Barberton is situated in the De Kaap Valley at the foot of the Mkhonjwa Mountains. Jacaranda and Flamboyant trees line the streets and transform the town into a palette of green, purple and fiery, orange-red when the trees flower. When Graham Barber discovered gold here in 1883, people flocked to the area by the thousands and a town soon developed around the activities of the gold diggers. When richer deposits of gold were found on the Witwatersrand, Barberton was abandoned and became virtually a ghost town. However, people eventually returned and the Barberton of today has retained much of its “gold rush” atmosphere on account of its many historic buildings and other relics of the past that remain. The town also evokes memories of the adventures of “Jock of the Bushveld”, the dog immortalised in Sir Percy Fitzpatrick’s book of the same name. Unfortunately, Jock’s adventures came to a rather abrupt end in Barberton, in 1889. However, Barberton’s main claim to fame is its spectacular floral kingdom and the unique Barberton daisy named after the town as well as the geological significance of the basement rocks of the Barberton Mountainland – rocks dating back some 3 400 million years.
Adventure And Sport
4×4 Routes: Several 4×4 routes traverse the countryside.
Golf: Spend a pleasant morning or afternoon on the nine-hole Barberton Golf Course.
Hiking: The three-day Gold Nugget Trail passes several disused mines with romantic names such as Maid of the Mountain, Ivy and Rosetta. The Tunnel Hiking Trail is much shorter; only about 2 km but you will need stout boots and a reliable torch. The 2-km Fortuna Mine Hiking Trail affords views of some of the oldest sedimentary rock formations in Africa.
Horse-riding: Contact one of the local operators to explore the Barberton countryside with its rich diversity of trees, plants and birds on horseback.
Micro-lighting: A Microlight Academy in town leases microlight crafts to visiting pilots. The academy also offers a course for learner pilots.
Mountain-biking: There are some excellent mountain biking routes in the vicinity of the town.
Paragliding: The Barberton area has some superb paragliding sites.
Trout-fishing: Try your hand at trout-fishing in one of the many well-stocked dams in and around Barberton.
Arts And Crafts
Crafts shops: Several shops in town sell a variety of art and crafts, many made by local people.
For example, Daisy Crafts sell a variety of interesting articles, such as charming hand-moulded animals.
Fauna And Flora
Barberton Daisy: South African gardeners know the Barberton daisy (Gerbera jamesonii) well but not all know that it was discovered by Robert Jameson in the Barberton area. This daisy is the parent plant of the many colour variants and double daisies that are so well-known all over the world. A specimen of this famous indigenous flower was first sent to England in 1884.
Cynthia Letty Nature Reserve: The reserve conserves the lovely indigenous cycads and other rare plants of the area and pays homage to one of South Africa’s most prolific botany artists.
Floral Kingdom: The Barberton Mountain area contains over 1 500 species of plants, second only in number to the Cape Fynbos Plant Kingdom. It is the natural home of the clivia and the lovely Pride-of-De Kaap (Bauhinia galpinii) with its deep salmon/orange coloured flowers. Other flowering plants that grow here include the Barberton Mountain sugar bush (Protea comptonii)that flowers between May and August in dense concentrations of yellow and white flowers and the rare Barberton Lowveld sugar bush (Protea curvata) with its deep red-pink flowers. Also endemic to the area is the Barberton cycad (Encephalartos paucidentatus).
Scenic Drive: The R40 Barberton-Bulembu-Badplaas Road is acknowledged as one of the most scenic routes in Southern Africa. It traverses the vast Barberton Mountain area with its spectacular flowers and scrubs, crosses the Saddleback Mountains with its lovely views of the De Kaap Valley far below and through the Bulembu Pass. The Msauli Valley area is exceptionally beautiful with lovely waterfalls and the Lomati and Komati Rivers meandering through the valley. The road also passes granite outcrops with boulders balanced precariously at seemingly impossible angles and through the Badplaas district to meet up with Road R38 from Badplaas to Barberton.
Songimvelo Nature Reserve: The reserve lies close to Barberton and consists of 49 000 ha of bushveld, middl floor and the grassy plains are home to herds of buffalo, zebra, blue and red wildebeest, waterbuck and blesbok, white rhino and a herd of elephants. The reserve’s geological history is its main feature and the rugged mountains along the nearby Swaziland border have rocks that are 4,5 billion years old, older than the dinosaurs! Gold is also widely distributed throughout the reserve but only in small isolated pockets. The reserve offers comfortable accommodation as well as hikes, 4×4 game drive and kilometres of undisturbed peace and quiet. It is however quite hot and adequate protection should be taken against the sun.
Tinie Louw Nature Reserve: The reserve is home to several species of local animals and birds.
Approximately 350 species of birds and 80 species of animals have been identified in the Barberton area.
History And Architecture
Anglican Church: The beautiful Anglican Church is situated in General Street. The pulpit is made out of white quartz and the font out of verdite, which is mined locally. The church is also a memorial to the Barber family to whom the town owes its existence.
Belhaven House Museum: The museum in Lee Street is a good example of the architecture of the turn of the twentieth century. The house has been fully restored and can be viewed by appointment.
Block House: The wood and iron blockhouse was erected to guard the Concentration Camp and Military Hospital during the Anglo-Boer War. It was built in 1901 and has since become a national monument.
Concentration Camp: During the Anglo-Boer war a concentration camp for women and children was erected where the golf course is today. A commemorative pillar in the Barberton Cemetery honours the many people who died here.
Fernlea House: Fernlea House was built with wood and iron in the 1890s and has been fully restored and renovated. It can only be visited by prior appointment.
Garden of Remembrance: The garden commemorates the local men who marched away and lost their lives in the two World Wars. A stone memorial dedicated to all who perished in the Lowveld area during the early frontier days can also be seen here.
Globe Tavern: This delightful house, built in 1887, is now a coffee shop and boutique.
Jock’s Memorial: A memorial honouring South Africa’s most famous dog, “Jock of the Bushveld”, stands in front of the Municipal Buildings. Many stories have been told and written about the bravery and loyalty of Jock, companion to Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, who worked as a transport rider in the area in the 1880s.
Jock’s Tree: The tree under which Jock was buried lies about 10 km from the town on the road to Kaapmuiden. The inscription made by his master is still legible.
Lewis and Marks Building: This building was the first double storey structure in the Transvaal. It was built in 1887 for entrepreneurs Sammy Marks and Isaac Lewis.
Museum: The museum in Crown Street gives an overview of the geological, mining and general history of the town.
Regimental Badges: The stone, cement and plaster regimental badges made by British soldiers doing training at a military camp near the town during the Second World War, have been preserved by the local M.O.T.H. organisation.
Rimer’s Creek: Graham Barber first found gold in 1884 at Rimer’s Creek, a few kilometres north of the town. The first gold mill, erected by J C Rimer, still stands here.
Stock Exchange: The old De Kaap Stock Exchange facade; the entrance to the first gold stock exchange in South Africa, formed in 1887, is in Pilgrim Street.
Stopforth House: This wood and iron building was erected in 1886 and belonged to Barberton’s first general dealer.
Steam locomotive: The disused steam locomotive just outside the town was used on the railway line between Barberton and Kaapmuiden around 1899.