Famous for its eponymous diamond, the historic town of Cullinan is a delight to explore. Just 30km out of Pretoria, it is easily accessible from Pretoria or Johannesburg. While it makes a great day out, there is enough to do in town to turn your visit into a weekend getaway.
A little bit of history first: Sir Thomas Cullinan wanted to buy the land and the owner refused. However he patiently waited for the owner to die, purchased the land from the late owner’s daughter in the early 1900s, and began open-pit mining thereafter. The Cullinan diamond was discovered in 1905, and became famous for being the largest diamond ever found. Two years later, the government gifted the diamond to King Edward VII of the United Kingdom. At around 621 grams, it was clearly too extravagant even for royalty, and it was subsequently cut up and still forms part of the Crown Jewels.
Here are some of the things you can do on your visit:
1. Explore a mine
There are quite a few things to do in town, but being a prominent stop on the Diamond Route, exploring the mine was our first choice. We didn’t have enough time to do the full tour, as we visited on a steam train trip with Friends of the Rail. We opted for the surface mine tour, which was educational and interesting, and required a fair bit of walking. We learnt a lot, from the history of the town to how a mine operates, about the properties of diamonds and what makes a diamond ‘valuable,’ (watch the pilot of Adam Ruins Everything to learn more about how diamonds aren’t actually inherently valuable). The mine is apparently the largest man-made, open-cast mine in the world, and while it isn’t particularly impressive to look at, when you think of the work that went into making it, it becomes all the more remarkable. The tour ends with a lucky draw and for once, we were actually lucky and won a replica of the Cullinan Diamond. Seeing the size of the actual diamond really put into perspective why it was such an extraordinary discovery.
After walking around the mine and even visiting a mock-up of the underground tunnels, the guide takes you to a room where there are replicas of world famous diamonds side-by-side for you to marvel at. He also took the time to explain what to look for when assessing a diamond and explained how they are formed.
2. Wander around town
Cullinan is a very walkable town, with unique stores to shop at and a myriad of restaurants (unfortunately nothing halaal!) to eat at. Some that we ended up in included a shop selling vintage and vintage-looking coal stoves, one with enamel dishes cast in the concrete entryway, and a gallery with really beautiful sculptures. Take your time and walk around, talk to the locals, and experience small town living. There are also some nice open spaces, so bring along a soccer ball or have a picnic, enjoy some people watching or even join a guided village tour.
3. Spot some wild life
With a few game farms in the area, Cullinan is as good a place as any to try and spot some of the wildlife that Africa is known for. Opt for a day visit or book a stay at one of the lodges in the area for a chance to get close to nature.
4. Get your adrenalin pumping
With all sorts of adventure sports on offer, Cullinan is anything but boring. Visit Cullinan Adventure Zone to book activities such as gorge sliding, abseiling, quad-biking, hiking, horse riding, zip-lining, archery, bushman fire-making. Clearly, there’s plenty to keep you occupied. If you have ten or more people in your group, they can even arrange an ‘Amazing Race’ course through the town, that will get your brains and muscles working.