Barberton: Adventure fever in gold-rush country

Posted on Posted in Mpumalanga, South Africa, Ultimate South African Road Trip

Barberton in the Kruger Lowveld region of Mpumalanga isn’t a place that we were too familiar with before this trip. The only time we had ever heard about it before was on the daily weather forecast. Apart from its tendency to be partly cloudy with the occasional afternoon thundershower, we really didn’t know what to expect when we arrived. This trip has changed all of that.


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Historical Setting

Like many other towns in the Kruger Lowveld, Barberton owes its existence to the gold rush era of the 1880s. Its gold deposits are so rich that even today gold is being mined from its hills or panned from the rivers. The town’s history is full of stories from this colourful early period – the days of Eureka City, Cockney Liz, square-faced gin, and fortunes made and lost.

For a small town, Barberton really has a lot to do! Pieter and Wynand from Dusty Tracks were our guides for this area and they had our days filled with back-t0-back adventures.

Just some of the beautiful natural scenery around Barberton
Just some of the beautiful natural scenery around Barberton

Barberton’s own Panorama Route

While Barberton is not as well-known for its scenery as the nearby towns of Sabie and Graskop, that most certainly does not mean that there is nothing worth travelling for. This region has its own unique charm and beauty that is hard to beat. The town itself is situated in a valley surrounded by mountains. The road from Barberton towards Swaziland has breathtaking views into endless valleys below, and there are plenty of viewpoints from which to enjoy the sights.

Breathtaking views all around Barberton
Breathtaking views all around Barberton

The Barberton Makhonjwa Geotrail

This road is also part of the 38km long Barberton Makhonjwa Geotrail. The Barberton area is home to some of the most significant rock formations on the planet and these well-preserved geo-sites have been collated into a trail that showcases some incredible specimens. Some of the highlights include viewing an inland beach that is over 1400m above sea level, examining evidence of a meteor impact and getting to see the world’s oldest rock. This rock is only accessible in two other places in the world – deep under ice in Greenland or hundreds of kilometres in the middle of nowhere in Australia. Little wonder then that people choose rather to visit Barberton!

On the Geotrail in Barberton
On the Geotrail in Barberton

Gold Fever!

Then there is the gold. First off Pieter and Wynand took us to see Golden Quarry. This was (and I believe still is) the richest gold mine in the world. The saying goes that unlike other mines where you take the gold out of the rock, at Golden Quarry they had to take the rock out of the gold!

The mine itself is an incredible feat when you consider its extent and the fact that it was dug by hand. I guess the gold was a pretty good motivation for such intense physical labour!

Exploring Golden Quarry in Barberton
Exploring Golden Quarry in Barberton

We got a chance to look for gold ourselves. Alluvial gold gets washed off the hills and collects in riverbeds. We donned our gumboots and diggers gear to pan for gold in and along one of the streams around town.

Gold fever is a real thing! Not even an afternoon cloudburst could send us back indoors. As well as the gold in the rivers, the town is so full of stories of hidden and lost stores of gold that it’s enough to make all but the strongest of minds want to seek your fortune in Barberton.

A 4×4 adventure

The real highlight of our time in Barberton was the chance to get out on a 4×4 trail through the Makhonjwa Mountains. This is Pieter and Wynand’s speciality. Thomas took his place in a convoy of 4×4 vehicles and we set out on a day’s outing that involved river crossings, steep rocky inclines and absolutely spectacular views.

Thomas in the convoy of 4x4s in the Makhonjwa Mountains
Thomas in the convoy of 4x4s in the Makhonjwa Mountains

Although there were some technical sections on our route, the point of the trail was to experience the scenery of the area. We took time out to explore a nearby waterfall, visited an(other!) gold mine shaft and took in the views from the top of the Makhonjwa mountain range.

We picnicked among the ruins of Eureka City. This gold mining settlement was the scene of some Wild West-styled antics which caused the early residents of nearby Barberton much consternation. Especially when a police force sent to Eureka City to restore law and order got absorbed into the goings-on and a second force had to be sent in to try to retrieve them!

On top of the Makhonjwa Mountains with Dusty Tracks
On top of the Makhonjwa Mountains with Dusty Tracks

Final thoughts on Barberton

We loved Barberton for its surrounding beauty and its feeling of being an old established town. We were tickled by a bit of gold fever ourselves, and thrilled by the large number of ghost stories we encountered – as would befit a town of its age and racy past.

We’d like to thank Pieter and Wynand from Dusty Tracks, as well as their families for looking after us so well while we were in Barberton. We’d also like to thank Fountain Baths Guest Cottages and La Fortuna Guest House for a lovely stay.

2 thoughts on “Barberton: Adventure fever in gold-rush country

  1. Nice. Never been there and the history fascinates me.
    Whats this with no blades available? Don’t really have to look like a miner even if you are in Barberton? (Not you J but Big B).

    Vehicle going ok then?

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