Kleinzee – part 1

On Monday the 3rd, at the invitation of Gert Klopper – Public and Corporate Affairs Manager, De Beers, Namaqualand, I  spent the the day at the diamond mining town of Kleinzee on  the West Coast.

I am doing 2 posts, this one about the town itself and part 2 about some of the exciting new tourism ventures that are being developed.

Situated about 50 kilometres south of Port Nolloth, Kleinzee was established as a town in 1942. Diamonds had been discovered on the farm Kleyne Zee in about 1927 and in 1930 the first recovery plant was built. Diamond mining went through many ups and downs because of diamond market crashes and also due to the start of World War 2. It was only toward the end of the war that mining started again.

The well maintained Kleinzee Museum

The well maintained Kleinzee Museum

Boulder Heritage Route

Boulder Heritage Route

This is where the mining at Kleinzee began in the late 1920s. The neatly stacked mounds of rocks are kept intact to remind us of days gone by when mining diamonds was hard manual labour. In the foreground  is one of the boulders with the pick and shovel that marks this site as part of the “Boulder Heritage Route” – an easy 5 km walk down the rich history of diamond mining at Kleinzee

Early pick and shovel mining.

Early pick and shovel mining

The Golf Course.

The Golf Course.

The first thing that one notices while driving through the town is how clean and neat everything is. The population of the town has dropped from a high of about 7000 inhabitants to less than 1000 today because of the closing down of much of the mining operation. As Gert explained  diamonds are a finite resource and once an area is mined then that’s it. But the difference that I saw and heard here is that there are plans in operation to keep the town not only going but to increase the population with the establishment of new types of sustainable businesses to take over from the diamonds in the near future.

An area between the beach and town that is being restored.

An area between the beach and town that is being restored.

Abundant birdlife at the Buffels River estuary at Kleinzee.

Abundant bird life at the Buffels River estuary at Kleinzee.

The seal colony.

The seal colony.

The Kleinzee Cape Fur Seal colony just north of Kleinzee is, with its 300 000 to 400 000 animals, the largest on-land colony in South Africa.

The local Angling Club

The local Angling Club

There are many sporting facilities, fishing , golf, rugby, cricket, netball, bowls, squash etc. and from what I saw all the fields and courts are in tip top condition.

The oyster farm of Kleinzee Mariculture

The oyster farm of Kleinzee Mariculture

The current dam is used to grow out oysters to specific sizes before they are passed on to other farmers for growing to market size. This will change in the future when the dam is extended,  see below, and full size oysters will be grown and exported from Kleinzee.

A basketful of the “big ones that got away”.

A basketful of the “big ones that got away”

Looking down from the recently constructed platform of the abalone farm

Looking down from the recently constructed platform of the abalone farm

These dams came about as a more productive way of using mined-out areas to create an industry that has the potential of sustaining itself – and the economy of the region – for a very long time to come. Apart from the Mariculture there are plans to establish wind farms for the generation of electricity.

Bucyrus Erie dragline machine which is powered by electicity.

Bucyrus Erie dragline machine which is powered by electicity.

In previous years, De Beers Namaqualand Mines used this Bucyrus Erie dragline as a cost-effective means of removing millions of tons of overburden to expose diamond bearing gravels. Today, this 3500 ton monster is being used to rehabilitate the disturbed land and move the soil back into the pits it created – ready for reprofiling and restoration.

The Final Recovery plant.

The Final Recovery plant..

The checkpoint building and security offices at the entrance to the Buffels Marine Mining Complex north of Kleinzee.

The checkpoint building and security offices at the entrance to the Buffels Marine Mining Complex north of Kleinzee.

All in all I found Kleinzee to be a great little town and I believe that with all the planning and hard work that is going on that it has a really bright future. If I am still around in 5 years from now I would love to go back and see all the progress that would have been made.

If you want to have a look around Kleinzee make sure you have your ID Book with you. If you plan to spend a night or two there then you must get security clearance at least 5 days prior to arrival. There are caravan parks, guest houses and a backpackers in the town and surrounding area.

Port Nolloth Museum

Popped into the Port Nolloth Museum yesterday morning and spent a few hours looking at some  interesting displays. Janine Olivier, who has been working at the museum for just over a year, was very helpful and passed on some  enlightening  information. I am not going to try and give a history lesson so hopefully the pictures will do the talking.

Port Nolloth Museum.

Port Nolloth Museum.

The building that houses the museum is a bit of history itself in that it was built in 1880.

The Port Nolloth Museum was opened over ten years ago and  presents the history of Port Nolloth for approximately 2000 years. It also displays the history of diamond diving in the area, as well as geology and natural history.

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Display about early inhabitants of the area.

History of Port Nolloth

History of Port Nolloth

Information about the old copper train and building of the jety.

Information about the old copper train and building of the jety.

Great display about diamond diving.

