Barberton - Mpumalanga - South Africa:

Situated in a beautiful basin, the De Kaap Valley, Barbeton is surrounded by the Mokhonjwa Mountains. This historic little town forms the heart of the Wild Frontier, one of the seven flagship tourism regions in the country. At an altitude of 877m above sea level the town is a malaria free area. The Barberton Mountainlands are classified as one of the few areas in South Africa with un spoilt scenery and has had the least human intervention of anywhere in the country.

Barberton is located: (latitude 25°47'S, longitude 31°03'E)

  • 70 km from the Kruger National Park
  • 60km from the brand new Kruger International Airport
  • 45 km from Nelspruit
  • 360 km from Johannesburg International Airport
  • adjacent to the newly proclaimed Barberton Mountainlands Nature and Game Reserve
  • near the mountain kingdom of Swaziland
  • 160km from warm waters of the Mozambican coast.

Climate:
The climate is subtropical with summer rainfall of 755 mm per year. Comfortable temperatures apply year round, ranging from 32°C in January to16°C in July (Winter). The Barberton region is a malaria free zone and has a great deal to offer tourists.

Adventure Activities:
Popular activities include, hiking trails, 4x4 adventure trails into the Mountain lands, Kruger National Park, Swaziland and Mozambique as well as mountain bike, micro light flying, gold panning, horse riding and quad bike trials.

History:
Barberton was proclaimed as a town in 1884 thanks to the discovery of some of the world’s richest goldmines in the surrounding mountains and valleys and is very proud of its legendary heritage. Gold is still mined in the Barberton area today and the town can also boast the oldest gold and silver deposits in the world.

   

The first gold was discovered in Barberton on 20 June 1883 by Auguste Roberts (French Bob) and this led to the establishment of the very first South African Stock Exchange in the town center, the remains of which can be seen to this day. The well-known Sir Percy Fitzpatrick and his dog, immortalized in print as ‘Jock of the Bushveld’ had a many great adventures in this region and a statue to Jock still graces the town.

Today the town boasts all the modern infrastructure and facilities one needs; such as private and provincial hospitals, all the relevant local council collective services, police services, private and public schools, churches, filling stations, shopping centers, banks, sporting facilities, hotels, restaurants and clubs and many different forms of recreational activities ranging from angling to paragliding.

The Barberton Mountain lands are home to some of the oldest exposed rocks on the planet. Some of the earliest and most intriguing rocks have been dated to 3500 000 000 BC and these 3.5 billion year old volcanic rocks, which scientists call the Barberton Greenstone Belt, have given up direct evidence of conditions of life on the surface of the very early earth.

The first form of life on earth, a bacterial microfossil "Archaeospheroides Barbertonis" was discovered here and has been identified as being 3 200 000 000 years old!

The Steam Engine Museum in Barberton.

Natural Heritage:
The region is also one of the most bio-diverse areas of South Africa with around 1500 plant species (only second to the Cape Fynbos), 350 bird species and 80 animal species. The well-known Barberton daisy (Gerbera Jamisonii) was discovered here in 1889 by Robert Jameson. Another rare plant is Protea curvata which occurs in the mountain range south of Barberton. It is also unique to find the world’s largest aloe Aloe bainesii, which can attain a height of 30 meters, growing next to the smallest aloe, Aloe albida of only 15 cm, in the wooded ravines behind Barberton.

The Fortuna hiking trail has approximately 100 species of trees identified in a one and a half kilometre area - all marked with identifying plates! So those of you who are interested in trees here the perfect opportunity to test your knowledge. I find that name plates are an excellent way for beginners, like I was in the not so distant past, to learn the more difficult species. Some fine examples of the Red Current, Wild Mulberry, Red Ivory and the Wild Olive can be viewed on the trail. Several butterflies, plants, spiders and insects are endemic to the mountainland.

Geology:
The Earth is estimated to be about 4500 million years old. Starting off as a gasseous mass, it contained neither landmass nor life. As the Earth cooled, it started to form a thin mantle. In some places volcanic activity ruptured this mantle and pushed the mineral rich magma to the surface. These were the first rocks and first forms of landmass. The mountainland contains some of the earliest rock and life forms to appear on the planet’s surface roughly 3200 million years ago. Only rocks from Greenland are older! It still remains one of the best preserved and least altered early Archaean rock formations in the world. Barberton Greenstone Belt, provide direct evidence of conditions on the surface of the very early earth.

