Just south of the town of Barberton, in the beautiful province of Mpumalanga, lie the oldest and best preserved sequence of volcanic and sedimentary rocks in the world. Known as the Genesis of Life, the Makhonjwa Mountains are on their way to becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Did you know?

The Makhonjwa Mountains are one of South Africa’s Centres of Biological Endemism.

Maybe you've heard of Maropeng, the stunning Visitor Centre at the Cradle of Humankind UNESCO World Heritage Site. And maybe you know that all humans share an African heritage.

But if you want to find out more about our planet's origins then journey to Barberton in the Mpumalanga province. Just south of this charming little town is the very Genesis of Life in the Makhonjwa Mountains.

Barberton's 3.5 billion-year-old rocks are amongst the most ancient in the world and comprise the Earth's oldest and best-preserved sequence of volcanic and sedimentary rocks.

Scientists have known about them for decades, but it's only now that they are becoming better known to the general public. If you're interested in the origins of life on our planet, then a visit to the Genesis of Life is a must.

Apart from the stunning natural beauty of the area, brimming with bird, animal and plant life, you'll see rock formations containing stromatolites and biomats. These are the first microfossil evidence of life on earth. There's also evidence of bacterial microfossils, and when you look at some of the sedimentary rocks, you'll see evidence of the oldest tidal environments on Earth.

The small but beautiful Makhonjwa mountain range also contains evidence of a massive meteorite impact − and gold, very old gold. Miners found gold here over 120 years ago and some of the oldest gold on the planet is still mined here. You can see artisans fashioning it into contemporary jewellery in a workshop next to the Barberton Museum.

Scientists call the Genesis of Life area the Barberton Greenstone or Barberton Mountain Lands, and continue their search for the origins of life on Earth. Why not come join them for a spot of pre-historic detective work?

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Barberton Tourism
Tel: +27 (0)13 712 2880

Barberton Museum
Tel: +27 (0)13 712 4208

Ntwanano Tours & Transfers
Tel: +27 (0)82 970 9188

How to get here

The Makhonjwa Mountains surround the town of Barberton, 50km south of Nelspruit on the R40 road. It is approximately a three-hour drive from Johannesburg.

Best time to visit

In spring (September to October) wild flowers carpet the mountains. Summer can get very hot, so if you feel the heat rather visit in winter or autumn (May to August).

Tours to do

Ntwanano Tours & Transfers Geological Tour of the Makhonjwa Mountains.

Get around

Guided tours are available, but hiring your own vehicle will give you the opportunity to explore the area at your own pace.

Length of stay

It depends whether you're a scientist or a tourist. A tourist could spend a day or two; a scientist a lifetime.

What to pack

Comfortable walking shoes are a must. Always bring plenty of sunscreen and a hat no matter the season.

Best buys

Handmade gold jewellery fashioned from the oldest gold in the world is sold by artisans outside the Barberton Museum.

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