Great display about diamond diving.

The west coast is known for all the ships that have been wrecked over the years.

The west coast is notorious for all the ships that have been wrecked over the years.

A display of products in their original packaging.

A display of products in their original packaging.

While I had been wondering round and taking photographs I was drawn to the portrait below.  The photograph was clearly not that old so I was wondering what it was doing hanging in the museum and asked Janine what the story was. (To be honest she also reminded me of an ex girl friend from way back when.)

Grazia de Beer.

Grazia de Beer.

Well it turns out that I am standing in the Port Nolloth museum  as a result of all the work that this woman did in Port Nolloth over a period of  20 years.

Grazia de Beer was born in Italy and later came to Cape Town where she went to school at Springfield Convent and Ellersley in Sea Point. She graduated from UCT with a BA, was a singer in a leading jazz band, played guitar, composed songs and worked at the Italian Consulate as an interpretor. She married Coen de Beer, a diamond diver, and moved to Port Nolloth in the late 1980’s.

She ran a restaurant, established the Bedrock Lodge and opened the Port Nolloth Museum. She held a black belt in karate and started the Port Nolloth Dojo.

The Bedrock Lodge.

The Bedrock Lodge.

She was fearless in her convictions and brought up many cultural and environmental issues of the area. She put a stop to the slaughter of seals, and began marketing Port Nolloth as a special place to visit.

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Grazia de Beer Beach Front.

Unfortunately Grazia de Beer passed away on the 25th of December 2007.

Grazia was so well liked and respected by the community, that they decided to name the new beach front development after her in honour of all that she had done  for Port Nolloth and it’s inhabitants.

George Moyses – Diamond diver

I met George on one of my walks along the beach soon after I got to McDougalls Bay. He was being interviewed by  Get Away Magazine so I said I would catch up with him on another day. He has become quite famous in the area as he was also recently on SABC 2 in the 1st episode of a  programme called “Shoreline”. It took me a number of attempts to catch up with him but yesterday I was eventually able to sit down and hear his story.

George in front of his house which is right on the waters edge.
George in front of his house.

George, who is 57, is a well spoken friendly guy, who has been living in the area for the past 30 years earning a living as a diver, extracting  diamonds from the sea at various locations along the West Coast. He is passionate about the sea and diving. He is also a keen surfer and windsurfer and enjoys the solitude of living on his own at McDougalls Bay in his small house on the beach.

The house right on the beach front.
The house right on the beach front.

Training at Simonstown.
Training at Simonstown.

He received his diving training while serving in the navy at  Simonstown.

It was near Simonstown that he and a friend salvaged a fishing boat, the Arabian Star, that had sunk without major damage.  They restored, fitted out and renamed her Blues Breaker, then  headed up the West Coast to try and make their fortunes.

Blues Breaker.
Blues Breaker.

I have watched a video that George  made called “Diamond Divers” and can say that you have to be slightly crazy to do that kind of work. It is incredibly dangerous, they loose at least 2 divers annually, very physical and really long hours for generally not much reward. George has been fairly lucky and only had one major accident, right at the beginning of his career, when he was hit in the face by a propeller.

They can of course strike it lucky and have a really good pay day, of maybe R100,000,  but that is an exception, a bit like hitting the lotto. They normally earn about R7,000.00 to R10,000.00 per month. These guys carry all the costs and only receive 50% of what they take out. They can only work when weather and sea conditions are favourable, which might be only 10 days of the month.

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Some underwater photographs of the dredging process.

George no longer works off his boat but  from the shoreline. They use converted tractors to haul all the pipes, pumps and sifters right on to the rocks. In the video you see them working in the gullies as they look for and extract the gravel that contains the diamonds. I would not last an 10 minutes  if I tried to do what they do.

The once proud Blues Breaker is no longer looking to good.
The once proud Blues Breaker is no longer looking too good.

George is a multi talented guy and supplements his income in different ways. He is a keen photographer and videographer  and has produced a video which he sells for R100.00. I bought one of the videos and it has some fascinating footage of what these men go through in order to make a living. Most of the divers seen on the video are not young, average age of 50+ , and must be extremely tough and fit to survive. Many of the younger, experienced, divers have left for the oil rigs where they earn a good wage and work in far better conditions.

Front Entrance to house.
Front entrance to George’s house.

He has converted part of his house into a small museum for which he charges R10.00 a visit and he also makes various articles from driftwood which he sells. He is separated, in a very friendly way, from his wife who lives and works in Port Nolloth and has 3 daughters, the youngest of whom is just about to matriculate.

George with old diving suite.
George with an old diving suite.
Model ship made from scrap wood.
Model ship he made from scrap wood.
Info about the model ship.
Info about the model ship.
George with some of the goods he sells.
George with some of the goods he sells.

