Melville Koppies Nature Reserve and Joburg Heritage site – a green destination for green families
“How come this beautiful nature reserve survives in the middle of Joburg?” This question is frequently asked by visitors to the Koppies. Melville Koppies exists because of the foresight of early ‘greenies’ from The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), bird clubs and tree enthusiasts. With the help of town councillor Sporie van Rensburg, the City of Joburg declared Melville Koppies a nature reserve in 1959. The late Sporie was thenceforth known as ‘The Father of Melville Koppies’.
Green enthusiasts have ever since then strived to keep the Koppies natural and unspoilt. Therefore the Koppies has no electricity, no enclosed formal buildings, no shops or restaurants, no concrete pathways, no braai or picnic facilities. Concessions to modern humans are flush toilets with septic tanks; a rudimentary open air lecture hut furnished with recycled plastic benches; and artfully designed natural paths that meander along contours, through grasslands, forested areas, rocky ridges and the clean Westdene Spruit.
Traces of human occupation are minimal. Australopithecines once loped the Koppies, leaving a few much sought-after early stone axes for paleoanthropologists to enthuse over. Bushmen, late Stone Age hunter-gatherers, left a few small arrow heads. Iron Age people left remains of stone walling. In the 1880s modern man, i.e. the Geldenhuys brothers, thought there was gold in the Koppies and made some exploratory blast-holes. Fortunately, there was no payable gold so the Koppies did not become a mine dump. However, the real human archaeological treasure on Melville Koppies is the 500 year-old Iron Age furnace excavated in 1963 by Prof. Revil Mason from Wits. Because of this cultural treasure, Melville Koppies was declared a heritage site as well as a nature reserve.
The three billion year-old quartzite rocks which make up the Witwatersrand koppie ridges are exceptionally hard, weathering slowly into poor, acidic soils. The vegetation that flourishes on these rocky ridges has adapted to the tough conditions of heat and cold, drought and deluges. On Sunday guided tours, volunteer guides introduce visitors to the unique Highveld indigenous vegetation on these ridges and in the valleys. There are nine different biomes (areas that share similar plants) in Melville Koppies Central. Tours include information about the geology, archaeology, flora (over 500 different species of plants) and fauna (over 200 birds). It is amazing just how rich a resource we have in the middle of Joburg!
Visiting the Koppies
Melville Koppies Central (50ha)
This protected section has controlled access only for scheduled events as per calendar and booked groups. Children on tours and hikes should be over six. People may not walk here alone. No dogs.
- Two three-hour Sunday guided tours every month – 3 to 4km with lots of information stops.
- Two three-hour Sunday morning hikes covering all three sections of Melville Koppies (East West and Central) every month – 8 to 10km of steady walking with one midway stop for a snack. A reasonable level of fitness is needed as paths are rocky and quite steep in parts.
- Calendar/map on mk.org.za has details of the tours and hikes. The donations required are used for maintenance of the Koppies by the volunteer committee.
- Schools: guided walk-about tours catering to teachers’ requirements are available for school groups from pre-primary to matric. The ‘outdoor classroom’ is an incredible learning and enrichment environment for life and social sciences. Such tours need to be booked.
- Universities frequently use the Koppies for field work, research and environmental education. Lecturers also use the Koppies for art and architectural projects.
Melville Koppies East (10ha)
This smallish section is open daily from dawn to dusk for walkers and socialised dogs. Entrance is free. There are no facilities here. Little children enjoy exploring the well-maintained paths with their parents. On weekends family groups are often seen perched on rocks enjoying the view. Parking is available in Melville in Kloof Road off 7th Avenue and opposite the Puma Garage in Rustenburg Road. It is advisable to leave all valuables at home.
Visit the Melville Koppies for more information!
Find out more about the special guardian of this amazing place, Wendy Carstens!