The discovery of gold in Johannesburg in the 1880’s propelled South Africa into a mining industry leader.
But gold would not be the only pivotal discovery for South Africa. Diamonds – the most sought after of gemstones, were also dug here in abundance.
I made my way to the small town of Cullinan, a mining settlement built at the height of the diamond rush.
I met Peterson who takes me on a biking tour of this charming town, which has kept most of its early 1900s mining village character.
With the jacaranda trees in full bloom, and the miners’ stone houses still standing, Oak Avenue seemed like it was suspended in time.
It was great to see its old buildings and streets beautifully preserved.
One of the town’s earliest buildings is the Cullinan Premier Hotel, standing here since 1905.
The hotel was built for businessmen and important guests visiting the mine
Peterson shows me down the hotel’s old wine cellar. There, he casually mentions another interesting fact about the hotel.
“This is one of the haunted hotels in the world. There is one ghost here of a young boy that was the son of the hotel manager, he was 11 years old…”
He continues to tell me of other ghosts that haunt the place.
“I think we better get the wine and just drink outside,” I said.
Thankfully, the ghost tour was over.
Back on our bikes, we continued our exploration, reaching the mine pit. Peterson gave me a glimpse of the workings of the Cullinan mine.
In the early 1900s, it was discovered that the area sat on a large kimberlite pipe, a type of diamond-containing igneous rock.
I behold the towering mineshaft, which allowed the movement of people and equipment above and below the ground.
The mine makes use of the block caving method, where a large portion of rock is undercut forming an artificial cavern. The cavern is filled with debris as the rock collapses.
Behind the scenes is a powerful system of hoists and pulleys that allow the safe and efficient transport underground.
The diamonds beneath this pit were formed billions of years ago, and volcanic activity caused them to come closer to the surface.
In 1905 they discovered the biggest diamond in the world at more than 3,000 karats. The Cullinan Diamond, weighing 1.33 pounds, broke historic records.
Today, Cullinan continues to be one of South Africa’s largest diamond producers.
Peterson and I continued on our bike trail around the town for our last stop.
“They built the railway station in 1906, and started to use it in 1907. They used a steam train from Pretoria to Cullinan. It was both for passenger and cargoes,” Peterson tells me.
The old railway was instrumental in the development of the town’s economy. Today, it has been transformed into a leisure spot filled with curio shops and restaurants.
“Riding on a bike is the way to see the whole town and get the entire history of the entire town,” Peterson says. I was happy to clock in my exercise for the day.
It was great to spend time in Cullinan, a town that is all about preserving the past, yet looking ahead to a bright, sparkling future.