My travels in South Africa by Brian Robinson

A group of engineers, who are all members of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London, along with some of their partners went to South Africa on a part technical and part tourist holiday.

The engineering visits included an underground tour of the Cullinan Diamond Mine. We were all kitted up in overalls, boots, helmets, lamps etc. The excitement was quite electric as we waited for the cage to take us down to the bowels of the earth and the hope of finding a diamond or two on the floor as we walked the tunnels. Alas, we were disappointed, the only ones we saw were in the gift shop on our departure.

Expectant diamond prospectors, soon to be disappointed

The next visit was a tour of the engine sheds of the Rovos Rail Company. There we observed not only the maintenance of the steam engines but also of the luxurious carriages and the re-covering of the seats and mattresses to an exceedingly high standard.

King Zog at Rovos Rail

This was followed by visit to a hydroelectric power generating station in the Drakensburg Mountains which operates a pumped storage scheme similar, but much larger, than the “Electric Mountain” at Llanberis in North Wales. 

The next day we inspected the workings of the valves and pumps of the Katse Dam high in the mountains of Lesotho from inside the huge dam retaining wall which involved a partial kitting out with PPE.

One of the tunnels inside the Katse Dam, Lesotho

In Durban we had a working breakfast with the architect of the iconic Moses Mabhida stadium which was constructed for the football world cup in 2010 complete with a private tour inside the actual stadium. This was then followed by a visit to a company that constructs and installs shark proof nets to protect swimmers in the Indian Ocean where we were also treated to a demonstration of a small shark being dissected. 

The inside of Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban  
A shark being dissected, urgh

Whilst we were in the Durban area, we paid a visit to the Bell Equipment Company which manufactures exceptionally large excavators, mining equipment, bulldozers, logging transporters etc. (Similar to our JCBs but larger).

Negotiating the shipping arrangements to the UK
A rather large tipper truck

On the cultural side we visited the prison in Johannesburg where Nelson Mandela was held when first arrested and the prison he was released from where he made his long walk to freedom. We had three nights on a game reserve observing the wildlife and saw lions, cheetahs, giraffes, elephants, rhino, hippo, crocodile and many other animals and birds before going to the battle grounds and war graves of the Boer War and then on to Cape Town and a trip by cable car up Table Mountain.

The easy way up Table Mountain, Cape Town 
The inhabitants of Table Mountain

This was followed by a visit to the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. The penguin colony at Boulders Beach entertained us on the return to Cape Town before dinner at the Victoria and Albert waterfront.
The final day was a visit to the Stellenbosch winelands with chocolate and wine tasting in the morning followed by lunch and more wine tasting in the afternoon along with cheese.

Some of the hundreds of penguins at Boulders Beach  
No explanation is needed for this picture

We started two days before the others and went to visit Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe for two nights. We saw the falls from both the Zimbabwe and Zambian sides. They are really fantastic and we got totally drenched on both sides due to the spray coming off the falls. We also had a boat trip on the River Zambesi where we observed hippos, crocodiles, water buffalo, giraffes, a variety of birds and a wonderful sunset.  

After the other engineers and their wives had left for home, we hired a car in Cape Town and spent seven days driving to Port Elizabeth along the Garden Route. Such fantastic scenery on the way and we saw meerkats, ostriches, we went caving, safe but exciting and swam in the Indian Ocean, keeping a good lookout for shark warnings!! 

What a fantastic overall experience.

Join Tour Leader Michael Knight on Engineering in the Malay Peninsula, Singapore and Borneo 17-30 April 2021 

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