Words and photography Keri Harvey
“Come on big girl, don’t go now,” says Daniel Shai in a peculiar lilting, high pitched tone. “You have visitors, pretty girl. Come closer so they can see you.” For a split second the massive, lumbering white rhino—one of nine on Premier Game Park—stops in her tracks and looks directly at Daniel. Then she changes course and walks slowly towards him, as if she clearly understands his request.
You could say Daniel is a rhino whisperer. He has a way with rhino that completely defies explanation, yet the white rhino on Premier Game Park, near Cullinan, pay attention when Daniel speaks. Why, he doesn’t know either. But Daniel’s talent is well known on the reserve which also supports herds of sable, kudu, nyala, waterbuck, red hartebeest, tsessebe, eland, zebra, giraffe, blue wildebeest, impala, warthogs and jackals.
If it’s wildlife you are after, the Dinokeng area—which covers over 280 000 hectares between the N1 and N4 highways, with Rust de Winter Nature Reserve and Onverwacht forming the north and east boundaries—has rich and diverse offerings. Meaning the ‘place of many rivers’, Dinokeng is touted as ‘the place to see Africa in a day’. There are museums and places of historical interest, festivals and vibrant culture, restaurants and shebeens, and the option to hike or enjoy water sports. Birding and game viewing are also popular attractions of the area, which plans soon to host the Big Five. Already you can ride an elephant or walk with lions, if you so choose. Far more quirky though is to find the Little Five: antlion, buffalo weaver, elephant shrew, leopard tortoises and rhino beetle.
Still, diamonds are the real roots of Cullinan, and the gemstones found here are particularly rare. The Cullinan diamond pipe is the oldest in the world, yielding truly ancient gemstones over 1,2 billion years old. Not only are these diamonds supremely precious, but they are also extremely large. In 1905, the world’s biggest diamond was found at Cullinan. From just nine metres below the surface, the ‘Cullinan’ at 3 106 carats remains the biggest diamond ever found. Generously, the diamond was given to King Edward VII for his 66th birthday—mailed to him as normal package post. Add to this that the world’s biggest cut diamond—Golden Jubilee at 545 carats—was also discovered at Cullinan in 1986, and it’s clear that the area is quite special.
Cullinan’s famous carrot-shaped diamond pipe is on land once owned by Willem Prinsloo, who ironically discouraged diamond prospectors from any exploration. Mining started only in 1904, after a Johannesburg building contractor, Thomas Cullinan, bought the farm for £52 000 and registered the Premier Diamond Mining Company. Today, Cullinan’s open cast mine is the fourth biggest ‘big hole’ in the world, and is three times the size of Kimberley’s Big Hole. Surface, underground and motorised tours of the working Premier Diamond Mine—about the size of 40 soccer fields—are conducted daily.
Cullinan and its surrounds are still precious on many fronts. Diamonds aside, the area has both spectacular and quirky offerings for visitors, with 125 attractions in the Dinokeng area, ranging from mild to wild. Actually, Dinokeng—with Cullinan at the heart of it—is an initiative of Gauteng Provincial Government to establish a premier tourism destination close to Johannesburg. Through tourism, the project aims to promote economic growth, job creation and social upliftment by developing and conserving the cultural, historical and natural heritage of the area.
Traversed by the Elands and Pienaar rivers, Dinokeng also has two dams—Roodeplaat and Rust de Winter. The dams are surrounded by nature reserves and are popular for power-boating, waterskiing, canoeing and fishing. Roodeplaat also has an Olympic rowing course, and seeing the pencil-like boats moving across the water at sunrise is an unusual sight in Africa.
Less unusual is the teeming wildlife that lives across several conservancies in the area, as well as the provincial nature reserves of Rust de Winter, Leeuwfontein and Roodeplaat. They are all being restocked with indigenous wildlife that will live in harmony with abundant birdlife. The bushveld and grassland habitats plus an abundance of water makes birding particularly rewarding here.
Dinokeng is also steeped in history—from Anglo-Boer War block houses to an Italian prisoner of war camp and a military cemetery from World War II. Murals painted by Italian prisoners of war can still be seen on the walls at the Cullinan Recreation Centre. If you drive along Koppie Drive, you can admire World War II military insignia set in stone against the slopes of the hillside.
Various cultural villages in the area give a taste of traditional Ndebele, Pedi, Tsonga and Tswana culture, and township life can be experienced first hand at communities at Onverwacht, Hammanskraal and Refilwe. There’s also the Sammy Marks Museum to see and the Willem Prinsloo Agricultural Museum in Oak Avenue, Cullinan, which also distils it own mampoer, plus guided tours of the McHardy House Museum—the oldest building in Cullinan.
If you want to be out and about, you could play nine holes of golf, fly a microlight, visit a winery or go for a hot-air balloon ride for the ‘big picture’ of the area. There are horseback game trails on private nature reserves, mountain bike trails, quad bike trails, archery, abseiling and paintball to enjoy. Plenty of pampering spa options and a sweat lodge are available too, with sangomas and natural healers to consult within the Dinokeng area.
The town of Cullinan is quaint and quirky and entices visitors to relax, wine, dine, shop and catch the nostalgic tram around town. Tree-lined and with perfectly Victorian, broekie-laced buildings lining Oak Avenue, Cullinan has plenty to keep the family captivated for the weekend. Dining options are plentiful and range from Greek cuisine to pancakes, to traditional fare at Tant Miertjie se Kombuis, to fine dining at Sir Thomas Cullinan Restaurant, or to alfresco meals at Whispering Oaks Garden Restaurant.
Absolutely not to be missed in Cullinan is Jan Harmsgat se Agterplaas, selling art, antiques and other bric-à-brac. The building is an intricate artwork with colour and creative flair on every wall. Lavender Inc, also in Oak Avenue, is a treasure trove for lovers of old world chic, enamel, distressed wood and wrought iron candlesticks. All are for sale in this perfectly restored Victorian house.
Weekend visitors love Cullinan, but Daniel Shai says he loves it every single day. In the 10 years he’s spent at Premier Game Park, he’s hardly ever left. “Even when I am on holiday, I stay in Cullinan,” he says with a smile in his eyes. “I just love it too much here.”
Other Giant Diamonds from Cullinan
There have been many diamonds from Cullinan to make a woman’s heart race, but here are some of the largest.
545 carat, the Golden Jubilee (1986); 530 carat, the Great Star of Africa (1905); 317 carat, the Lesser Star of Africa (1905); 137 carat, the Premier Rose (1978); 128 carat, the Nairchos (1954); 126 carat, the Jonker (1934); 69 carat, the Taylor-Burton (1966).