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Travel: Diamonds in the Rough

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Article & Images Richard van Ryneveld

It takes immense seismic pressure to turn liquorice allsorts into diamonds. But, in a manner of speaking, that’s what happened on my recent trip to Gauteng. I had arranged to pick up a Mazda BT-50 at OR Tambo, and from there to drive to Echo 4×4 Centre in Centurion to collect one of their tough off-road trailers, an Echo 5. The rough outline for the trip was to go and explore campsites and places within a day’s drive of Joburg.

My editor is a tough blighter, though− he always asks, ‘What’s the hook? Why would our readers want to follow
in your footsteps?’

But he was so darn busy around my departure that he fell for my mumbled, ‘Well, it’s a liquorice-all-sorts type of trip… I’ll come up with something for everybody!’

It was weak. I knew it. But then a gem (actually a diamond) called Toni de Lange came to the rescue. Toni is our advertising representative in Gauteng. She was my link with to Willie and Rochelle Grobler, the owners of the Echo 4×4 Centre. Toni solved my first problem in seconds − I normally have to schlep my sleeping bag, hiking pots and pans and all my camera gear on the plane with me.

But Mrs de Lange would hear nothing of it. ‘I’ll organise pots, pans, duvets and all that jazz − just bring your camera gear.’

But I really got lucky when Toni suggested that I start my trip in her home town of Cullinan, some 50 kilometres away to the northeast of Pretoria. Misreading my contemplation as reluctance, she said, ‘You know, the Petra Diamond Mine has a magnificent campsite. Actually two, and they’ve recently been opened to the public for the first time.’

After a bit of Googling, I began to develop prospector’s fever. The briefest of dips into Cullinan’s rich history was enough to get my pulse racing. I was off to dig for diamonds… But first, I needed to collect my off-road home.

I collected my brand new Echo 5 from Echo’s HQ, just off the R21 near Irene. Willie and his wife Rochelle started Echo 4×4 back in ‘84. Since then, some 10 000 trailers have rolled out of their doors. This centre must have one of the biggest displays of outdoor gear I’ve ever seen… there’s even a coffee shop on the top floor.

All too soon, Shane Steynfaardt, one of the sales team, came to drag me away. ‘I need to take you through the setting up and packing away of your Echo 5.’ He was meticulous, giving me a step-by-step guide – apparently, every new owner enjoys this service. Duly educated, I was soon on my way, cruising along; destination Cullinan, where I was due to meet Toni.

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