After spending time in and around Sabie, I headed further south, passing through Kaapsche Hoop towards Barberton where I intended spending a few days. Unfortunately, Barberton seems to have no need for camping visitors as I was unable to locate a campsite in the vicinity. The single one I did try, affiliated to a nearby hotel, sent me packing without ceremony as he “gives preference to groups”. Properly put in my place for having the audacity to travel solo, I had to backtrack all the way to Nelspruit to find accommodation for the night.
This tiny hamlet was established around 1881 during the heady days of the gold rushes. Situated high on the hills between the valleys of the Elands and Crocodile River to the north and the broad Kaap valley to the south through which runs a number of rivers all making their way eastwards to the Indian ocean. At 1400m the climate here is very different from that of nearby Nelspruit down in the valley at 600m. The heat and humidity of the lowveld gives way to cool breezes and frequent mists. Tropical vegetation is replaced by higher altitude grasslands, proteas and fynbos
Originally the town was called “Duiwels Kantoor” (the Devil’s Office) due to the strange and otherworldly rock formations just outside town resembling creatures waiting for the devil.
Many of the legendary characters of the early prospecting days passed through town at one time or another and each of their stories could fill a book. Some of the more restless can still be encountered for those brave enough to venture on a ghost tour.
One of the more colourful of these was Charles Grant Murray Somerset Seymour Stuart Gunn, who gave to himself the title “Gunn of Gunn, Lord of Farquhar”. The story he told, was that at the age of sixteen he was enlisted as a member of the 13th Hussars but later, to escape being sentenced, he had to flee to South Africa after killing a man in a duel. Gunn had a silver slippery tongue and told all and sundry that he had been awarded both the Victoria Cross and the Iron Cross for bravery resulting from various military actions that he claimed to have been involved in. He also gave out that he was on first name terms with various members of the British aristocracy and he had a cultivated air of importance about him. During the Anglo/Boer/African conflicts of the time Gunn and his Gunn Highlanders, dressed in blue tunics, caps, knee-breeches and stockings, accompanied by a piper all dressed up in a kilt played a flamboyant role in several of the skirmishes.
Besides the tranquil setting and historic architecture, one of the highlights of a visit to Kaapsche Hoop are the wild horses who roam in and around the town. During the more than 100 years that they’ve roamed the area, stories about the origin of these horses have been changed and embellished until no-one really knows what is truth and what is fiction. The horses have free access to the area and are closely protected by the humans with whom they share this lovely village.
Passing through Kaapsche Hoop, a scenic gravel road leads down into the Kaap Valley. Also known in the early days as “The Valley of Death” due to the prevalence of malaria and tseste fly, these early dangers have been subdued and the valley is now very much alive with agricultural and mining activity. The town itself is rich in history and for first-time visitors it’s worth exploring for a bit. For me however, it has lost it’s small-village charm and I’d rather remember it as it was so I passed by and headed up into the surrounding mountains.
Makhonjwa Barberton Geotrail
The road rising from Barberton to the border with eSwatini at Josefsdal, is a 40-kilometre trip that must surely be ranked as one of the most scenic in the country. To make the journey even more memorable is the newly created Makhonjwa Geotrail which highlights fascinating facts and examples of the ancient geological history of the area. Leaving early enough to see the sunrise over this timeless landscape will be a trip remembered for many years. Make a day of it, pack a picnic basket and take your time. Stop at all the numerous well-marked points along this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Even if you’re not interested in the geology, the views are stunning.
Reputed to be the oldest on our planet, formed some 3.5 billion years ago and known as the Barberton Greenstone Belt, you will be driving through the best-preserved example of a 3500 million year sequence of Archaean Earth rocks –– the Barberton Supergroup.
These staggeringly ancient volcanic and sedimentary rocks are a unique record of Archaean Earth between about 3.2 and 3.57 billion years ago. The rocks are of three main groups:
- Onverwacht –– some sedimentary but mostly volcanic rocks ~14 km thick
- Fig Tree –– deep-water sedimentary rocks ~7 km thick
- Moodies –– shallow-wthese ancient mountains give an interesting view back over a period of about 150
Lakeview Lodge and Caravan Park
As I could find no camping accommodation close to Barberton, I headed back to Mbombela (Nelspruit) for an overnight stop at Lakeview Lodge & Caravan Park. This campsite is conveniently located just outside the city limits next to a lovely lake and wetland. Lakeview has all the facilities needed for an overnight stay and everything works but has a feel of neglect about it. Sad, because the setting and the perfectly levelled terraces with large, shady trees could easily be transformed with a bit of TLC. Centrally situated and conveniently close to the shops, it could be the perfect base for a visit to the Lowveld but as things are now, one night was sufficient. (Edit: It seems this campsite is no longer operating – 03/11/2020.)
Rising early the next morning, I made my way back towards Barberton, up towards Josefsdal Border-post and then south along the eSwatini Border.