Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains
Why not take a drive to Barberton and experience the Makhonjwa Mountains for yourself (Lowvelder Photo)

The Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains, situated a mere 300 kilometres from Piet Retief, was confirmed as South Africa’s 10th World Heritage Site, on Monday, 2 July by the Portfolio Committee on Tourism, in Parliament.

These mountains are thought to be one of the oldest sites on earth, with its volcanic rocks, estimated to be between 3,2 and 3,6 billion years old and the Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains also contains the oldest signs of life, with micro fossil of bacteria that was discovered and aged at about 3,1 billion years old. It also features meteor-impact fallback breccias, which resulted from the impact of meteorites formed just after the Great Bombardment (3,8 to 4,6 billion years ago).

According to The Citizen, “The site contains superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty, has outstanding examples that represent the major stages of earth’s history, is an outstanding example of significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of land and sea communities of plants and animals and contains the most important natural habitats for conservation of biological diversity.”

Starting at the South Africa/the Kingdom of eSwatini (Swaziland) border, this mountain range follows the international boundary south-west of Emlembe Mountain, then southwards where it crosses the Komati River. From there, it follows west of Ekulindeni Village and along the Songimvelo Nature Reserve’s southern boundary.

It crosses an eastern tributary of the Sandspruit River, near Enkhaba Village and turns north along the Songimvelo Nature Reserve’s boundary to where the main gate is situated and further west and north until it returns to the Komati River. From there, the mountains stretch westwards to include Nkomazi N.R. and farming land, just north of Badplaas and it returns eastwards to include the Queens River N.R. and the southern part of Barberton N.R. (Mountainlands).

The Barberton- Makhonjwa Geotrail from the Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains was formed to make the fascinating secrets of these mountains accessible to the public. The Geotrail forms part of the Genesis Route, which was launched to revitalise tourism in the area. It is about a 37 kilometre self-drive trail that begins in Barberton town and takes you up a steep and winding road, where it ends before the Bulembu Border Gate (Kingdom of eSwatini). Various sites have been beautifully landscaped and interpretative panels explain the views and rocks as well as the remarkable story of early earth.

Mr Athol Stark, Chairman of Highveld Tourism stated that, “tourism has got the biggest potential for employment and the creation of employment and businesses above all other industries in the area. This gives incredible recognition of everything that’s to offer in Mpumalanga.”