Eureka City


trails_mpumalanga_eureka_1


101 Trail Guide | 2010

Eureka City

A one-way 25 km trail, Eureka City offers an unusual blend of geological wonders, gold mines and history.
It is a journey into the past across the Barberton Greenstone Belt – ancient lands with ancient rock formations, as well as some of the richest gold mines yet discovered.
The journey is characterised by steep three-point turns and volcanic landscapes, but it’s no obstacle course – any off-road vehicle with good suspension and ground clearance will cope.
The track begins at Sheba Hill where it ascends sluggishly skyward, past the still-active Fairview Mine and through an ancient avenue of trees. Rounding a sharp bend, the gradient increases dramatically as the track goes up the face of a dormant volcano, across some 3 700-million-year-old ancient lava flows. The “road” is a snug fit for any vehicle and there is no room for error.
At the top, you are spewed out onto the plateau. The landscape changes dramatically – from the dark green forest-like sections on your ascent, to luxurious grasslands. The plateau makes for easy driving, which is just as well, as there is a lot that is of historical interest. Almost everything on the plateau atop Sheba Hill is a memorial to the discovery of gold there.
The Fairview Cemetery is a memorial to the gold mining pioneers and, bizarrely, to those who lost their lives in the sinking of the Drummond Castle, off the Brittany Coast of France, in 1896. Directly below it is the Sheba Reef, which is one of the richest gold reef deposits ever to be worked.
In 1885, prospector Edwin Bray discovered the Golden Quarry, so named because at first sight it looked as if the rock was formed entirely of gold. The discovery brought with it the inevitable rush of hopefuls. As men converged on the tiny mining camp of Barberton, so came the illnesses – tsetse fly infections and malaria. In response to the epidemics in the valley, Eureka City was born on the ridge above, halfway between Sheba and Fairview mines.
In its heyday in 1886, Eureka City boasted three shops, three hotels, a bakery, chemist, racecourse, music hall and of course bars to cater for the 700 diggers in the area.
All that remains of it now, though, are the ruins of the old Victoria Hotel and its neighbouring Sheba school.
The school ruins mark the beginning of a frighteningly steep descent – 190 m within 1½ km. Engine compression is key. Concrete covers some sections, but even so the track is unforgiving, characterised by switchbacks so sharp that a three-point turn is sometimes necessary to get around the corner.

What you need to know

Accommodation:
Overnight accommodation is only available at Oppikoppi Innikrater Lodge. Visit the website below for more information.
 

What else?
Mountain bike trails in the Mountainlands Game Reserve, quad bike tours, swimming, game viewing

Contact:
Valmari Maritz
013 712 2365,
013 712 4512 (a/h),
082 748 6703;
www.barbertontourism.com

Nearest town: Barberton (10 km)

Best time to go: Preferably out of the rainy season, which is from December to March.

Trail distance: 25 km

How long will I be driving? 5-6 hours

GPS: S25.72483 E31.07740


FULL REVIEW | JUNE – JULY 2008 | Geoff Levey

All that glimmers is gold

The Eureka City Trail, our challenge for the day, is a one-way, 25km trail that offers an unusual blend of geological wonders, gold mines and history.

The trail is a journey into the past across the Barberton Greenstone Belt − ancient lands that contain some of the best-preserved and oldest rock formations on the planet, not to mention some of the richest gold mines yet discovered.

The journey is characterised by steep three-point turns and volcanic landscapes.
Unlike The Ox-wagon Trail, it is no obstacle course − any off-road vehicle with a good suspension and ground clearance will cope.

We once again set course north from Oppikoppi on the R38. We turned east on an unmarked gravel road 1.6km later, and continued for some 6km before turning east again onto a road marked Fraser Alexandra Mine. When you reach the gates, you’ve reached the start of the trail.

The track ascends Sheba Hill almost imperceptibly, winding sluggishly skyward, past the still active Fairview Mine and through an ancient avenue of trees. Rounding a sharp bend, the gradient increases dramatically, snapping you awake.

Soon we were ascending what was once the face of an active volcano and proof of its vicious path was appearing on the road beneath my tyres.

Welcome to one of the oldest mountain ranges on planet Earth, our guide, Johan, informed us over the radio.

As we drove on, he pointed out signs of ancient lava flows 3 700 million years old. It was a stupendous reminder of our insignificance, a reality reinforced by the precariousness of the ledge we were about to “dangle” our tyres over.
The “road” is a snug fit for any vehicle and there is no room for error. It was one of the few times in my life I wished I drove a Mini, even if I was planning on driving it up a solid wall of lava.

We drove in single-file silence, hugging the mountain slopes with all our metallic might. Stealing a glimpse to the right made me dizzy − the edge of the world literally dropped from my doorstep, the landscape plunged dramatically to the valley floor below.

