In August 2019 we were invited to meet and travel with the founders of the recently formed Richtersveld Gem & Mineral Club through the diamond fields of the far Northern Cape, South Africa.
Diamonds where first discovered in the 1900’s in the area and mining commenced in the 1930’s, the area stretches from Hondeklip Bay all the way up to Alexander Bay (where the Orange river finally meets the ocean)
Just before stopping at Hondeklip Bay we were taken into a alluvial diamond works to see how diamonds are found. After recovering from the surprise of exactly how much gravel has to be moved in order to find a diamond we were allowed the opportunity to look for fossilized shells, sharks teeth and of course the remote hope of finding a diamond (That never happened and it’s not surprising why..) On average a 100mt of this type of gravel has to be sifted / washed and screened to find 6 carats of diamonds!!
Below one of the many alluvial diamond workings we visited
Our next stop was at Hondeklip Bay, it’s name originated from a large gneiss rock that apparently looked like a dog. Mr. Thomas Grace named the town Hondeklip Bay after this rock. Over the years the rock has see a few incidents, firstly the “ear” was removed to facilitate the formation of the “The Dog Ear Copper Company” and in later years the poor dogs nose was struck off by lightning. We struggled to see the resemblance but fortunately the original stone has been preserved
Another interesting stop in the area was to visit the wreck of the Aristea, one of many shipwrecks along that hostile coastline.
Built in 1934 as a fishing vessel for a South African fishing company (Irvin & Johnson) she served as a minesweeper in the 2nd world war and on the 4th July 1945 she ran aground at Hondeklip Bay, not much is left of the vessel and it serves as a stark reminder that the coastline is a hostile and rough one.
A further 84km further north we stopped at the next little town Kleinzee. This little town was also founded at around the same time as Hondeklip Bay. (early 1930’s). Our stop here was to spend a while on the gravel beach looking for alluvial garnets. While small they are easily found and of course the gravel itself is very tempting. (Note anyone caught with bags of gravel in their vehicles are deemed to be illicitly mining diamonds so rather just leave it right there on the beach and enjoy the area)
Port Nolloth was our next stop; this little town is a welcome stop with fuel for the cars, a little supermarket to get the few odds and ends from as well as a number of restaurants and a clean municipal camping site. It’s also the hometown of our hosts (Werner and Sonia) and we have to thank them for their kind hospitality not only at Port Nolloth but throughout the trip. While in the village we met some of the local residents and will always remember the lovely stories of the history of the area they shared with us.
The De Beers mining company is still actively involved in the area but predominantly in offshore diamond mining, while none of the vessels where in port at the time we were able to see the few private vessels that mine for diamonds at sea. Their gravel trommels and pipes making them quite distinctive vessels.
The town of Port Nolloth
Alluvial Diamond Vessels (Old and new with the sea behind them)
From Porth Nolloth we visited the area of Lekkersing (Quartzite) and a small deposit called Krystalkop (Crystal Mountain). The Lekkersing quartzite mine, now abandoned produced quartz tiles that where simply cleaved out of the host rock – best explained by the below image of the quartzite formation from a quarry close by that we had initially stopped at.
The old quartzite factory at Lekkersing:
Pre cut tiles now abandoned at the old workings:
The little town of Lekkersing:
It’s important to note that the gravel roads that are heavily corrugated, the dust and the remoteness of the area requires one to visit these places in groups of at least two vehicles, they need to have sufficient ground clearance as well as be properly equipped in the event of a breakdown.
The visit to Crystalkop allowed us the opportunity to dig for and remove a few or the well known Orange River Quartz crystals. Please note this is private property and access can only granted by the landowner
The sign of a pocket below (Note the quartz in the ground)
A lovely little cluster that has just been removed from the pocket
Aside from the rocks and the history of the diamond mines, the area has a lot to offer with beautiful plant life at every turn, below some of the wonderful plants in the area.
Our final leg took us through Alexander Bay and into the Richtersveld. For me one of the highlights was finally getting to the mouth of the mighty Orange River. Standing on the beach, looking back at the river and remembering all the travels we have had along the various parts of this river certainly made the distance and effort worth the while. A fun part of the beach sand is a light brown; it’s composed mainly of garnet rich sand
Below the sand of the beach at the mouth of thr Orange River.
Above the mouth of the Orange River
Our last stop was at a “Pink Marble “site further upriver. The marble and quartz make for very attractive specimens as shown
To visit the area please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, we will put you in touch with the club and will be posting the clubs site on this blog as soon as it is ready. Finally again thank you Sonia and Werner, your hospitality and interest in the area certainly made this trip one we will remember for a long time.