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A GoogleEarth image showing the Barberton Greenstone Belt and the Barberton Makhonjwa geotrail route; relief exaggerated.

The Barberton Makhonjwa Geotrail was initiated some 10 years ago as a way to protect and promote the Barberton Greenstone Belt (Barberton Mountainlands), a unique geological phenomenon with associated biodiversity, not a few species of which are endemics. The geotrail, along the route from Barberton to Bulembu in Swaziland, was developed to raise awareness of the mountainland and to encourage tourism and local economic development. Such is its importance that the Barberton Greenstone Belt has been tentatively listed as a World Heritage Site.

Geological map of the Barberton Greenstone Belt

The project has been driven by the Barberton Tourism and Biodiversity Corridor (BATOBIC) committee, (led from 2010 to 2013 by Godfrey Mogoane and currently led by Acting Programme Manager Mark Ngwenyama) an off-shoot of the Barberton Chamber of Business, with input over many years from independent ecological and tourism consultant Tony Ferrar. Funding was provided by the South African National Department of Tourism and the Barberton Chamber of Business.

Early days building the gateway to the trail

The geosite lay-bys along the trail are located at significant geological sites that record in their rocks the history of the early Earth — ~350 million year profile of the Archaean eon which extended from 3 billion to 4 billion years ago. The lay-bys were designed by Johan Louw and Johalize Koch of V&L landscape architects and built over a two-year period by Marina Construction under the direction of Kobus Visser.

Makhonjwa Lebombo view on a clear day. The Lebombo Mountains that form the South Africa–– Swaziland (now Eswatini) border are just visible 100 km to the east.

Early planning phase at Makhonjwa Lebombo view/picnic/geosite

Keeper, the overseer — a regular visitor

Groundwork at Tidal Sands geosite

Heavy earth-moving equipment landscaping the Tsunami Conglomerates geosite (Kobus Visser and his team of Marina Construction)

Development of the Makhonjwa Lebombo site begins in winter, mid-2013.

An important element of the development was finding and re-locating rock specimens. The pièce de résistance was a 22 tonne sandstone boulder in which are embedded extensive layers of microbial mats more than 3.2 billion years old; amongst the earliest life forms.

The biomat boulder at the discovery site prior to transport in late 2012.

On the way to the flatbed transporter.

The biomat boulder loaded onto the flatbed for transport to its new position.

Settling into the new and very accessible position

The panels were developed and designed by us; Karl and Lesley Lane of Hamilton-Fynch interpretation consultants. The initial framework for content was provided by local geologists Dave Mourant and Chris Rippon of the Barberton Branch of the Geological Society of South Africa. Extensive research developed this content into what we hope is a hierarchical and accessible interpretation of the main themes. Our aim has been to create visually arresting panels that present essential content in a few words and the bulk of information in 200 words or less. The readability has been pitched at Grade 7 but given the sesquipedalian (joke!) nature of geology this has sometimes been a challenge.

Prof. Christoph Heubeck discussing panel content at the Banded Iron

Once content and foundation design had been created, the panels were intensively reviewed by Prof. Christoph Heubeck of the Freie Universität Berlin, a geologist with more than 30 years of experience studying the geology of the Barberton Greenstone Belt. His specialist input has been invaluable.

A few of the geopanels now mounted at sites along the geotrail

Although we have some concerns with the printing quality of several panels, on the whole we are very pleased with the result and will correct the print issues in time. The trail also has a lucid and comprehensive guidebook, written by Tony Ferrar and Christoph Heubeck; design by Les Lane at Hamilton-Fynch.

The book front and back covers, authors’ biography and the Dycedale Syncline spread from the book.

The trail falls within the Barberton Centre of endemism and is home to a great variety of species, some rare, some restricted and many quite common in the mountain habitat.

A patch of indigenous forest, typically found in kloofs on south- and east-facing slopes, at the Volcanic Lapilli picnic and braai (barbecue) site close to the Swaziland border gate at Bulembu — ~37 km from Barberton.

Above three pics, from the top: Guttural toad, a variety of lichens and an orchid (not identified).

Recently in February and March 2014, the final touches were made. These included mounting panels and collecting rock specimens for the large Makhonjwa Lebombo site at which there is an overview of the trail and its significant rocks.

Panels in the process of mounting and a completed mount

Hunting for specimens for the Makhonjwa-Lebombo picnic site display.

Sandstone with cross-bedding showing the to-and-fro movement of

ancient ocean tides.

A nice conglomerate showing the river-rounded pebbles carried 3 billion years ago from a now vanished mountain range which once lay a

few hundred kilometres to the north.

Makhonjwa Lebombo — almost complete with most of the rock specimens in place.

Black Chert/Volcanic Lapilli picnic site at the southern end of the trail.

So … off you go and enjoy the Barberton Makhonjwa Geotrail

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