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From Underground to Opencast Mining: A Treacherous Journey to the Iolite Mine in Babati

Updated: Jan 15

Babati, in the district of Manyara, is about 200km south of Arusha. The hairy drive to the iolite mine is one I will never forget. The further we drove up into the mountain, the more breathtakingly beautiful the views became. But getting up the mountain was no mean feat! The track was dusty, rocky and treacherous - at one point we had to repair the track and then push one of the cars! This really was an off-the-beaten-track adventure!

View from the Iolite Mine in Babati
The magnificent views from the Iolite Mine in Babati

The sound of our three vehicles coming up the mountain drew the attention of the local children. We were waved at, cheered and greeted with beaming smiles. It was so heartwarming to be greeted so enthusiastically. For some of the younger children, this might have been their first time seeing Westerners. I doubt they get many foreign visitors, up at over 6000 ft!

With every gem mine we visited, we had to follow rules, get permissions and submit papers to the correct authorities in advance. In this case, it was a small single building at the top of a track, equipped with a table and chairs and just windows for lighting. There were no utilities or facilities.

Ministry of Mining in Babati | Gemstone Detective
Hubert and Isa met with the Ministry of Mining

For half an hour, we all sat quietly watching whilst business was taken care of. Copies of business visas, passports etc were given for the Ministry of Mines and, before leaving, everyone in the group was asked to sign the registry book. Once that was done, we headed off to the mining area, a further half an hour drive to the top of the mountain.

Having a picnic
Having our picnic before setting off to the mining area

Miners drinking | gemstone detective
We gave food and drinks to all the miners

Greeted by the owner and miners, we gladly shared our picnic lunch with them before being taken to the opencast (above-ground) mining area. It was a huge open area of graphite rocks, twinkling with mica. There was no shade for the miners to take respite from the 30oC sunshine. Every miner had their own little area to work, to chip at the graphite rock with hammers and axes.

The Batati mine sign post
A lush view from the top of the Babati mine

Equipped with our own mining tools, the miners kindly showed us the seam they were working on and generously let us loose to collect our own specimens.

Here are a couple more photos of the iolite mining area in Babati:

A miner showing his iolite | gemstone detective
A miner shows Emma and Alice some iolite

Martin was chiselling the granite rock
Martin was chiselling the granite rock for iolite

Have you been to the iolite mining area in Babati? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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