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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.