Barberton, Mpumalanga, South Africa

Barberton, Mpumalanga, South Africa.

It was the reef discovered here in 1883 that started the gold rush of the 19th Century and resulted in the haphazard establishment of the rather rough frontier town of Barberton and, in some ways, not much has changed. A couple of semi-hermits still pan for gold in the nearby streams and you may well find some hopeful in the local pub telling them how, this time, he's going to strike it lucky. Barberton has always been like that. And, of course, on the heels of gold, came South Africa's first stock exchange.

The gold became uneconomical and the richer reefs near what is now Johannesburg were discovered. And, of course, the stock exchange followed pretty close on the heels of the miners. It's now a quiet town with some lovely old buildings and set in beautiful surroundings. As well as the nearby Songimvelo and Barberton Nature Reserves, the Barberton Museum is worth visiting.

Not far from the town is the site of one of South Africa's least celebrated, but most interesting, artists - the outsider artist Nukain Mabuza. This self-taught, self-inspired artist decorated the stones around his dwelling - painting the whole hillside in bright colours. Mabuza died in 1981, but the site, which has been restored by the Barberton Museum, is open to visitors.

Barberton is about 50km from Nelspruit and is reached by taking the R40 or R38 from the N4. The town is close to the Swaziland border, although on the less often used and slightly more rugged, route.