tanzanite mining entrancetanzanite mining entrance

Exploring the Hidden World of Tanzanite Mining: A Journey into the Depths of Tanzania

What's tanzanite mining like? Follow Jeff Moriarty of Moriarty's Gem Art as he descends into a Tanzanian mine in search of these gemstones.

5 Minute Read

HomeLearning CenterGemologyGem TourismExploring the Hidden World of Tanzanite Mining: A Journey into the Depths of Tanzania
When adventure calls, you answer. That's exactly what Steve, Michael, and Jeff Moriarty (from Moriarty's Gem Art and Tanzanite Jewelry Designs) did when they received an invitation to explore the enigmatic world of tanzanite mining in Merelani, Tanzania. What they discovered beneath the surface left them awestruck and filled with newfound respect for the hardworking miners who toil away to unearth these precious gems.
tanzanite crystal - Merelani, Tanzania
Tanzanite crystal from Natonya Camp, Merelani, Tanzania. Photo by Moriarty's Gem Art. Used with permission.

Traveling to Merelani

Sune Marasheki, a close friend, extended the invitation to the mines, and they embarked on a journey that would take them on a bumpy ride deep into the heart of Merelani, Tanzania. (Although well-known globally as Merelani, this area is called Mererani locally). The tanzanite mine was calling, and they couldn't resist the adventure waiting for them that day.

The drive from their hotel in Arusha, Kibo Palace, to the tanzanite mines in Merelani took over an hour. As they left the lush greenery near Mount Meru behind, the landscape transformed into a semi-arid grassland adorned with shrubs. The excitement was building as they approached the mine's entrance, something Jeff and Michael had heard stories about from their father, Steve Moriarty.

Photo by Moriarty's Gem Art. Used with permission.

Arriving at the Tanzanite Mines

Upon arrival, they were greeted by the sight of a protective wall encircling the tanzanite mining area and the government-operated entrance. They had only heard stories about this new wall and seen pictures online. While filming was strictly prohibited at the entrance, they were accompanied by a military escort to ensure their safety during the visit. With their newfound guardians in the back of their SUV, they set off for Sune's claim deep in the interior of the mining area.

Natonya Camp

The journey to Sune's claim, known as Natonya Camp, offered a glimpse into the intriguing world of tanzanite mining. Sune gave them a quick tour that included the generator powering the crucial air pump, sleeping quarters for the miners, the current mine entrance, and the old original entrance with its steep wooden ladder. That ladder looked daunting for anyone, even seasoned adventurers like themselves.

The original entrance was guarded by what Sune humorously referred to as "wait a little bit." These sharp thorns acted as nature's barbed wire, prompting Michael to think twice before navigating that entrance.

Their next option was a newer entrance, which seemed a bit less intimidating. While not a straight descent, the steep carved steps challenged their novice mining skills.

tanzanite mining entrance
The new entrance to Sune's mine. Photo by Moriarty's Gem Art. Used with permission.

Descending into the Tanzanite Mine

The underground world of tanzanite mining was beckoning, but just how far would they venture? Sune revealed that his new mine extended a staggering five to six hundred meters, equivalent to nearly 2,000 feet. This distance required serious consideration, even for intrepid explorers. The air was still, cool, and filled with the loose dirt they disturbed, forcing them to tread carefully to avoid any missteps down the mine shaft.

Descending into the depths of the mine, they had the privilege of meeting some of the miners. Names like Oloo and Sabatoor echoed through the dimly lit tunnels. These brave individuals delved into the earth to extract the coveted tanzanite. While chatting with them, Michael and Jeff learned about the holes left behind after past blasting and observed some of the indicator minerals hinting at tanzanite's presence. The pulley system hanging from the ceiling was used to hoist bags of dirt from the depths of the mine to the surface, where it would be emptied and examined for tanzanite.

tanzanite miners
Photo by Moriarty's Gem Art. Used with permission.

