Riding the Rails

It is so comfortable in our bed and the motion of the train is very comforting, but it's about 5am and we are awake and waiting for the sunrise, go figure! We have no idea where we are but we know that later today we will be arriving in a town called Kimberley where we will be disembarking and going on a tour of the "Big Hole" and the mine museum. Okay so I think we woke up a bit early because the sun didn't come up for another hour but it was worth waiting for.

Sunrise from our cabin

We do our best to get up, showered and out to breakfast before early. We are going to have breakfast in the dining car closest to our suite. We did a walk through the train yesterday down to the observation carriage and it's a heck of a long walk, especially when you run into someone else in the narrow corridor and you have to back up. The second dining car is several cars further back toward the rear of the train. The dining carriages, in fact all of the train, is superbly fitted out.

One of the two dining cars

There is a selection of cereals, meats, coffee etc in the middle of the carriage and an ala carte menu for eggs etc. We had to be up bright and early as we were informed that about ten minutes before our arrival in Kimberley we would be passing a shallow lake which is a breeding ground for Flamingos.

The lake is actually called Kamfers Dam, and is one of only four places in the whole of Africa where the spectacular Lesser Flamingo breeds. The dam typically supports 20,000 Lesser Flamingos, but occasionally over 50,000 Lesser Flamingos are present, a large proportion of the sub region's total population. 

We are due to pass the lake at approximately 9:30am before arriving at Kimberley at 9:45am so we finish up breakfast and head back to the suite to get ready for the days activity. We pass through some very small railway towns and the train always attracts attention from the people living on the line, with the exception of this lady having a nap in the morning sun.

Asleep in the morning sun

We arrive at the lake and there are flamingos everywhere, I'm hanging out of the window trying to get some shots while we pass the dam, it’s a pity we can't stop and explore the area more.

Lesser Flamingos at Kamfers Dam 

About ten minutes later we pull into the Kimbereley Station. The station was almost deserted and there were only one or two station officials on the platform. The station itself seems quite old but there is a reasonable new roof that covers the tracks and platforms. After a few minutes we alight from the train and head toward the exit sign where several of the train staff are waiting for us.

As I mentioned earlier we are off for a tour of the “Big Hole” at the Kimberley mine and after exiting the station building we hop into one of the 3 buses waiting for us. Our guide welcomes us aboard and in convoy we head toward the mine area.

I have to say, in hindsight, this excursion was probably our least enjoyable of the trip. Visiting the mine itself was quite interesting but the guide we had was quite rude and simply unpleasant to be around. In fact he harangued one poor women who didn't want to continue with the tour and constantly told jokes that were in quite bad taste. 

As I said the mine trip was quite interesting and even though I'd heard about the Kimberley mine I didn't really know much of it’s history. We arrived at the museum and the first part you come to is an old town that consists of original and reconstructed buildings, our guide told us we would be taking an electric tram ride up to the mine museum, so we all got on the tram and waited. About 5 minutes later he came back and told us the tram wasn't working today so we all got off and walked up to the main mine museum.

Old tram Headlamp

The museum itself is quite an interesting building with some striking architectural features with this giant sloping wall that contains the theatrette which screens a documentary on the history of the mine and the discovery of diamonds. The story is quite amazing with thousands of miners digging the hole with picks and shovels all in all yielding 2,722 kg of diamonds.

Architecturally impressive Kimberley Mine Museum

After the movie we proceeded out onto a large cantilevered structure that is suspended out over the valley that has at it’s centre the Big Hole.

It’s hard to imagine that at one time it was a hill and the hole was actually dug by hand.  The hole itself has a surface of 17 hectares and is 463 metres wide. Originally it was dug to a depth of about 240 metres but with the accumulated water the visible walls are 175 metres deep.

The Big Hole

After the mine viewing we headed into an area of the museum that houses a number of artifacts and I ended up wandering around a bit by myself and got separated from the group. When I found them they were trapped in a diamond display room with the mad guide, they were in there for quite a while and I’m glad I’d managed to avoid it.

Kelly trapped with the mad guide

After we managed to escape from the clutches of the mad guide, Kelly and I took a wander through the old town and came across an old Skittles alley. For a few South African rand you got your chance to try and knock down enough skittles to score 9 points. I thought it was accumulative and thought I was doing okay but no you had to knock them all down!

Skittles alley and attendant

Finally one the way out I was impressed when I noticed that all of the trash bins were decorated with primitive paintings of the Big Hole.

The Big Hole bin art

We all very thankfully when we got back on the buses and it wasn't long before we were back at the Kimberley Station being greeted by the train staff and offered a cool drink and a cold refreshing towel.

Back on board we had a few minutes to settle in and then it was time for lunch and then we departed for Matjiesfontein via De Aar and Beaufort West. 

After lunch we spent a bit of time at the observation car at the end of the train taking in the sights and watching the track disappear behind us as we pushed further south toward Cape Town.

Relaxing in the Observation Car

The last car is divided into two section, the front section being a fully enclosed lounge with bar and the rear section being open with windows and large viewing area at the back.

View from the observation car

The train made frequent stops, I think we were always low on the totem pole and other trains had right of way over us. At one stop, in the middle of nowhere we became the object of interest for a couple of kids that had been hanging out in the shade of some trees.

Curious kids checking us out

It was great just to sit and relax and watch the countryside roll by, we passed rivers ...

River crossing

... and train junctions...

Train Junction

... and it wasn't until twilight when we headed back to the suite to get ready for dinner. 

Twilight 

Dinner was at 7:30pm and the menu for the evening looked wonderful.

Roast Butternut salad with Watercress, Red Onion and Pumpkin seed oil
Sweet Potato, Lamb and Hanepoot Bredie or Grilled Cape Rock Lobster Tails, Saffron Mash and Lemon Butter Sauce or Caponata of Vegetables with Pappardelle Ribbon Noodles
Cheese and biscuits on request
Baked Chocolate Mousse with White Chocolate and Orange Ice Cream
A selection of Teas, Coffee and Liqueurs.

During dinner we watched another beautiful African sunset ...

Sunset

...and later, back in the suite, we saw the moon rise over the African veldt.

Moonrise

Tony Redhead

93 Maud Street, Unley, SA, 5061, Australia