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Off-road 4x4 adventures close to Vygeboom Dam

“The place where the sun rises”, the Zulu name for Mpumalanga, is one of South Africa’s most famous landmarks, and visitors from all over flock to the area to see the abundant wildlife and breathtaking landscapes. The Kruger National Park, Blyde River Canyon, Pilgrim’s Rest, Sabie and Dullstroom are the more popular places to visit, but there are many other attractions to explore.

One adventure to embark on is to explore the roads less travelled with a 4×4. There are a number of routes to follow in the vicinity of Vygeboom Dam. Most do however, need to be booked through a tour operator that has a concession to operate in the area. You can either ride in one of their vehicles or in your own.

Barberton is obviously the closest destination and you can explore the Makhonjwa Mountains and Greenstone Mountainlands or opt for Songimvelo Nature Reserve close to Elukwatini.

Makhonjwa Mountains, Barberton

Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains. Photo: Sourced

Approach Dusty Tracks in Barberton for a 4×4 excursion into the Makhonjwa Mountains. They offer scenic, historical, cultural, geological, photographic and 4×4 tours to this spectacular region. It covers a huge area up in the Makhonjwa Mountains where you can visit the original site of Eureka City (where the history of Barberton actually started), some old cemeteries and also see some wild life and the beautiful scenery of the mountain landscapes.

This historical town of Eureka City is situated 11km from Barberton and close to Sheba Mine. After the discovery of gold in 1885 by Edwin Bray, diggers and fortune hunters flocked to the area and Eureka City was established. Not much is left today of this town that mostly consisted of tents. But the Victory Hotel’s ruins is a popular stop on the route and there is some other indications of where houses, a post office and a bakery stood. In the early days of the gold rush there were three hotels, music hall, shops, chemist, bakery and racecourse on top of the mountain. It catered for about 700 gold diggers.

All the 4×4 tours are guided by professional guides that have the necessary experience and knowledge of the area. While you are in Barberton you should also go on the Geo Trail that is proclaimed as a world heritage site in 2018 where you can learn about the geology of the area. This area can be explored on a tar road.

All the tours offered are customized from a level 1 route which can accommodate a standard 4×2 high clearance vehicle with an inexperienced driver to a level 5 which are for the extreme modified 4×4 vehicle and experienced driver.

Barberton Mountainlands

You can drive through Barberton Mountainlands in your own 4×4 vehicle. The trail is rated as a 2-3 star but can heighten to a 4-5 when wet. The Makhonjwa Mountain Range is said to have the oldest rocks in the world dating to over 3.25 billion-years.

The trail starts at Greenstone Wildlife Estate, from where you travel on gravel roads through the Mountainlands Nature Reserve and 14 Streams. Yes, you have guess correctly, you will cross the stream flowing through this area 14 times  although many are dry in the winter months.

You should see an abundance of animals, breathtaking views of the valley, some waterfalls and even have the option to swim in a natural rock swimming pool.

The winding road takes you to about 1450m above sea level and you will also travel on a narrow road right on the cliff’s edge. Reaching the plateau look out for blue wildebeest, zebra, kudu and maybe even an eland. On most of the stops you will have a 360-degree view and on a clear day you will be able to spot the Bearded Man peak and see into Swaziland. This area is known as The Valley of a Thousand Hills with some peaks known as the Devil’s Knuckles.

On your way down you will stop at the Gates of Heaven where you can still see the signs of the old ox wagon road. The metal band on the wooden wheels left an imprint that is still visible today in the soft rock. The last stretch of the road takes you through The Valley of Death and the Gates of Hell. The name comes from the fact that, in the late 1800s, the only place to avoid malaria, tsetsi fly, fever, and the impassability of the lower elevations during the rainy seasons was on top of the mountains.

Your trip end as you exit Greenstone Wildlife Estate.

Songimvelo Nature Reserve

Songimvelo Game Reserve is one of South Africa’s best-kept secrets. It was established in 1987 and is not on any of the primary tourist routes. It is situated close the Barberton Mountainlands and the north-western Swaziland border.

With almost 1400 species recorded, this region boasts Mpumalanga’s highest plant diversity. Hills, valleys, ravines, and plains all come together in this varied terrain. Songimvelo is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. Mixed herds of Burchell’s Zebra, Blue Wildebeest, Red Hartebeest, Waterbuck, and Blesbok frequently congregate on the plains’ more appetizing grasses. Wildlife like as giraffes, impalas, and kudus thrive in thicker forests.

The Dunbar 4×4 trail inside Songimvelo Nature Reserve is a relatively easy road to travel on, despite seven river crossings. You will need some 4×4 experience and low range is also essential on some parts of the route.

Apart from the ancient geological wonders hidden in Makonjwa Mountain, the highest peak in the reserve, there is also a fascinating stone-walled formation dating back to 400 BC.

The drive will take you about three and a half hours and you can also have a picnic on the way as there are many areas to stop at and enjoy the scenery and obviously a cold one.

Songimvelo Nature Reserve. Photo: Sourced

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