The miners demonstrated their skills, proudly displaying their expertise in a challenging and dangerous environment. As the group explored the underground world, they marveled at the dedication and resilience of the miners. The air was thick with camaraderie, and Michael and Jeff gained a newfound appreciation for the tough conditions these miners faced every day — the likes of which you would never see in the United States.

exploring the mine
Exploring the mine. Photo by Moriarty's Gem Art. Used with permission.

Returning to the Surface

Climbing back to the surface was an entirely different challenge. The ascent was physically demanding and tiring, but it offered a sense of relief compared to the initial descent. After a memorable and eye-opening journey underground, they returned to daylight, grateful for the experience.

Upon resurfacing, they met with their fellow adventurers who had stayed above ground. These seasoned miners shared stories of their own experiences and the hard work that went into tanzanite extraction. While Michael and Jeff were catching their breath and reflecting on their journey, the miners recounted how they effortlessly navigated the mine's depths — a testament to their unwavering dedication.

Natonya Camp, Tanzania - tanzanite mining
The Moriartys and the Natonya Camp miners. Photo by Moriarty's Gem Art. Used with permission.

Sune's mine had recently witnessed some blasting activities, and everyone was eager to see if their efforts had been rewarded with valuable tanzanite finds. With hopeful hearts, they anticipated the results of the latest excavation, knowing that luck played a significant role in their pursuit of these dazzling gemstones.

In Search of Gemstones in Merelani

Back in Merelani, Steve, Michael, and Jeff found themselves surrounded by tanzanite and other precious gems. They came across not only tanzanites but also chrome tourmalines, lavishly hued pink and lavender spinels, and vibrant rubellites. Their day had been fruitful, and they reveled in their discoveries.

As the day ended, the adventurers couldn't help but reflect on their incredible journey. The world beneath Merelani held secrets, challenges, and treasures beyond their imagination. Their gratitude extended to the miners who braved those depths daily, embodying the spirit of adventure and resilience.

Their journey was a reminder that beauty often emerges from the most unexpected places and the pursuit of the extraordinary can lead to remarkable discoveries. Michael and Jeff's tanzanite mining adventure was a testament to the allure of the unknown and the enduring human spirit of exploration. They left Merelani with a newfound appreciation for the world of tanzanite and the dedication of those who bring its brilliance to the surface.

Natonya Camp - tanzanite mining
Steve Moriarty and Sune Marasheki. Photo by Moriarty's Gem Art. Used with permission.

Rough and Faceted Tanzanites from Natonya Camp

In the coming days, they would eagerly await news of Sune's blasting results, hoping to hear that their adventurous day had yielded exceptional tanzanite treasures. As they bid farewell to Merelani, their hearts brimmed with the anticipation of future journeys into the depths of the Earth, where wonders and treasures awaited discovery, each step a testament to the unquenchable human thirst for adventure.

  • T4
  • T3
  • T1
  • T2

    Rough and faceted tanzanites previously mined at Natonya Camp. Photos by Moriarty's Gem Art. Used with permission.

    Tanzanite Mining Video

    Check out the video of the Moriartys' visit to Sune's mine.

    Live Show Featuring Gemstones from the Moriartys' Visit

    If you want to see all the gems the Moriartys brought back from Tanzania, make sure to attend their live online show on Wednesday, Nov 8th, at 7 pm Central Time on YouTube.

    Jeff Moriarty

    Jeff Moriarty has been in the family jewelry business for over 25 years. His family has a jewelry store in Crown Point, Indiana, as well as an ecommerce website.  He travels the world with his father in search of amazing gemstones and new discoveries.

    Never Stop Learning

    When you join the IGS community, you get trusted diamond & gemstone information when you need it.

    Become a Member

    Get Gemology Insights

    Get started with the International Gem Society’s free guide to gemstone identification. Join our weekly newsletter & get a free copy of the Gem ID Checklist!