A storm is raging as we ascend into the black skies aboard Airlink from Johannesburg. The experienced pilots quickly sort out whatever little turbulence there might initially be and a little over an hour later we land in the diamond mining town of Kimberley in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa.
My abode for the night is The Kimberley Ann Boutique Hotel. The Kimberley Ann Boutique Hotel sounds very posh. And it is. What is not posh is the amazing service and attitude of the staff, making you feel like a long lost beloved relative. But that is the way in this part of the world - wide smiles on brown faces, open, guileless eyes and hearts.
I am greeted with amazing warmth by the wonderful Prudence with the most delicious home-made ginger beer I have ever had the privilege of tasting.
But back to this lovely creation that is the Kimberley Ann and I am reminded of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer' words: "Treat a work of art like a prince: Let it speak to you first."
The entire place features curved walls like a Ruben's painting in all shades of golds, coppers and creams.
The entrance and lobby is volumous and open planned with earthy, wood and golden tones everywhere. The decor throughout is exquisite, a unique combination of African and ultra-modern styling and it is obvious that every piece of furniture, hand-crafted fitting and lovely feature as well as the most amazing "chandeliers" I have ever seen, have been hand-picked or designed to order.
I'm shown my room by the charming porter George and stand transfixed in the doorway, opening and closing my mouth without any sound coming out like an extra in a zombie movie.
The room is simply stunning - hence, me stunned. Following the color scheme elsewhere, it is decorated in muted metal colors, greys and creams, the room is distinctly modern with a touch of classic colonial charm and has all modern amenities like Wi-Fi, aircon, mini-bar and nespresso machine. The fabrics and textures are lush and indulgent and the bathroom is a hedonistic cavern with enormous bath flowing into the bedroom of which I avail myself immediately.
There are 16 of these lovely suites, mostly situated around a central courtyard with a pool.
Food from heaven
But dinner beckons at the Copper Oryx where I am invited to savor the delicious creations of Stephanie Smith, Swiss trained Executive Chef.
Classic venison carpaccio served with parmesan shavings, crispy capers and melba toast, spring onion and trout cheesecake served with "mosbolletjie" melba toast and roasted beetroot, red onions, dried cranberries, caramelized pecan nuts and goats cheese. All of these have suggested paired wines, top-shelf South African offerings along with French champagnes.
Springbok steak served with roasted red pepper drops and pumpkin fritters with red wine reduction and sweet potato chips, roasted butternut rounds, beetroot and chickpea fritters with lemon and yoghurt sauce, lamb cutlets served on roasted onion puree, beetroot droplets and sweet potato arancini and beef fillet served with ricotta, mieliepap (or maze) and spinach croquette, glazed carrots, pearl onion and butternut puree, complimented by a red wine reduction.
The dessert choices are equally divine but I suggest the baked whole Camembert to share served with poached cranberry, raisin, fig preserve and roasted nuts. The berry and ice cream seasonal trifle, served with vanilla bean ice cream and caramel fudge and the milk tart Crème brûlée looked as delicious though.
My gargantuan beds provide a heavenly sanctuary after a busy day of travelling and I sleep the slumber of the innocent.
Breakfast the next morning follows the excellence of the dinner menu with signature options such as creamy vanilla oats with cream, honey and cinnamon, homemade muesli with yoghurt, poached dried fruit and honey, summer Royale "Mosbolletjie" toast with creamy spinach and smoked trout top with poached eggs, served with lemon cream and Oryx free-range eggs of your choice, bacon, sausage, mushroom, and roasted tomatoes. I have the smoked trout, cottage cheese and spring onion frittata. Yum!
City of diamonds
I have the rest of the day to explore the small town with its mighty reputation as "the Big Hole." It is considered the world's largest hand-dug hole.
The first diamonds in South Africa were discovered here on the farm Vooruitzigt belonging to the De Beers brothers in 1871. The ensuing scramble for claims led to the place being called New Rush, later renamed Kimberley. From 1871 to 1914 up to 50,000 miners dug the hole with picks and shovels, yielding almost 3,000 kg of diamonds. That's a lot of bling...
The Big Hole is big. In fact, it is quite staggering and has a surface of 17 hectares and is 463 meters wide, my guide tells me. It was excavated to a depth of 240 meters, but then partially filled with debris reducing its depth to about 215 meters. Since then it has accumulated about 40 meters of water, leaving 175 meters of the hole visible. Once above-ground operations became too dangerous and unproductive, the kimberlite pipe of the Kimberley Mine was also mined underground by Cecil Rhodes' De Beers company to a depth of more than 1,000 meters
There is currently an effort in progress to register the Big Hole as a World Heritage Site.
But the charm of Kimberley lies in its people and other surprising gems such as its rich history of many firsts like, on September 2, 1882 it was the first city in the Southern Hemisphere to install electric street lights. Other electrical advancements were a first - the first electric tram system in South Africa, the first city to have an automatic telephone exchange running in South Africa and the first city airport in South Africa to have lighting equipment and thus the first known night landing by a pilot.
Talking of pilots, I have to rush to catch my Airlink flight back to Johannesburg.
Kimberley truly is an off-the-map gem of a town - sorry but I couldn't resist...
Air China outbound flights to Johannesburg in South Africa operate on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, with return services from Johannesburg offered on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Flights will departs from Beijing at 23:15 Beijing time, and arrive in Johannesburg at 7:35 local time on the following day. The inbound flight departs from Johannesburg at 11:50 local time and arrives in Beijing at 7:30 Beijing time.
Airlink operates flights to and from Kimberley from both Johannesburg and Cape Town six days a week. Flights from Johannesburg depart at 16:30 and land at 17:40.
This regional feeder airline, offers a wide network of regional and domestic flights within southern Africa and operates as a franchisee to SAA
Route Specific Information: Direct scheduled flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town to Kimberley.
Connectivity: Through our alliance with SAA travelers can connect conveniently with SAA, their Partner airlines and other carriers throughout Southern Africa and the world.
Frequent Flyer Program: Airlink is a member of South African Airways (SAA) Loyalty program -Voyager.
Flight Bookings: online, booking agent or SAA Central Reservations +27 11 978 1111.
Additional photographs courtesy of Northern Cape Tourism.