The most notable thing about Kimberley is a huge hole in the ground, but it’s not just any hole – it’s what’s left over after the removal of about three tons of diamonds. Measuring over a kilometre deep, with a surface area of 17ha, it’s the world’s largest hand-dug hole – a monument to the lengths (and depths) humans will go in search of wealth. The wild, vibrant and – no doubt – rather sleazy shanty town that arose around the diggings in the 1870s has been transformed, tarted up and reconstructed into a rather cutesy open air museum; complete with a bar, various merchants, homes and clubs.
Mining at the Big Hole, as it is rather prosaically known, ceased in 1914, but there are still a few active mines in the area, and you could do a contemporary mine tour to contrast with the Disneyesque Kimberley Mine Museum.
An interesting (and admittedly pretty useless) piece of information is that the volcanic rock in which diamonds are found is called Kimberlite.
What’s interesting about Kimberley, historically, is that it’s the place where South Africa’s industrial revolution got under way. It was money from the easily worked Kimberley diamond fields that funded the rather more expensive gold mines of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg) and so laid the basis of the wealth of modern South Africa. So it’s not surprising that Kimberley is a fascinating cultural destination. A gentle historical walk in the city centre takes in a number of lovely old Victorian houses, a myriad art galleries, statues, monuments and a number of museums.
There are also interesting battle sites dating back to the South African (Anglo-Boer) war and some beautiful rock art sites that exhibit the more unusual form of rock engraving, as opposed to painting.
Kimberley is situated on the N12, which branches off the N1 in the Karoo, offering an alternative route to Johannesburg from Cape Town, and it’s a good place to stop over for a day or two. There is a small airport.
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