The Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency hopes to capitalise on this week’s naming of Mpumalanga’s Barberton Makhonjwa Mountainland or Greenstone Belt as a World Heritage Site.
The Greenstone Belt has been an attraction for geologists and students in the field from all over the world for many years.
This week the World Heritage Committee declared the Mountainland as a World Heritage Site at a meeting in Manama, Bahrain.
This is the province’s first and South Africa’s 10th World Heritage Site.
This achievement could be a game-changer for Mpumalanga’s tourism industry which, until now, offered nature reserves, cultural heritage and a bit of adventure.
The agency hopes to invite more tourists, not only geologists, to the “mystical” mountains now that they have been declared a world heritage site.
“The declaration has given the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency an opportunity to add more variety to the offerings in the province,” said the agency’s chief executive officer, Johannes Nobunga.
“As we continue to promote the destination, our marketing efforts will go a long way to create awareness in our local communities – and the world – about this unique tourism offering and what it means for the province,” Nobunga said.
He said the site would now be granted access to funds from the World Heritage Fund for use in conservation – which was likely to increase tourism in the area.
The foundation to turn the area into a tourist attraction was laid a few months ago when the tourism department spent R24.9 million to conceptualise the 37km Genesis Route that takes visitors along the Barberton Makhonjwa Geotrail to the Bulembu border post near Swaziland.
The Greenstone View site overlooks the scenic valleys and, on a clear day, one can keep see the rolling hills as they enter Swaziland and even Mozambique.
Tourists can park along the route’s 20 viewing sites and have a picnic as they enjoy the breathtaking views. Simplified scientific information will be placed on panels at the viewing sites.
Barberton’s Tourism and Biodiversity Corridor – a private tourism body – aims to collaborate with Swaziland to expand and replicate the sites across the border to maximise commercial value for tourism businesspeople.
The Makhonjwa site stretches from eManzana (formerly Badplaas) to Swaziland and the mountains are said to be the world’s oldest geological structures.
They have the best-preserved succession of volcanic and sedimentary rock dating back 3.6 billion to 3.25 billion years, when the first continents were starting to form on primitive Earth.
They also feature meteor-impact fallback breccias resulting from the meteorites formed just after the Late Heavy Bombardment (4.6 billion to 3.8 billion years ago).
Over time geologists have flocked to the area trying to put the puzzle together how planet Earth was formed.
In the Makhonjwa Mountains – and nowhere else in the world – all the rocks are found with their physical and chemical characteristics unchanged.
This is because the area has not been affected by volcanic eruptions.
The Swazi people, the original inhabitants of this area, named the mountains Makhonjwa and their folklore says anyone pointing at them is inviting bad luck.