I gather from the video interviews and what George says, that there is a lot of uncertainty as to how much longer these divers are going to be able to make a living if things do not change. Right now the only ones making  money  are the mining companies who take 50% off the top with virtually no cost to themselves.

UPDATE ON GEORGE:

This post about George has been one of the most popular and most read so I thought I would post a quick update, thanks to Ludwig Venter, an old school friend who caught up with George and family a few weeks ago. Ludwig sent me some pix so I am posting these for all who might be interested.

Ludwig and George meet again after 40 years.

George and wife Debbie

George with family.

George's cabin which is right on the high water mark.

Another update on George:

George went to his 43rd school class reunion in Senekal recently and his friend Ludwig Venter sent me these photographs to post on this site.

George with a group of old school friends

George with daughter Helen looking at a slide show of his school days.

George after a quick dip in the pool - still looks pretty fit for a 60 year old.

Having a nice cold one.

George checking out all the messages and photos about him on "Gone Fishing"

All the very best for the future George and may you strike the “BIG” one soon.


Port Nolloth Biodiversity Centre

On my first day of walking round Port Nolloth I found the Information Centre which is also part of the Biodiversity Centre in that one woman runs both from the same building. Her name is Alta Kotze and her official title(s) are Tourism Information Officer/Manager Biodiversity Centre. I also found out that she is a singer, composer and song writer trying to make a break into the world of music.

Port Nolloth Biodivrsity Centre

Port Nolloth Biodiversity Centre

I had been in a bit of a rush so made an appointment to have a look round the centre at a later date to take a few photographs of some of the exhibits. I nearly fell over backwards when I arrived back there yesterday and was told that she wanted to sing one of her songs for me using a backing track on her computer.

Alta Kotze the singer.

Alta Kotze the singer.

I think it took an awful lot of guts to do what she did (no ways could I have done that) and to be honest I was really impressed with both her voice and her own composition. I hope that somewhere along the line she gets a break and has a chance to make it doing something she is passionate about.

Alta the Tourism Information Officer.

Alta the Tourism Information Officer.

Skeleton of a Piolet whale

Skeleton of a Pilot whale

Exhibit

Exhibit

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Exhibit

Exhibit

Exhibit

Quite a few of the normal exhibits that use live animals – snakes, chameleons and lizards – are no longer functioning as they have  died. Pity really as the setting for the centre is great but one should really have more displays.

Although not part of the museum I did find this exhibit round the back  in the harbour area.

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The Port Nolloth Locomotive.

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The Port Nolloth Locomotive

Final word – If there is anyone in, or knows someone in, the music industry who might be interested in hearing a demo- tape of Alta  you can contact her on 072-1941947.

McDougalls Bay Caravan Park

The past 3 days, the weekend and Monday, have been pretty awful. It has been really hot, over 30ºC, and the wind has not stopped blowing at gale force all that time. There has been sand and dust everywhere and it has made me feel pretty depressed and lethargic. Being camped on sea sand does not help. Think Camps Bay Beach on a really hot, windy day when the sand is blowing all over the place.

Today, Tuesday, sees a complete change in the weather. It is overcast, a lot cooler, light breeze and feels like it could even rain sometime. It has also made me feel a lot better and keen to have a look around for more interesting places and people. I am still trying to track down George, the diamond diver, but he has proved elusive, and I hope to catch up with him later today or tomorrow.

Because I have been pretty well trapped at the camp-site I thought I might as well take some pix and show you what it is like. If you read some of my previous posts you will know that I was really given the run around as far as the pricing is concerned. It is a municipal site and I think their prices are too high compared to all the other municipal sites I have stayed at. They call themselves a Holiday Resort so have a look at he pix an see what you think.

McDougalls Bay Hoiday Resort?

McDougalls Bay Holiday Resort?

The security gate?

The security gate?

Unfortunately a lot of the time there is no one at the gate during the day and at night.

Brocken security fence from beach.

Broken security fence from beach.

Even if there was full time security at the front it would not make much difference.

Seasand site

Sea sand site

One of the 93 sites and they are all the same.

Electical connection

Electrical connection

Each site has an electrical connection but some of them are very unsafe.

Ablution block.

Ablution block.

What can I say? Why do all the camp-sites all have the same problem and yet the ablution block is the most important feature that one looks for. At least there is plenty of hot water.

Chalet

Chalet

There are 2 0f these right on the beach front. They charge R440.00 per night out of season and over R500.00 per night in season. There are also 15 smaller chalets at the back for which the charge is R210.00 per night.

Overall I think the “holiday resort” is pretty run down and to be honest over priced but the one factor that overrides most of that is the position right on the beach front. The sights, sounds and smells of the ocean, in the protected bay, are fabulous and go a long way in making one overlook all the shortcomings.

My camp-site.

My camp-site.

Right on the waters edge.

Golden sun set.

Golden sun set.

Not many places I know that one could take a picture like this right from your caravan.