Melville Koppies and Johannesburg skyline

Melville Koppies Nature Reserve

Johannesburg, South Africa

Friends of Melville Koppies:              Phone: +27 11 482 4797                      Email:

Melville Koppies Central

Melville Koppies Central is the oldest part of the nature reserve. It was proclaimed in 1959. In 1963 an Iron Age smelting furnace was excavated by archaeologist Revil Mason, who as a student in the 1950s had picked up "Fauresmith" - Middle Stone Age - tools on the Koppies.

Iron Smelting Furnace

The Iron Age Furnace showing the tuyeres - clay pipes to which leather bellows were attached. It probably took two days of constant labour to reach and sustain the 1 400 degree Celsius temperature needed to smelt iron. Behind the furnace excavation to a depth of a metre revealed a Middle Stone living floor.

There are remains of many stone walled kraals on the northern slopes of the Central section, and there is a partially reconstructed kraal near the furnace.

These kraals belong to a tradition known as the "Central Cattle Pattern", and thousands of ruins like these are found on the highveld. They represent the flourishing Iron Age culture of the Bantu speaking immigrants who began entering South Africa over 1 000 years ago, displacing the older hunter gatherers - the San or Bushmen.

A Late Stone Age living floor can be seen, with the characteristic tiny flaked tools used by the hunter-gatherers of the time.

The ecology of Melville Koppies Central is determined by the climate, the geology and also the 50 years of intensive conservation effort since its proclamation.

Melville Koppies Central

Melville Koppies Central, seen from the West. Notice the barren crests and the densely forested area at bottom left. In the foreground the glossy leaves of the Stamvrug growing in the rocks of Melville Koppies West.

There are five different micro-environments.

On the northern slopes where the soil is deep there is climax grassland, mostly composed of Thatching Grass (Hyparrhenia hirta).

The rocky crests have thin soil and are exposed to the severe winter frosts. Here the grasses are more varied and include the Three-awn (Aristida) species, the beautiful Russet grass (Loudetia simplex), and in late summer the bronze sheen of Boat Grass (Monocymbium ceresiiforme). In the rocks on the crests the Wild Apricot (Ancylobotris capensis) and the Transvaal Milkplum (Englerophytum magalismontanum) - or in Afrikaans the Stamvrug - flourish in a hostile environment.


Bernice Aspoas, one of our most experienced guides, in the forest with guests.

The north-western part of the reserve is densely forested. This is partly because this part of the reserve is underlain by very ancient - more than three billion year old - greenstone, which decomposes to a rich deep soil, and partly because the reserve is protected from fires. The forest is dominated by Brack Thorn Acacia (Acacia robusta) and Blue Gwarrie (Euclea crispa).

The southern slopes are particularly exposed to frost, so there is little tree cover, except for the Protea caffra, which also likes the acidic soil in the the shale valleys.

Gabbro Instrusion

The gabbro intrusion in the spruit, seen from the bridge.

Finally, the spruit (stream) which flows along the western boundary provides a special environment of its own. Here huge White Stinkwood (Celtis africana) dominate, but there are also very large River Bushwillows (Combretum erythrophyllum), Wild Olive trees (Olea europea), and Wild Peach (Kiggelaria africana).

In the stream bed there is an outcrop of igneous rock - Gabbro - which is the remains of a two billion year old intrusion into the earth's crust.

This stream, the Westdene Spruit, is one of the many streams flowing north from the Witwatersrand watershed. Among them are the Braamfontein Spruit and the Jukskei, and they all eventually join to become tributaries of the Limpopo, so in theory at least this water is headed to Xai-Xai on the coast of Mocambique.