It’s hard not to notice that Barberton has an obsession with its rocks. Whether it is the beautifully painted boulders that adorn the two entrances to the town, or Barberton’s ‘oldest’ new tourist attraction the Geotrail, the town of Barberton seems to be doing everything it can to promote the rocks surrounding it.
The question is, why? And the answer is rather simple. They’re fascinating, they’re unique and with the right guide they can transport you back in time some 3.5 billion years. To a time when dinosaurs were not even a glimmer on the horizon and our planet was a very different place.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of the Geotrail. As these rocks only occur in two places on Earth; an inaccessible area of the Australian outback and the Geotrail where scientists and tourists alike can touch and experience them with ease.
Don’t be discouraged by its name or that it has scientists from around the world excitedly flocking to it, the Geotrail is much more than just a geologist’s playground. The beautifully designed Information Boards bring the rocks to life and guide you along the stunningly beautiful scenic route. While cleverly planned laybys and picnic areas make self-driving the trail a pleasure, but if you really want to get the most out of your trip arranging a Guided Tour is the way to go.
Geologist, passionate birder and general Genesis Route enthusiast David Mourant was my guide to the Geotrail. His interactive approach turned the rocks from simple stones into 3D storybooks, as he had me uncovering something new at every stop. Whether it was running my hands over wavy patterns in the rock that were left by ancient tidal seas over 3.22 billion years ago, or throwing water over an unremarkable looking stone to reveal tiny ash spheres that could quite possibly be evidence of the first land! Time and time again he went on to prove that every rock has a story.
The spectacular trail takes you over 1600 metres above sea level resulting in some of the most breath taking vistas imaginable and around every bend there were yet more incredible rocks with spellbinding stories. Ancient earthquakes, undersea avalanches and volcanos play out in front of you, while a pool of golden sand allows you to run your hands through the remnants of an ancient beach that last saw the light of day when this planet was first forming.
David’s passion for these rocks is infectious and it wasn’t long before I was eagerly pacing out the years between volcanic eruptions and pointing out to him the pillow lava formations in the rock. So when his voice turned serious as he said, “the next rock is the most important you will ever see”. I found myself holding my breath in anticipation as we walked to what seemed to be a rather ordinary rock. Only under closer inspection did the green bands running horizontally through the rock reveal themselves, “these green lines”, David continued with a smile of a man who knows he audience is hooked on every word he says, “are the oldest life forms visible to the naked eye, the first visible life on earth!” He gave me a moment to take in the knowledge that I was now face-to-rock with our oldest visible ancestor, before plunging into a story about one of his tour groups, where a lady was so overcome by this rock that she began writhing all over it, that had me in hysterics.
With David as your guide his motto, ‘every rock tells a story’, is certainly true and before I had noticed it half a day had flown by and the tour was regrettably over. Journeying along the Geotrail it is clear why these mountains have been put on the tentative World Heritage Status list, making it potentially only the 9th World Heritage Site in South Africa. Everything about the Geotrail is remarkable. The rocks that reveal how the earth was formed 3.5 billion years ago, the spectacular vistas along the route that allow you on a clear day to look over Mpumalanga and Swaziland and the passionate people who created the Geotrail and now guide you along it. But the real beauty of the Geotrail is that it has made these rocks and the secrets they tell accessible to anyone and everyone who wants to take a trip back in time to see how the earth was formed.
· Open 365 days a year
· Free to the public doing self-drives
· The Geotrail starts in Barberton, at the intersection between the R40 and the R38.
· There are 11 stops with information boards (including brail) along the Geotrail.
· Give yourself 5 hours to do the Geotrail justice. So pack a picnic and make use of the braai spots.
· There are no toilets along the Geotrail route.
· Guide books can be obtained from the Barberton Tourism Office, Market Squar, Crown Street, Barberton.
o +27 (0)13 712 2880
Without a shadow of a doubt the best way experience the Geotrail is with a guide.
· David Mourant
· Tony Ferrar
Cell: +27 (0)72 376 2581
Guide books are available directly from the guides.