If we go back in the Earths history, we find a time when there were neither continents nor oceans, for the surface of the planet was too hot to maintain any life. Once this fireball cooled over time and the earth’s crust started to develop, gasses escaping from the earth’s interior eventually started to form an atmosphere. Later, when the atmosphere cooled, it started to rain, and probably did so for several centuries. This formed the first oceans. At this stage, 3500 million years ago, the atmosphere was very inhospitable for life, void of free oxygen and consisting mainly of water, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrochloric acid. It is from these oceans that the first life on planet earth came forth. This was in the form of a type of bacteria. Several years ago a bacterial microfossil Archaeospheroides barbertonensis was discovered in the Barberton area, and identified as being one of the earliest forms of life, estimated to be about 3200 million years old. These most primitive and earliest forms of life developed into blue-green algae, the fossilized remains of which are called stromatolites. It was these algae, which were the first to apply photosynthesis, converting sunlight, carbon dioxide and nutrients in the surrounding seawater into oxygen. This was of essential importance for the development of life on land for without oxygen animals and humans cannot exist.

There is clear evidence of volcanic activities such as submarine lava flows near the Komati River. These submarine lava flows formed pillow-like structures. The contemporary processes leading to these pillow structures can be studied along the so-called mid-oceanic ridgeline and now, the earths new crust is produced deep in the oceans to form the basaltic ocean floor. These basalts last only a few hundred million years, a relatively short time considering 4 500 million years of the earths’ history, and are swallowed again and recycled in the earth’s mantle along collision zones where so-called plate margins collide resulting in over or under thrusting of crustal material. There are very few places on our planet where ocean floor of that age can be studied in detail, and it is this, which makes the Barberton Mountain Land so special for geoscientists.

Many scientists agree that at the time when the early ocean floor formed, the earth was covered by one huge ocean, floored by basalts, with only a few landmasses, the proto-continents, sticking out above sea level. Moreover, some scientists believe that it is possible to see in this region the entire history of an ancient ocean floor which was slowly pushed and squeezed up to higher and higher levels as a result of granite magmas being emplaced underneath. At the same time the ocean floor was covered by progressively coarsening sediments, starting with ocean muds followed by silts and sands, which now appear as quartzites, and finally river pebbles. The latter became cemented together and formed a rock called conglomerate. Conglomerates are very common in the region and you are bound to stumble across some as you hike or drive in the mountainland. The volcanic rocks and the overlying sediments represent one of the oldest and best- preserved volcanic-sedimentary successions not only in South Africa, but also in the entire world.

Also throughout the Barberton region, some of the ancient sandstones bear testimony to the existence of tidal currents in the form of small ripples, which migrated back and forth as the tide turned and are now petrified in the rock. This provides clear evidence that the moon was already governing the tides very early on in the history of our planet. The Barberton Mountainland offers the perfect opportunity to go back to the dawn of time and to the beginning of earth history.

Nature Reserves:
Songimvelo, situated in the Barberton Mountainlands is the Mpumalanga Parks Board’s largest reserve, extending over 50 000 hectares in a little known corner of the province. The diverse landscapes of grasslands, mountains and forested ravines are home to a variety of game. The broad Komati River winds through the valley floor before flowing out of the reserve and into Swaziland on its way to the sea. More than twenty species of large herbivores have been introduced to the reserve since it was established in 1986. The grassy plains are home to herds of buffalo, zebra, blue wildebeest, red hartebeest, waterbuck and blesbok. In the more wooded areas are herds of giraffe, kudu and impala. Songimvelo also has a herd of elephant introduced from the Kruger Park and numbers of white rhino. Although there are no lions, the predators niche is filled by brown hyena, black-backed jackal and leopard. The reserve is rich in bird species and more than 300 have been recorded. The area has been inhabited for hundreds of years and archaeological sites comprised of circular walls and ruins of small houses and religious structures date back to perhaps 400 BC. The reserve offers comfortable accommodation at the Komati River Lodge and budget facilities especially suited to large groups at the Kromdraai camp. Bush-walks and game drives in 4 x 4 vehicles are available for visitors to the Komati River Lodge.

