Uncover Barberton Part One

02 July 2015 by Katy Johnson

Barberton born and bred, owner of the iconic Barberton restaurant ‘The Cocopan’, and the town’s tourist agency ‘Barberton Odyssey’; it is fair to say Andrea Botha’s life revolves around Barberton. 

Barberton born and bred, owner of the iconic Barberton restaurant ‘The Cocopan’, and the town’s tourist agency ‘Barberton Odyssey’; it is fair to say Andrea Botha’s life revolves around Barberton.


What she doesn’t know about this historic town and the surrounding area simply isn’t worth knowing. 

Andrea’s dream is to firmly put Barberton on the tourist map. As she believes this area has something for everyone, from nursery school groups to pensioner parties. With her knowledge of the area and passion for the region there really is no one better to uncover Barberton and the Genesis Route.

What makes the Genesis Route special?

To be considered for World Heritage Status you need to tick a lot of boxes. You need to provide something special, authentic and unique. The Genesis Route does this. The geology of this area is truly unique, so are the endemic plants and animal species that can only be found here. You can have aerial, underground, and even underwater adventures here. There is an unbelievable wealth of historical and cultural heritage along the route. Add the many interesting characters that give this area a real flavour. Put all this amongst the spectacular scenery that provides a breath-taking backdrop for the whole route and the Genesis Route has it all, in one easily accessible package. 

If we had one day, where would you take me and why?

It’s hard to just have one day!

I guess it would need to start with an underground tour of one of the areas many mines. Gold is the reason Barberton was born, so it only seems right to start there. The underground tour gives you a real taste of what life in the mines would have been like, while there is nothing like a spot of gold prospecting for igniting the ‘Gold Rush Fever’. After a morning experiencing what life was like in the mines. I think we would spend the afternoon visiting the buildings that are a lasting reminder of “Boom-Town” Barberton along the Heritage Walk. Buildings like the Phoenix Hotel that was opened in 1884 and is still in operation now. The Lowveld’s 1st and 2nd stock exchanges, the 1st British blockhouse and the town’s two museums, all give you a sense of what Barberton would have been like at the turn of the 1900s. We have amazing guides who bring these building to life and give you a real sense of the town’s heritage.

Where is the best place to grab a bite to eat?

The beauty of Barberton is there isn’t “that one place to eat” and that is coming from a restaurant owner! There is Pappa’s whose stone based oven pizzas are unbeatable if great Italian comfort food is what you fancy [+27 (0)13 712 4645 | +27 (0)79 856 9988]. Then on the other end of the spectrum there is Josephine’s. A Belgian restaurant whose a la carte menu is so exquisite it draws people from miles around [www.restaurantjosephines.co.za | +27 (0)13 712 3543 |restaurantjosephines@hotmail.com]. Then of course there is the Cocopan! If you are looking for good traditional family style cooking with a friendly atmosphere we are the place to visit [barbertontours@gmail.com | +27 (0) 79 180 1488]. So just like the town all the restaurants here are all unique and wonderful in their own right.


What are the top 5 things to do or visit along the Genesis Route?

First and foremost it has to be the Geotrail. To put it simply there isn’t anywhere else in the wold where you can do this. So if you have even the slightest interest in seeing what our planet would have looked like 3.5billion years ago then here is where you must come. While you can self-drive the route, a guided tour is really the best way of bring these rocks and the stories they tell to life.

The Barberton Heritage walk would also be on my list. Again doing it with a guide is the best way of bringing the history to life. This way you get to learn about all the characters like Cockney Liz and Sir Percy Fitzpatrick the author of Jock of the Bushveld, who left their mark on this remarkable town.

The flora and fauna of the region is sometimes overlooked, which is a real shame as it is simply incredible. After the Cape Floral Region the Barberton area is the most diverse in terms of the type and number of plant species found here. There are clivias that have cross-bred without any interference by man to make a totally new species only found in this area. Then there are birding meccas like Peddlar’s Bush and Rimer’s Creek that are simply fantastic. 

A new attraction is the Barberton Township Tour. This is really breaking down barriers and changing people’s perceptions. It showcases the cultural heritage, community spirit and individualism that can be found in Barberton’s township.

Finally, it would have to be a tour of one of the area’s gold mines. The City of Grahams Town mine has wonderful tours. It shows both the historical and modern mining techniques. So you get a real feel of how far mining has come and what a truly difficult job it was during those early days.

What makes Mpumalanga stand out from all the other Provinces?

Mpumalanga is a treasure trove of tourist attractions. Some well-known like the Kruger National Park, others like the Township Tour are new and the areas scenic hikes are waiting to be discovered. You really get the complete African experience here and for the more adventurous it is the perfect platform for experiencing Mozambique and Swaziland.



Contact details for the activities and attractions Andrea mentions:

The Geotrail: Open 365 days a year, it starts in Barberton at the intersection of the R40 and R38 and goes all the way to the Swaziland border. Admission is free for those self-driving. Guide books can be obtained from Astrid Christianson at the Barberton Information Centre on Market Square, Crown Street astrid@barberton.co.za | +27 (0)13 712 2880 | +27 (0)82 959 6670].  Alternatively contact David dmourant@iafrica.com | +27 (0) 82 923 5366] or Tony Ferrar tonyferrar@alantic.net | +27 (0) 72 376 2581] for a guided tour.

Heritage Walk and Township Tour: The Heritage tour is open 365 days a week and can be done as a self-walk or guided. Simply pick up the route map at Barberton’s Tourist information office. The township tour needs to be booked in advance. For more information about the Barberton Heritage Tour and the Township Tour contact Astrid (details above) or alternatively contact Andrea at Barberton Odyssey (details above).

Birding at Peddlar’s Bush and Rimers Creek:  Open 365 days a year and free. Peddlar’s Bush is located on the dirt road leading to Shiyalongubo Dam. To get there you take the R38 out of Barberton and head towards Swaziland.  At the top of Saddleback pass you will see a sign for Shiyalongubo Dam to the left. Follow it for 10km and you have reached Peddlar’s Bush when the plantation gives way to indigenous (approximate Latitude -25.800315 & Longitude 31.141424). From here stop often, get out and spend time listening and looking out for birds. While Rimer’s Creek is a 30min walking trail situated just behind the Fernlea House Museum in town. For more information or enquires regarding joining birding expeditions contact the Barberton Birding Club using David’s contact details (above).

Underground Mining Tour & Gold Panning Tours: Open most days, costs depend on the tour and advanced booking is required as permits are needed. Both tours can be booked through Andrea at Barberton Odyssey (details above).