When the Voortrekkers reached the Sabie area in 1846 they called it Grootfontijn ("Large Fountain" in Dutch), for the region boasts numerous springs, fountains, rock pools and waterfalls. Initially the Sabie River area was known as an excellent hunting area, and was used as a rest camp by game hunters and prospectors.
The founding of the modern town of Sabie can be dated to 1880, when the Glynn family came to settle here. When they built the first permanent homes, they changed the status of Grootfontein from a camping site to that of a residential area. Their son, Henry Thomas (generally fondly remembered as HT) is often considered to be the founder of the town. For many years he took a leading role in the management and improvement of the town. He also gave it its current name, derived from the name of the river. In 'The Founding and Early History of Sabie', a Mr Seryngeour comments that "...very seldom has any township owed so much to its founder".
After a picnic at the river in 1895, HT Glynn and friends decided on an impromptu target shooting match. Bullets chipped the rock and revealed indications of gold. The guests immediately became eager prospectors and Capt. J. C. Ingle, who knew something of mining, proved over the next few days the existence of a substantial gold reef. The Glynn's Lydenburg Gold Mining Co. was formed to work the discovery.
It was the discovery of a further gold bearing reef in 1909 which stimulated the growth of Sabie after the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 to 1902. H.T. Glynn's Lydenburg Mining Company managed the running of the town but long before the granting of a Health Committee (a precursor to the formal recognition of a permanent settlement), HT had already asked the mine's surveyor to survey the farm with a view to establishing a town. According to the Administrator's Proclamation No 38 on 28 September 1915, a Health Committee was established. Their first meeting was held on 24 September 1915 and on 1 January 1916, Sabie was officially declared a town.
The first chairman of the Committee was, perhaps unsurprisingly, HT. His initial problem was the absence of funds to lay out and maintain roads and to provide for the needs of the fast growing population, but the emergence of the mines began to secure the town's future.
The railway line from Nelspruit was declared open on 10 November 1913 and the first post office with telephone and telegraph facilities were granted in 1916. It had only one switchboard and trunk calls could only be made between 08h30 and 17h00 on one main line. On post days the little corrugated iron building serving as post office was crowded to capacity where news and gossip were exchanged.
By the time the mine closed in July 1950 they had recovered 1,240,846 ounces of gold worth in excess of R125 million. In the process of mining gold many indigenous forests were chopped down to meet the demand for mine props and firewood.
Joseph Shires planted the first commercial trees in 1876 and today Sabie is surrounded by the largest manmade forestry area in the world. After the depression in the 1930s, the government created forestry jobs for poor whites, and Ceylon House near the Bridal Veil Falls is the last remaining Pioneer House of the settlement.
Things to do
Sabie is an outdoor enthusiast's heaven. There is a wide range of well-marked hikes and walking trails that vary in length from comfortable ambles to the full five-night Fanie Botha Trail (50km - 60km, depending on route). You will need permits for even some of the day trails- enquire locally. The overnight trails need planning (and reserving with Komatiland- 012 481 3615/3623) in advance.
Capacity in the huts provided is limited to 30 bunk beds, and you will probably need to leave a car at each end of your point-to-point expeditions. Facilities are basic: braai areas and firewood are available, as are showers at most, but there are no pots or pans. Nor is there hot water. But the scenery is divine and time invested in planning and taking a longer hike will be repaid many times over.
The fly-fishing is excellent in this area. Quad biking, horse riding, rock climbing and abseiling are all available. A particular local special is the 4x4 eco-safari, utilising hundreds of kilometres of tracks laid out through the plantations that are not otherwise accessible to the public.
Particularly worth a trip are the largest of the beautiful water features in the vicinity, including the Lone Creek, Horseshoe, and Bridal Veil Falls, and Mac-Mac Pools. Around 13km out of town on the R532, there is a very pleasant picnic spot at the latter.
There are a large number of organised sporting events in the area, with mountain biking and marathons being particiularly frequent. The Long Tom Ultra Marathon takes place in March or April, and features in excess of 1,500 runners competing over a gruelling 56km course.
You will find the town well supplied by virtue of its high levels of tourist traffic- there are in excess of 20 places to eat out alone. There are also pleasant curio and arts and crafts outlets to provide distraction should the weather close in.