48 Hours On The Wild Frontier | Inspire
48 Hours On The Wild Frontier
Places to Go
Places to Go

48 Hours On The Wild Frontier

Four hours east of Johannesburg, just before the Swazi border, the town of Barberton offers a perfect blend of history and natural beauty.

The Wild Frontier – the northeastern corner of Mpumalanga – doesn't make the usual lists of South Africa's must-visit regions. But this sparsely populated area abounds with fascinating historical sites, scenic roads with ancient mountain vistas, and easy escape routes to Swaziland, Mozambique and Kruger National Park.

Barberton – where gold was discovered in the early 1880s, before the founding of Johannesburg – is a great stopover if you're travelling from Jo'burg to the Mozambican capital of Maputo. Although the larger town of Nelspruit is only 27 km away, Barberton is a quirkier alternative. Many 19th-century buildings still stand in Barberton, and the town offers an easy-to-follow, self-guided heritage walk.

Barberton is also just a quick hop from the Swaziland border post at Josefsdal, leading to the tiny town of Bulembu on the Swazi side of the border. The paved R40 climbs straight up into the hills east of Barberton and has frequent stop-off points with beautiful views of the Makhonjwa Mountains, one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world. The road into Bulembu is primarily a logging road, and while very beautiful it's best negotiated with an SUV.


Luxury accommodation is hard to come by on the Wild Frontier. Adventurous travellers will enjoy Bushwacked, a quaint self-catering house just outside Barberton with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.

Dawsons Game and Trout Lodge in the Wild Frontier town of Badplaas offers luxurious rooms on a large game farm, with endless green fields for walking and innovative cuisine.


Barberton's heritage walk requires at least a half-day to properly experience, and is marked with easy-to-follow signs. Highlights include Belhaven House, completely prefabricated in Victorian England and erected in Barberton in 1904 – the only house in South Africa with decorated pressed-steel ceilings and walls in every single room.

Fernlea House, built in the 1890s, has also been converted into a museum and boasts an open gold mine shaft on the hillside behind it. Nearby Stopforth House was occupied by the same family for 100 consecutive years, and is still furnished much the same as it was when the house was first built. All of these houses are open daily and offer guided tours.

Songimvelo Game Reserve is the largest provincial game reserve in South Africa and a highly underrated spot for nature lovers. The reserve houses elephant, white rhino, leopard, hyena and a plethora of birds and buck, and the striking geological formations in the park are millions of years old. Accommodation in the park is available in rustic self-catering cabins and a campsite.


Josephine's Belgian Restaurant is the most popular eatery in Barberton, offering authentic Belgian cuisine and a wide selection of Belgian beers.

Jock's Tavern, named for South Africa's most famous dog, Jock of the Bushveld (who once resided in Barberton), is a tiny, ancient bar where the locals go for a beer.

The green-and-white Art Deco appearance of the bar matches the historic Phoenix Hotel next door, and the courtyard between the two buildings is a nice place to relax with a plate of fish and chips. 

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