I know more or less what Gulliver must have felt like when he landed up in Brobdingnab.
There’s no shortage of giant-sized stuff at Kumba Iron Ore’s Sishen mine. Whichever way you look.
At one extreme, I was looking up, rapidly developing an ache in the back of my neck as I peered skywards at the cabin of the Komatsu hauler, a dozen muddy steps and several metres above.
On the other extreme, I was screwing up my eyes, in a less than successful attempt at cutting through the twin handicaps of short-sightedness and dust clouds, to see the same hauler. Only now it was bug-sized and about half a kilometre below in the belly of the huge open-cast mine.
It’s an experience that never fails to inspire awe, you can sense, even in the old hands. Read all about it in the September 2011 issue of Popular Mechanics, and get a taste of that experience as I talk about my few minutes riding shotgun in one of the huge haulers, here.
How ironic, then, that my return trip to Kimberley to catch my flight home flipped the XXXL viewpoint on its head. Instead of a 3-hour drive back in the hired C-Class Benz, we – my host, the MD of diesel engine suppliers MTU South Africa, Michael Baumann, and I – were offered a shorter trip in something a bit cosier. Our chauffeur was to be a mine staffer and flying enthusiast who happens to own a Jabiru 4-seater. Essentially, three grown men and a couple of overnight bags were wedged into a flying object not much bigger than to a size 13 tackie. This must have been what Lilliput felt like. Only with a bit more yaw, pitch and roll.
Whatever, thanks to a 120-km/h tailwind, just three-quarters of an hour later we lined up our final approach at Kimberley. That includes having had to go around to keep our pesky buzzing object safely separated from an incoming commercial flight. As our central wheels kissed the still damp tar, in the near distance clouds were regathering ominously after earlier rain.
Everything looked normal size again. I didn’t know whether to say “thank goodness” or “what a pity”.