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BBarberton is a geological mecca, attracting international geologists and biologists to probe the earth’s beginnings and some of its earliest life forms. It also has a colourful gold-rush history, creative young artisans fashioning jewellery from the oldest gold in the world, and plenty of exhilarating outdoor activities.
Many visitors to Mpumalanga province never heard of Barberton’s Makhonjwa mountains, but international scientists have been studying them for decades.
It is here, in the beautifully preserved ancient rocks, that some of earth’s earliest life forms can be found fossilised. Find out more about the geology and biology of the region, as well as the history of the local gold rush, at the attractive Barberton Museum.
The town was named after the Barber family, who found gold here in the 1880s, and while the gold rush lasted it was home to many colourful characters, such as the infamous Cockney Liz, barmaid and prostitute, who walked the streets where South Africa’s first gold stock exchange was established.
See the original 19th-century kerbstones and the statue of South Africa’s beloved canine literary hero, Jock of the Bushveld, in front of the stately Town Hall. Take one of the hiking trails that follow the footsteps of those early miners, or amble round the town’s fascinating Heritage Walk.
Barberton’s gold mines still exist, and you can watch creative young artisans fashioning jewellery from the oldest gold in the world next to the Barberton Museum. A far cry from the rowdy, noisy, gold-rush part of town is the Belhaven House Museum, where local Edwardian gentry lived at the turn of the 20th Century.
After you’ve steeped yourself in history, take to the great outdoors and try your hand at paragliding off Lone Tree hill, horse riding, archery or quad biking. For more gentle pursuits, take tea at the Victorian Tea Garden in the Market Square, or visit the cemetery to see graves dating back to Barberton’s gold-rush days.
You’ll find Barberton a great tourist destination, rich in history, with gorgeous scenery, rock art, archaeological ruins, early wagon trails, gold diggings and lots of outdoor pursuits.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Tel: +27 (0)82 959 6670
Tel: +27 (0)13 712 4208
How to get here
Barberton is 50km south of Mbombela (formerly Nelspruit) on the R40. It is approximately 3 hours’ drive from Johannesburg.
Best time to visit
Any time of year, although summer (November to March) can be exceptionally hot.
Tours to do
The Barberton Heritage Walk.
The town is small, so on foot is best unless you go into the mountains, in which case a hired car is the best bet.
Length of stay
Two to 3 days, if you want to fully explore the area.
If you’re flush, then an original jewellery item fashioned from the oldest gold in the world could be a potential heirloom.