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Melville Koppies Nature Reserve and Heritage Site

Johannesburg, Gauteng

Melville Koppies is a Nature Reserve and a Johannesburg City Heritage Site.  It is the last conserved remnant of Johannesburg’s ridges as they were before the discovery of gold in 1886. Its geology goes back three billion years. Stone tools show that Early Stone Age man camped here as long as 500 000 years ago. There is a Late Stone Age living floor. Within the last 1 000 years Iron Age immigrants arrived, and remains of their kraal walls can be found on the northern slopes. In 1963 an iron-smelting furnace was excavated and can be seen today.  The vegetation of the Koppies is entirely indigenous and is a remarkable example of the richness of highveld grasses, flowers, and trees so close to a city centre. These ridges have looked like this for hundreds of years.

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.

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 the 10 years of intensive conservation effort since its proclamation.  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.

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.  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 is 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.

Things you need to know

Melville Koppies CENTRAL is always locked and has CONTROLLED ACCESS ONLY for people on hikes or walks on Sundays between 8am and 11:30am. No dogs allowed.

  • Sunday morning options – 8am to 11.30am every Sunday – (Except Christmas and New Year)
  • A 5km scenic hiking trail at your own pace. Maps provided.
  • A self-guided Heritage Trail with information about the nature and history. Maps and notes provided.
  • Just explore… maps of trails provided.
  • Join a 90-minute guided tour starting at 8.30am sharp from the reception hut in Judith Road. Please book for these.



Park opposite the Koppies’ entrance at Marks Park Sports Club in Judith Road, Emmarentia.


8am to 11.30am every Sunday only.

Please book for big groups and guided tours on Sundays and midweek tours.


  • R110.00 – Adults
  • R60.0000 – U/18 – School kids
  • R120.00 – Booked guided tour

Booked midweek guided tours/hikes
  • R120.00 – Adults (Min of 10 people)
  • R60.00– U/18 – School kids (Min of 20 people)

Admin Fee:

  • R55.00 once off per reservation
Melville Koppies Nature Reserve and Heritage Site

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