Photos By Benguela Diamond Safari
Port Nolloth is a small coastal town along South Africa’s Atlantic seaboard. Its beaches are exotic, but the town itself is surrounded by arid, brown land dotted with shrubs. You could mistake the landscape here for the Australian Outback. But what this dusty, South African seaside town hides is a once-in-a-lifetime getaway that blends luxury, romance, and adventure.
Port Nolloth is famous for the bounty of diamonds lying just off its shore. Located in Northwest South Africa, close to the Namibian border, Port Nolloth benefits from a geological process millions of years in the making. Over the millennia, inland rivers have carried kimberlite, a type of rock containing diamonds, towards the Atlantic, depositing billions of carats along the South African coast. Major diamond producers, including De Beers and Alexkor, have operated here for decades; in all, over 100 operations are licensed to mine diamonds off the South African coast. But there is only one company that will let you discover your own marine diamond, and then cut, polish, and set that diamond into a bespoke engagement ring for your loved one.
Beginning in 2016, Benguela Diamonds, in partnership with the Ellerman House of Cape Town and Fronteirs International Travel, has offered luxury adventurers the chance to embark on the world’s only “diamond safari.” Guests on this expedition are able to participate in and experience first-hand the process of taking a seafloor diamond and turning it into a piece of custom, handmade jewelry.
The trip begins at the prestigious Ellerman House in Cape Town, South Africa. The Ellerman House is a Cape Edwardian mansion built in 1906 and was once owned by the shipping magnates Sir John and Lady Ellerman. The mansion is perched on a hillside overlooking the Atlantic, offering sweeping views from its cliff-top garden. The Ellerman House has just 15 available rooms and is also closed to the public, giving this boutique hotel a high degree of privacy, perfect for couples interested in a romantic getaway. The Ellerman House also keeps its own art gallery, and has spectacular selections of rare South African wines, champagnes, and vintage Dom Pérignon.
On the morning of the diamond safari, a limousine chauffeurs guests from the Ellerman House to the Cape Town International Airport. From there, guests board a private PC12 jet, or a King Air 200, for a scenic, 75-minute flight along the Atlantic coast, north to Port Nolloth. While in Port Nolloth, guests stay at Benguela Diamond’s own beachfront villa, a contemporary hideaway with stunning views and a personal, gourmet chef from Ellerman House. While the chef prepares a gourmet breakfast, a representative from Benguela Diamonds briefs guests on the day’s itinerary. After that, it’s off to sea.
Guests accompany Benguela Diamonds’ master divers out to sea. The hardy mining boat, designed to withstand the choppy Atlantic waters, is moored beyond the breakers. At this point, the Benguela Diamond dive masters prepare to enter the water. Guests who are PADI Open Water-certified (you can become certified in two weekends, for under $400), are able to accompany dive masters down to the seafloor, where suction pipes are used to pull sediment up to the surface. The sediment is fed through a classifier which sorts out the heavier stones, and a vibrating pan system is then used to separate out any precious gems, including diamonds, garnets, and olivines.
Back on dry land, guests are treated to a gourmet lunch at their private villa, where the chef can prepare fresh, line-caught seafood (if this is what you choose to order) which is paired with exquisite, South African wines. A grading expert from Benguela Diamonds then assists guests in sorting through the rough, uncut diamonds from the day’s mining trip. This is a hands-on lesson in diamond grading — the expert shows guests what to look for and walks them through the process of selecting their own diamond from the sea.
At the end of the day, guests are flown back on their private jet to the Ellerman House. Waiting for them there is the Ellerman House’s signature Dom Pérignon Experience: while enjoying the breathtaking view of a sun setting into the African Atlantic, guests are treated to a gourmet, bento-box dinner with an accompanying bottle of vintage Dom Pérignon.
Benguela Diamonds is the only company to control the entire path of its marine diamonds, from mining to being set into custom-made jewelry. They employ their own diamond-cutters, goldsmiths, and jewelry-makers at their design studio in Stellenbosch, located next to Cape Town. Within three days of selecting a diamond from the ocean floor, those who choose to can have their gem cut, polished, and set into a piece of exquisite jewelry their spouse will treasure forever.
The diamond safari, offered only by Benguela Diamonds, and exclusively through the Ellerman House, can be booked by Frontiers International Travel, located in London and Gibsonia, PA. The price-per-person is set at $16,125, which includes lodging, travel to-and-from Port Nolloth, and food and beverages, including the Dom Pérignon Experience. The per-person cost does not include the purchase price of diamonds found while on the safari, nor the cost of designing and manufacturing jewelry.