Newcastle, on the doorstep of the Northern Drakensberg

Introduction to Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Newcastle is a fascinating gateway to an important portion of the Northern Drakensberg. The peaks are not as high here as in the Central and Royal Natal sections, some 2000 metres. However, the landscape is magnificent, and the range of activities is extensive.

Newcastle Town Hall

Early inhabitants

The earliest inhabitants of the area surrounding Newcastle were the San and iron age Nguni, such as the amaZizi and AmaHlubi. King Shaka is rumoured to have visited the mountain on the outskirts of Newcastle and named it Majuba, or the place of doves.

Newcastle was initially a stop for wagons going north and was known as Post Halt II. Slowly but surely, a settlement began to develop at this ‘wagon stop’. In 1854, Dr Sutherland surveyed, drew up a township plan and registered it as ‘Newcastle’.


Fort Amiel was established in 1876 due to the potential threat of the Zulu Kingdom, and this period followed the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 and the First Boer War of 1880. Three of the most significant battles of the First Boer War were fought close to Newcastle, namely, Laing’s Nek, Schuinshoogte and Majuba.

The increase in traffic to the gold fields of the Transvaal and the demand for improved transport soon brought a railway to Newcastle on the 15th of May 1890. A town hall commemorating the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria was completed in July 1899. The Second Boer War followed this. Newcastle was largely evacuated as a result. The Boers occupied the town and renamed it Viljoensdorp.

World War 1 and Beyond

Newcastle continued to develop, and after the First World War, developers began to consider this town as an important industrial hub seriously. In 1918, Mr JK Eaton decided to build Steel Works, and the Newcastle Iron and Steel Works Ltd was established. Between 1920 and 1926, the first blast furnace to be erected in South Africa was completed, and the project was acquired by Union Steel Corporation (SA). By 1937, African Metals had purchased the Newcastle Works; by 1945, a second blast furnace was operating. Some 150 000 tons per annum of various pig iron grades were being produced. Durban Falkirk Iron Co. Ltd. was in production by 1948.

The 1950s and 1960s saw slow and steady growth. A third, Iscor Works, was then established. Later, Karbochem established a plant in Newcastle. Newcastle is now KwaZulu-Natal’s third most significant urban area and continues to grow due to new investment from funders from areas such as the Far East.

Newcastle Attractions

Some Newcastle attractions

  • Chelmsford Nature Reserve – one of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s reserves. Famous for its herds of the rare Oribi antelope;
  • Vulintaba – renowned Northern Drakensberg Resort;
  • Various battlefield sites such as Laing’s Nek, Schuinshoogte and Majuba and Botha’s Pass;
  • Fort Amiel – has a wide range of exhibits on the history and heritage of Newcastle. In addition, it has a magnificent view of the Northern Drakensberg;
  • The Newcastle Town Hall and monuments;
  • Carnegie Art Gallery – houses an extensive collection of African art;
  • Albert Luthuli Museum at Blaawbosh Intermediary School. Albert Luthuli was a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and the Eight President of the ANC. He was a principal at this famous school; and
  • Haggard’s Hilldrop B&B was the home of the famous author H. Rider Haggard.

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