Barberton’s Makhonjwa Mountains

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The Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains have joined the likes of Robben Island to become the 10th World Heritage Site (WHS) in South Africa. The area adheres to the strict criteria set out by the 42nd United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (Unesco).

The accolade places the Makhonjwa Mountains, also known as the Barberton Greenstone Belt, firmly on the map as a tourism destination. and is the culmination of almost 10 years of hard work.

Louis Loock. regional manager of Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency, says the nomination is great news for the area. “The WHS will contribute to the socioeconomic growth and development of the area through job creation in both the private as well as the public sectors.”

Barberton

Photo: Delia Oosthuizen

The area is not only known for its exceptional beauty, it is also geologically important. The Makhonjwa Mountains on the border of eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) contain some of the oldest. best­preserved and most diverse volcanic and sedimentary rocks on our planet.

Researchers have compiled a list of approximately 380 locations that offer insight into what the planet was like three and a half billion years ago. The sites are best experienced on the 37km Barberton Geotrail (featured in Safari News Winter 2018) where information boards advise visitors about what once lay in front of them. and what they can see today. In total. 13 developed sites can be seen on the route. “The sites are frequently visited by tau rists. schools and universities.” says Loock.

The area covers just over 113 000 hectares: 68% is protected in nature reserves. 17% comprises timber plantations, and the remaining 15% consists of livestock grazing and untransformed pastureland.

Loock says as a formal World Heritage Site, the universal value must be maintained. “No mining is permitted within a WHS.” He says they are exploring the possibility of expanding into eSwatini as the unique geology of the area does not end at the international boundary. Plans are underway to implement a management programme for the region. which includes the development of a visitor centre. invasive alien plant removal. site maintenance. and tourism opportunities. –

Written by René de Klerk

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