Last month I headed up to Kununurra and for the first time had the opportunity to take a tour of the Argyle Diamond Mine.
When I started to do some research I quickly established that there are two ways you can do a tour of the mine – both commercial operators – Luridgii Tours http://www.luridgiitours.com.au/jaliwang-journey and through Aviair https://www.visitkununurra.com/tours/kimberley/aviair For no other reason than timing we chose to use Aviair and went on the Bungle Bungle Adventurer + Diamond Mine Full Day.
We started out the day with breakfast at a local favourite The Wild Mango Café which was fantastic. Then we waited at our accommodation to be collected.
We arrived at the local airport only a few minutes out of town and that is when we got the first glimpse of the plane. The tour began with just under two-hour scenic flight and takes you over Lake Argyle, and the Ord River Irrigation Area. The day before we took a sunset cruise on Lake Argyle including a dip in its very warm waters so it was great to get a birds eye perspective as well.
You will also fly over the stunning Carr Boyd and Osmand Ranges, the Ord and Bow Rivers. Then the highlight of the flight an aerial view of the Bungle Bungle Range, before heading toward the Argyle Diamond Mine.
It was about the time that we reached the Bungle Bungles and just over an hour into the flight that I did suffer from a bit of motion sickness unfortunately. The pilot could see we were all a little uncomfortable so he went up a bit higher to some smoother air and then and got us down onto the airstrip. It was quite a relief to be out of the plane and on solid ground.
First stop was the staff village we were able to get some insight to the every day life of the staff on the mine. We were able to view some jewellery and loose diamonds in the gift shop and ask questions and then had lunch at the village.
All the while during the tour we learnt information about the mine including the story around its origin. Diamonds were first discovered in small quantities by gold prospectors as early as the 1800’s. In the 1970’s it was discovered that there were similarities between the lamproite rock of the Kimberley and the diamond bearing kimberlite rock found elsewhere. Then in 1979 diamond were found in Smoke Creek by some geologists. The creek was traced to its source where the rich, diamond studded deposit of lamproite ore was located.
This are was already under a lease for Uranium exploration but was due to expire soon. The members of the joint venture had to keep there find a secret and even went as far as to set up a dummy camp near El Questro to throw people off the scent. as soon as the lease expired the joint venture submitted a new application and after a tense night of waiting it was granted and the Argyle Diamond Mine was conceived.
The Argyle diamond deposit was mined using conventional alluvial and open pit mining from 1983 to 2013. Over this period of time more than 800 million carats of diamonds were mined. In 2013 a new era of underground mining of the AK1 pit took over to access the pipe at further depth. So while were at the mine it didn’t seem like much was going on but that is because so much is going on underground.
After completing the tour we then headed back to the plane and enjoyed one final look over the mine. It was so great to be able to see the mine for myself after talking about it and reading about it for so many years. We did of course ask the all important question about when the mine is supposed to close and cease production and the date given was December 2020. Will be interesting to see what happened to the pink diamond industry at this time.
I would highly recommend the tour by Aviair to the Argyle Mine for anyone with an interest. The pilots and guide were all friendly and informative. The small plane did make me feel a little queasy but all was forgotten once we were on the ground.