys, furniture etc. A map of the self guided tour is available from the Bushmans River Publicity Association.
Handcrafts - Wagendrifts Dam. Tel:(036)3526253
Traditional healers,indigenous medicinal plant nursery.Zulu dancing.