BARBERTON, 36km south of Nelspruit, began its urban existence after gold was discovered in 1883. An influx of shopkeepers, hoteliers, barmen, prostitutes, even ministers of religion, soon joined the diggers in the growing frontier town, which consisted of tents, tin, thatch and mud, with nearly every second building functioning as a boozing joint. During the fabulous boom of the 1880s the mines slipped out of the grasp of the small-time prospectors and came under the control of the large corporations that still own them today. There are seven working mines around Barberton, each with its own entertainment venue for miners only, which means you won’t find miners packing out public bars as in the wild days of old.
This is the best place in the country to take an underground gold-mining tour, in a working mine, or learn to do gold panning. This attraction aside, Barberton also has a colonial backwater charm, reasonably priced accommodation, a handful of historical sights, tropical vegetation and an attractive setting in a basin surrounded by mountains.