The longest 1.2km of white-knuckled, sweaty-palm driving later, we gratefully reached the end of the volcanic ascent and halted on the plateau.

The landscape on top alters dramatically. Not that I was studying it very carefully on our way up, but the rather large dark green forest-like flashes we passed on our perilous ascent had now given way to a luxurious coat of grasslands; a well-earned respite.

Heart rate restored, we continued. The plateau makes for easy driving, which is just as well; there is so much of historical interest on this fascinating stretch of land that there is no time to concentrate on driver technicalities anyway.

We passed the Fairview Cemetery, a memorial to the original gold mining pioneers and, rather bizarrely, to those who had lost their lives in the sinking of the Drummond Castle, off the Brittany Coast of France, in 1896.

Almost everything on the plateau atop Sheba Hill is a memorial to the discovery of gold there. Directly below us lay the Sheba Reef, one of the richest gold reef deposits ever to be worked.

In 1885, a prospector and miner extraordinaire, Edwin Bray, went searching for the source of gold being panned in the streams below. He discovered the Golden Quarry, so named because at first sight it looked as if the rock was formed entirely of gold. With such a rich discovery of gold came the inevitable rush of new hopefuls.

As men converged on the tiny mining camp of Barberton, so came the inevitable fevers − tsetse fly infections and malaria ra
n rampant.

In response to the epidemic in the valley, Eureka City was born on the ridge above, halfway between the Sheba and Fairview mines

Eureka City was for a brief moment the vibrant social centre. At its peak by 1886, it boasted three shops, three hotels, a bakery, chemist, racecourse, music hall and of course bars to cater for the 700 diggers in the area.

All that remains of the city are the ruins of the old Victoria Hotel and its neighbouring Sheba school.

The school ruins mark the end of the plateau, and the beginning of our frighteningly steep and sharp descent.

Engine compression be praised − we descended 190m within 1.5km.
Concrete covers sections for obvious safety reasons, but there were still no reassuring road rails in sight.

The track is ridiculously unforgiving, characterised by a series of switchbacks so sharp that a three-point turn is sometimes necessary to get around the corner − and that at 1 005 m above sea level.

The recurring prayer at this point was, please don’t let me meet an oncoming vehicle. There are very few places to pass, and I simply could not see myself reversing all the way up again.

Before returning to camp, our final stop was the Edwin Bray tunnel and a look into the workings of the Golden Quarry, which is still in production.

The quarry, which is part of the Sheba mine system, is one of the oldest and richest operational gold mines in the world. Fashioned entirely by hand, this vast cavernous mine is considered by many to be one of the mining wonders of the world.

After all that driving, I was happy to check in at the Oppikoppi Innikrater Lodge, rather than to have to pitch a tent and sweat over dinner.

Drive Out says: OppiKoppi InniKrater offers a unique blend of culture, history and natural heritage entwined with a challenging and scenically rewarding off-road experience. Well worth a visit. See also full review for Old OxWagon Trail


WHY SHOULD I GO?
The trails provide fascinating insights into the history of gold mining in Southern Africa and gunrunning in the Anglo-Boer War. It’s a thrill ride of adrenaline and legend.

EN ROUTE
How long are the trails? 25 km
How long will I be driving? 5-6 hours
Maximum number of vehicles: 8 to 10 is best
Do I get a map?
No, but it’s guided, so maps are unnecessary.
Will my car get scratched? It shouldn’t
Should I remove the running boards? Yes, they may get damaged.
Should I take a compressor? No
Can I turn around halfway? No, it’s a one-way route.
Can we have a braai en route?
No, but you can picnic and there is a lapa facility at the end of the Eureka Trail.

THE SURROUNDS

Best time to go? Preferably out of the rainy season from December to March.
Can I take my family along? Definitely!
Just for the day or the weekend?
Day visits are welcome by arrangement. A weekend is recommended.
Are there ablution facilities for day visitors? At Oppikoppi only
Can I see game? No
The nearest town? Barberton (10 km)
How do I get there?

CONTACT
Reservations office  Valmari Maritz
Tel 013 712 2365, 013 712 4512 (a/h)
Cell 082 748 6703
Website  www.barbertontourism.com


 

What you should know

Contact:

Valmari Maritz

Telephone:

013 712 2365, 013 712 4512 (a/h)

Cell phone:

082 748 6703

Best time to go:

Preferably out of the rainy season, which is from December to March.

Route distance:

25 km (5-6 hours)

Maximum vehicles:

8 to 10 is best

Accommodation:

Overnight accommodation is only available at Oppikoppi Innikrater Lodge. Visit the website for more information.

What else?

Mountain bike trails in the Mountainlands Game Reserve, quad bike tours, swimming, game viewing