Text and photos by Maggi Barnard
The visitor’s book reads like a dictionary of over-the-top adjectives and descriptions: breathtaking, awesome, stunning, amazing, spectacular, unbelievably beautiful, a wonder world, a revelation, God’s world, superb, never seen anything as beautiful before, a real gem, thank you for sharing…
These spontaneous comments were made by visitors who had just experienced a natural wonder estimated to be 520 million years old, and they were extolling the virtues of the world’s largest quartz crystal cluster on display, which can be seen at the Kristall Galerie in Swakopmund.
Measuring 3 metres x 3.5 metres and weighing 14.1 tons, it is the only cluster of its kind that has been found and preserved for display.
Mining entrepreneur Hannes Kleynhans was mining for tourmaline on his farm Otjua in the Karibib district in 1985 when the drilling equipment suddenly disappeared into a black hole in the earth. He found a cave formed by a vacuum 45 metres deep where crystals have had the freedom to grow undisturbed over millions of years to form giant beauties rarely seen in our world aboveground.
Kleynhans immediately realised that he had discovered something extremely valuable. The next big decision was whether to mine them for industrial purposes or try to extract the crystals. “I could have broken them up into small pieces to sell them, but felt God had sent me to find them and preserve them as they were,” he says.
The decision to preserve them was not the easiest way out. It required an extremely delicate five-year operation to remove the giant crystals from the earth in one piece. “During that time the cave became the biggest safe in Namibia, as we not only had to protect the crystals against the weather, but also against theft,” said Hannes Kleynhans junior. Hannes Junior and his sister Minette manage the new home of the crystals, which took their father 12 years to create. With the Kristall Galerie, the Kleynhans’s share their rare and unique beauty with the rest of the country and the world.
“Sizable crystals have always been a focus of attention and fascination,” writes Dr Gaby Schneider of the Geological Survey of Namibia in a paper on the giant, smoky quartz crystals from Otjua. She says these crystals are both perfect and beautiful, which distinguishes them from the giant crystals found in Brazil and Kazakhstan. According to Dr Schneider, the largest crystal ever to be described is a beryl from Malakialina in the Malagasy Republic. It occurs in a pegmatite and measures 18 metres long, 3.5 metres in diameter and has a mass of some 380 tons.
“They are also unique, since many of them are doubly terminated, which identifies them as ‘floaters’. This means they grew while floating in the mineralising fluid, rather than growing onto a surface.”
According to Dr Schneider there is no record in existing literature of the largest quartz ‘floater’ ever found, “…and it might well be that the Otjua crystals do have the distinction of being the largest.” The largest single crystal from Otjua is a floater with a length of 2.2 metres, a circumference of 1.8 metres and a weight of 1 ton. It is part of a cluster displayed at the Kristall Galerie.
A great deal of thought and planning went into the Galerie with its distinctive rock garden depicting the remnants of an eruption on the outside to draw visitors to explore more wonders inside. “Crystals are all around us,” says Minette, who clearly loves managing the wonder world of gallery and museum.
The main attraction is the giant quartz crystal. It took three months, using hydraulics, to position it at the same angle it was found in the cave.
Hannes Kleynhans says of the up to 250 visitors a day, “The giant crystal in particular has attracted people from all over the world. They come not only for its beauty and enormity, but also for its power, healing energies and magical properties.”
The natural beauty and fascinating colours of another magnificent and unique gemstone on display also has many first-time observers gasping for breath. Pietersite, found only in Namibia and discovered about 40 years ago in the north by Sid Pieters, is a unique conglomerate of bright contrasting colours reminiscent of a modern painting. The colours of this gemstone fascinated world-renowned crystal and gem photographer Bill Atkinson so much that he included no less than five photographs in his famous coffee-table book Within the stone.
Namibia is not only known for its wondrous pietersite, but also plays a prominent role in the world as far as other minerals are concerned. No fewer than four crystals found here are included on the table of the largest crystals in the world. They are the largest tennanite (30 centimetres long, 15 kilograms); the biggest molybdate/wulfenite (8 x 7 x 3 centimetres; 1.3 kilograms); the largest arsenate/mimetite (6 x 3 centimetres; 270 grams) and the biggest vanadinite (12 x 4 centimetres; 1 kilogram).
The first three were recovered from the Tsumeb mine, and the last one from the Abenab mine near Grootfontein. Unfortunately these crystals are no longer in Namibia. The tennanite belongs to the Roebling Collection of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, USA; the wulfenite crystal is part of a collection of the National Museum of Natural Science of Canada; the mimetite forms part of the private collection of Keith Proctor of Colorado Springs, USA; and the vanadinite is displayed in the museum of the Geological Survey of South Africa in Pretoria.
Fortunately the Kristall Galerie has a wide collection of many other different minerals, crystals and gemstones found in Namibia. In addition you can pick out your own tumbled semi-precious stone treasures in the scratch pit and to further experience some of the earth’s most beautiful masterpieces walk the many twists and turns of the 32-metre tunnel that is a replica of the original Otjua Tourmaline Mine.
If you’ve fallen in love with the beauty of these treasures, a curio shop and jewellery boutique are there to browse through, as well as a craft area where employees transform gemstones into fine jewellery. Time spent at the Kristall Galerie will most probably also leave you with plenty of over-the-top comments after experiencing this hidden world of magic.
This article was originally published in the Flamingo December 2007 magazine.