Welcome to Week 44 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit Cullinan, a historic diamond-mining town northeast of Pretoria.
Cullinan is a classic day trip destination. It’s a quaint little town about an hour-and-a-half from Joburg (significantly less from Pretoria) with just about enough to see and do in a day — maybe two days for hardcore history buffs. Marie-Lais and I were there from about 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and experienced quite a lot.
Diamonds are Cullinan’s claim to fame: Sir Thomas Cullinan discovered diamonds there in 1898 and later founded the Premier Diamond Mine. In 1905, Frederick George Stanley Wells found the 3100-carat Cullinan Diamond, the largest diamond in the world. The Cullinan Diamond went on to become part of the British Crown Jewels.
I’m not particularly interested in diamonds, nor is Marie-Lais. So we didn’t do the diamond mine tour, which I think is the main thing most tourists go to Cullinan for. I was, however, interested to learn that the diamond mines in Cullinan are still active and all the land in the town is still owned by Premier, the mining company Cullinan founded 120 years ago.
What We Did in Cullinan
Here’s a brief rundown of the nine things we did during our brief visit to Cullinan. Most of them were pretty weird but pretty awesome. To see where things are located, refer to this handy map.
1) McHardy House
The McHardy House is the oldest house in Cullinan, built for mine manager William McHardy and his family in 1903. Two of the daughters in the family, Evalina and May, lived together in the house until they died within 10 days of each other in 1984.
There are daily tours of the house but we just walked around the outside and explored the garden.
The McHardy House and a beautiful (but sadly non-functioning) fountain, built by Italian prisoners of war during WWII.
2) The Cullinan History Room
This is a funny little museum behind a diamond mine tour office, filled with interesting junk relating to Cullinan and diamonds. I especially enjoyed flipping through the 100-year-old mining log book.
Funny pictures of British crown jewel stuff in the Cullinan History Room.
3) JanHarmsgat se Agterplaas
JanHarmsgat se Agterplaas is the craziest wedding venue I’ve ever seen. I know it seems weird to visit a wedding venue when you’re not going to a wedding. But trust me on this. It’s more like a quirky art gallery.
Tin cup bunting at JanHarmsgat.
4) Rust in White
Rust in White is a delightful antique shop next to JanHarmsgat. (Both businesses are under the same ownership.) Rust in White has an incredible selection of tin dishes and crockery, beautiful homemade lace, and a bathroom-sink-water-feature where amorous frogs get it on among floating wildflowers.
5) As Greek As It Gets
As Greek As It Gets, true to its name, is considered by many to be one of the best Greek restaurants in South Africa. After my lunch there I see no reason to dispute these claims.
Calamari, fried haloumi, and spanakopita from As Greek As It Gets.
6) St. George’s Anglican Church
I love looking at quaint old churches and this one fits the bill. It was designed by Sir Herbert Baker, South Africa’s renowned early 20th-century architect, in 1908.
Such a cute little church. It has a pot-bellied look to it. I wish we could have gone inside.
7) Cullinan Recreation Centre
This massive building, which was used for various sports and recreational activities, has been standing since 1912. The front rooms of the centre are now an antique shop and the room off to the side is a rather seedy bar. We had to walk through the bar to get to the main hall of the recreation centre, where the walls are painted with massive murals depicting scenes from South African history.
The murals were also painted by Italian POWs — those Italian prisoners certainly were busy.
Weird but strangely beautiful murals (reportedly copied from 3D postcards) in a poorly lit recreation hall next to a bar. Because Cullinan.
My photos don’t do these murals any justice and for that matter, neither do my words.
8) Railway Station Bars
We drove a few hundred meters to the Cullinan Railway Station and discovered a couple of restaurant/bars next to the tracks. We didn’t eat or drink anything but I imagine the vibe would be nice on weekend afternoons.
A funny cat next to a funny statue, next to a funny bar by the railroad tracks.
Inside the funny bar, which I imagine is more fun when there are customers in it.
9) The Big Hole (sort of)
Driving back from the railway station, we saw a sign for a big hole overlook. We got excited: Even though we weren’t keen on the diamond mine tour, it would be fun to see a big diamond mine hole. We drove to the overlook and it was indeed very cool.
Me pointing at what we thought was the Big Hole.
A few days later, when Marie-Lais was writing her own story about Cullinan, she realized this big hole actually isn’t the main mining hole in Cullinan. There is a much deeper hole somewhere else. Oh well.
So there are my nine things. If we’d done the diamond mine tour then there would have been ten. Has anyone out there done it? Let me know how it is.
Read all of my #Gauteng52 posts and check out the interactive #Gauteng52 map.
Very interesting post. Makes me want to take this day trip.
I knew you’d like this one.
South Africa is endlessly amazing!
Hahaha, I’m glad you agree.
I’ve done the surface tour and it’s actually surprisingly interesting, you learn about the mining process and all the checks and balances to ensure worker safety and prevent theft. Most diamonds mined are industrial grade and are used for all sorts of non-jewellery purposes. Cullinan is also famous for rare blue diamonds. There is also a longer tour that involves going underground. Neither tour is suitable for young kids, there are age limits. You might need to plan a return visit?
Yes, it sounds like I really do need to!
There were some talented Italian POWs, I guess.
Yes. And I guess they were also bored.
Ha Ha I was in Cullinan on Wednesday. Met 2 friends for lunch. Give Harries Pancakes a miss if you ever go there again, very expensive and nothing to write home about. I know people rave about them but cannot understand why. If you go back to Cullinan check out the Golf Club. Sit on the veranda and take in the amazing view especially now with the Jacarandas in full bloom. Don’t expect 5 star meals but it is tasty and cheap. Also there is a newish place called Le Pate A Choux Bistro and Confectioners which also has quite nice food and they also sell home made chocolate. Very expensive home made chocolate
The Zonderwater Italian Military Cemetery is also worth a visit. A small museum there.
I live in Bronkhorstspruit so Cullinan is a good place for us to meet Pretoria and Johannesburg friends for lunch.
Ooh, thanks for the recommendations. More things to visit next time.
A beautiful peaceful town indeed. With its rich history, Cullinan has own little treasures for one to explore. I agree with you the food at Greek as it gets is good and their service is excellent. Lemon tree also serves good. Most of their restaurants are freshly made.
On the other side of the Cullinan sration is Cullinan Junction shops. Big antique shop. Gemstones exct