Ever since the first South African diamond was found by a schoolboy in 1867 along the Orange River bank near Kimberley, these brilliant gems have held a strange allure. Taking a tour of a local diamond mine is one way of exploring the mystique around them.
Not only are diamonds the most fascinating and beautiful of gems, they are also the hardest substance on Earth, making them doubly valuable. Around 20% of mined diamonds are used to create jewellery; the remainder are used in industrial applications such as drill bits and cutting tools.
Tshwane’s Cullinan Diamond Mine comprises a carrot-shaped volcanic pipe – the oldest in the world. In 1905, the Cullinan Diamond, a giant gem of 3 106 carats, was unearthed 9m below the surface. The massive diamond was presented to King Edward VII of Great Britain on his 66th birthday.
You may take a tour above ground – to see the workings of the mine – or below ground to see the extraction processes.
In the only tour of its kind worldwide, Cullinan Tourism and History conducts visits deep beneath the Earth to view the underground operations of the Cullinan Diamond Mine.
“It’s a truly memorable experience to see the kimberlite [diamond-bearing rock] with its priceless cargo of diamonds being mined,” says tour guide Edward Morrison.
The tour takes around four-and-a-half hours. Before departure, everyone has to don a full protective overall at the on-site changing rooms. A safe is available for locking up valuables such as wallets and cellphones. There is also a training session before the tour on how to use the self-rescue pack, a mandatory wearable along with a battery pack to power your cap-mounted light.
From the change room, the tour moves to the mine lamp room, before heading down to the bottom of the mine in a “man riding cage”. Cameras are permitted.
Tours take place on Mondays and Fridays at 10.30am; Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 9.30am; Saturdays at 8am; and on Sundays by special request.
Premier Diamond Tours (PDT) was established when diamond giant De Beers and the Premier Diamond Mine merged. Thereafter, the mine became known as Cullinan Diamond Mine.
Although PDT offers surface tours for individuals throughout the day, group tours take place twice daily, from Monday to Friday at 10.30am and 2pm, and on Saturdays and Sundays at 10.30am and noon.
The tour includes an introductory DVD viewing providing insight into underground operations, and a visit to the diamond display room to see replicas of famous diamonds found at the Cullinan Diamond Mine and elsewhere in the world.
There’s also a recreated life-sized underground tunnel, where a guide takes you through the process followed when tunnels are built underground. Then it’s off to the shafts to see how kimberlite is raised to the surface.
Did you know Cullinan also has a big hole? This is the actual site of a volcanic eruption that took place 1.2-billion years ago. This big hole is four times bigger and twice as deep as the more famous Big Hole in Kimberley. There’s a lookout point from where the Cullinan big hole can be seen.
Your final stop is the diamond-cutting and jewellery shop where diamonds may be purchased. One visitor out of every group of more than 10 wins a replica of the Cullinan Diamond.
To book a tour, visit the website, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +27 (0)12 734 0081 or +27 (0)83 261 3550. There are special rates for groups of learners and pensioners. Children under 10 are not permitted on the tours.
The mine’s address is 1 Bank Street, Cullinan.
To get to the tour office from the N1 highway, take the N4 highway towards eMalahleni (Witbank) for 30km, then turn left towards Cullinan. Follow the Cullinan signs for 16km. Turn left at the Shell garage, then right at the Wimpy in Oak Avenue. Cross over the stop street, and over the railway line. About 200m on, turn left at Bank Street and follow the gravel road for about 50m to Premier Diamond Tours.