Sponsored Links:
Tourists on safari to Barberton can visit the many museums in this historic town
Barberton Swaziland Rd
The Steam Engine Museum in Barberton.
Steam Engine

Routes:
Described by the famous travel writer T.V. Bulpin as “one of the most scenic routes in Southern Africa” the R40 Barberton – Bulembu - Badplaas road is truly magnificent in it’s splendour and the views are magnificent. Apart from traversing the vast and scenic Barberton Mountainland, the traveller also journey’s back into time, as the Mountainland contains some of the best preserved and oldest rock-formations on planet earth. This is an ancient landscape dating back to at least 3700 million years. The valleys and the rocks in them are host to the first life forms to appear on the planet’s surface roughly 3400 million years ago, and can rightly be described as the “@#$%^& of life”. (Note to FRED -- I need an e-mail to confirm our agreement -- a private tour of the meaning of the "@#$%^& of life")

The fact that it is a gravel road, put many potential travellers off the experience of a lifetime. The road can easily be traversed if care is taken and you are not in a hurry. Although the round trip from Barberton to Bulembu to Badplaas is roughly 160 km’s, it can take up to 4 hrs and more to complete. More so because there are so many places to stop and view the magnificent landscape, than anything else. The road surface is in fairly good condition during the winter months but can become quite slippery when it’s raining. The preferred vehicle to travel in is a bakkie / pickup type or a similar vehicle with a good suspension. However, if care is taken and you are prepared to drive slowly (20 – 30 km/h) the road can be traversed with a normal vehicle. Extra care should be taken during the rainy season.

From Barberton you exit the town on Sheba Road and travel south on the R40 Bulembu/ Josephsdal Border road. The first 9 km’s are tarred and is very steep and leads you across the Saddle Back Mountains. There are several lay-bys, which gives you a chance to stop and view the magnificent De Kaap Valley floor and the Barberton mountainland. +\- 5 Km up, turn down the sharp turn off to your right (there is a lay-by to your left). Traverse the little cement edge and follow the road to Sunset Point. This gives you a bird’s eye view of the valley and is an ideal place to have a braai/picnic or a sundowner during sunset.

Continuing up the R40 tar you will notice scars in the mountainside left by earlier mining exploits. Where the tar ends, the traveller in search of spectacular scenery can travel onwards. The more wary can return back down the R40 to Barberton, for the short drive up will already satisfy the eye in terms of the vistas and scenery experienced.

Where the tar ends, its worth your while to turn left onto the Shiaylongubo Dam road and travel 6,8 km down to Peglars bush. This magnificent natural forest in the middle of the pine plantations is an experience not to be missed. The canopy closes over the road in several places and extends for +\- 1 km along the route. It is a short detour but worth it.

Back on the R40 south heading towards Bulembo you encounter the Town Dam situated at the Highlands Forestry offices. It supplies water via a tunnel through the Saddle Back Mountains to the town. The dam is off limit, for it is located amongst the SAPPI pine forests. About 7,5 km up from the dam, the Arial Cableway between Barberton and Bulembu crosses the road. This is an excellent place to get out and watch the cable cars traversing the mountainside. You can literally grab onto them and catch a ride (not recommended).

Carrying on from there you will start noticing mountain streams, waterfalls tree ferns and the odd eagle or two as they hunt the mountainland for prey. Most of the roadside is covered with pine plantations, but every so often it clears to give you some magnificent views over the Songimvelo game reserve to the west. You are also likely to encounter some of the local wildlife like baboon vervet monkeys and duiker. But most likely you will encounter the local cattle as the Swazi people who keep them, traverse the mountainsides looking for grazing.

Two kilometres from the Border post, you will encounter a signboard indicating so. Take the turn off to your right and start descending the Msauli valley. This is an exceptionally beautiful area with waterfalls, the Lomati River and the Komati River meandering through it. This is a piece of heaven tucked away in the little known corner of the province, against the Swaziland border. Roughly thirteen kilometres from the R40 turn off you pass through the all but deserted mining town of Msauli. It has a nine-hole golf course, school, club facilities and a trading store. It is not in operation anymore and only skeleton staff, maintain the infrastructure.

The road becomes much wider after the mine and you start entering the local communities of Ekulindeni and Ekwalatini. You also pass the entrance to the Songimvelo Game reserve and the Komati River Lodge. You are now traversing the middleveld with beautiful examples of granite outcrops and kopies. Some of these outcrops have precariously balanced boulders situated at the strangest angles, as if some greater hand had placed them there. The road eventually becomes tar again, and you just follow the road through the Badplaas district until where it meets up with the R38 Badplaas – Barberton road. Badplaas is only about two kilometres of to your left and Barberton about 67 km to your right.


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