The world-class geology of the White Mfolozi River section

Building a geo-tourism and geo-education partnership between SA Earth Science departments and African Habitat Conservancy

Grant Bybee (Wits) & Trishya Owen-Smith (UJ)

4.56 billion years of Earth

Matatane preserves a snapshot of the Earth in its infancy ~ 3 billion years ago

Unique geology of the White Mfolozi River section AND How South African Earth science departments use the Matatane area

The importance of preserving access to the White Mfolozi River section

  • Unique geo-tourism opportunity alongside wildlife tourism
  • Develop high school education program, along with local community introduction to geology
  • Social development as curators of spectacular geology for southern Africa – possibility of UNESCO GeoPark
  • Host overseas scientists and visiting students, along with SA university mapping trips


  • The geological history in and around BGR reaches back to 3 billion years ago preserving a snapshot of conditions on Earth in its infancy.
  • The river section looping around the Matatane peninsula provides a huge diversity of rock types and there is a particularly well-preserved rock sequence.
  • In addition to the rock types preserved, there is evidence of different types of earth processes preserved in the rock record that we can compare to processes seen on earth today – examples include lithified mud cracks (indicates water and drying conditions), ripples in ancient sediments since lithified (indicates water flow conditions), preserved examples lava extruded underwater (pillow basalts), etc.
  • As the river section is so well preserved, there is the possibility of developing it into a UNESCO GeoPark, which will encourage visitation from international universities as well as SA universities to study the geology in-depth.
  • The geological history is complex, offering geoscience students a diverse range of different geological topics to see in person and learn about practically, rather than theory only lectures.
  • One particular rock type called a stromatolite is alternating layers of algae and sediment and one of the oldest well-preserved records of early life on earth.