Kimberley. – Northern Cape. The what, the where and the how to get there.
I’m learning more about the various Southern African routes that Airlink services and flew to Kimberley with them to spend time in the Diamond City to uncover some of it’s significant attractions.
The early history of Kimberley offers an intriguing tale into the discovery of diamonds and is certainly a definitive turning point in the history of the country.
It all starts with the first significant find in 1866 on a farm called De Kalk, owned by Daniel Jacobs near modern-day Hopetown. Jacobs’ children found a shiny stone while out playing and gave it their father, him to the neighbour who in turn gave it to a trader in a bid to ascertain the value of the stone. It eventually made it’s way to Grahamstown and was discovered to be a 21,25 carat diamond that was later named Eureka. That was the start.
Then in 1869 local farmer Schalk van Niekerk bartered an even larger stone from a Griqua shepherd. It would become known as The Star of Africa and go on to be sold in Geneva in 1974 for over half a million US dollars.
News soon spread and more diamond deposits were found on the hillock Colesberg Kopje, at the time owned by the De Beer brothers. This led to a mad scramble for fame and fortune and the digging of the great Kimberley Mine by hand began. This is now the site of the Big Hole.
By 1872 the tents and shacks of more than 50 000 hopeful diggers crowded what was then known as the mining town of New Rush. Overcrowding, insufficient water, unsanitary conditions, disease, heat, dust and flies were ever present challenges in the mining town’s early days. But the stakes were high and fortunes were made and lost in a day.
The story continues through the diamond years and the Kimberley Siege during the Second Boer War. Notable South African personalities such as Cecil Rhodes and Barney Barnato made their fortunes here and the roots of the De Beers company can be found in the early days of this mining town.
Today the very area that saw prospectors descend on it to stake their claims with dreams of striking it rich, is a modern manicured city showing signs of upkeep, care and growing investment. It’s rich in accommodation, attractions and many restaurant.
How to spend 48 hours in the Diamond City.
We appropriately started our two day visit at the site where it all began, the The Big Hole Complex where I peered into the deepest man made crater in the world, experienced a trip deep into a mine and walked about the old town that still pulsates to the rhythms of a bygone era.
Then a visit to the 2nd oldest pup in South Africa, finding street art, time at the McGregor Museum, St Cyprian’s Cathedral and a walk across the rail tracks to the cracked muddy shores of Kamfers Dam to see the flamingoes. What a great day. Staying at the incredibly the impressive Kimberley Anne Boutique Hotel. #DiscoveryKimberley
The second day in Kimberley took us on an exploration of the surrounds, to Wildebeest Kuil Rock Art Centre where there are as many as 400 engravings and where the history of the !Xun and Khwe San people who now own the land, brings the story full circle.
Heading in the opposite direction we walked the land where the Battle of Magersfontein took place on 11 December 1899, a significant moment in the Anglo Boer war that saw a victory for the Burghers, yet heroes made of men whatever their allegiance.
There’s a monument to the Burghers and one the Highlanders, a museum and a coffee shop stopped in time. It’s a wonderful drive that gives you a taste of the long dirt roads that this country is so synonymous with, yet so easily accessible from Kimberley.
Choices are many as we started our exploration at The Big Hole Complex with a walk about the old mining town that still pulsates to the rhythms of a different era.
Through an investment by De Beers Consolidated Mines, numerous attractions had been added to the Big Hole facility. It is a world-class tourist destination, providing unique insights into diamonds, diamond mining and the process of recovering rough diamonds and creating the polished gems we know today.
About that great big hole.
Digging commenced at the Kimberley mine site in 1871. By the time mining ended on 14 August 1914 the mine had yielded 2722 kilograms of diamonds, extracted from 22,5 million tons of excavated earth. Today what remains is a massive crater 215 meters deep with a surface area of 17 hectares and a perimeter of 1,6 km. It is surrounded by original buildings from the heyday of the mine, relocated from earlier sites to form an unforgettable open air visitor experience.
Mostly for me though its the mystery and stories it holds as well as the vulnerability it represents in its instability. Oh, and that glorious shade of teal blue.
This vintage Kimberley tram dates back to the days when prospectors first descended on the town. Today you pay just R10 and take a 20 minute ride around the big hole. It’s the cutest thing, especially when they flip the seats around for the return trip.
My guide on the tram, amazing smile!
Go down the mine and watch a simulated explosion.
An old steam engine used to transport the diamonds.
See seriously large and very impressive diamonds, they’ll make you want one.
Kimberley was the first city in the Southern Hemisphere to install electric street lighting on 2nd September 1882. The electric lights of Kimberley came on before those of London. Now that’s a brag.
As in any city, I’d advise you to keep your eyes open for street art as there is quite a lot to be found.
The impressively beautiful McGregor Museum has natural science exhibitions, research projects and displays going from the early history of humankind and the world to the heady diamond days and tense siege of the South African War as well as the history of apartheid South Africa and the years that brought us to Democracy.
The Museum is based in the old Kimberley Sanatorium building in the upmarket suburb of Belgravia, but it has a number of satellite venues spread around the ‘City of Diamonds’. It is also a major Northern Cape research institute specialising in natural and cultural history.
The Star of the West pub has seen 146 years of uninterrupted service and is the second oldest pub in South Africa. It first opened in 1870 to give sustenance to the hordes of thirsty miners and you can almost hear the chatter and creek of the wooden floors as you enter. Upstairs is undergoing renovation and will soon open as a restaurant under the name Diamond Girls.
The Cathedral Church of St Cyprian the Martyr, Kimberley, is the seat of the Bishop of the Kimberley and Kuruman and can’t be missed when driving down Du Toitspan road.
While taking photos from the outside we were warmly welcomed in for a tour and closer look by the caretaker who unlocked the treasure for us. Said to be the longest nave of any Church in South Africa, it was constructed over four periods, with the original section dominated by a suspended crucifix.
We walked the full length which was partially illuminated by the hues that emanated through its stained glass windows, read the history and took note of the well tended gardens as we listened to tales of the Bishops that have called this home.
The Honoured Dead Memorial is a provincial heritage site and is situated at the meeting point of five roads and commemorates those who died defending the city during the Siege of Kimberley during the Anglo-Boer War.
Kimberley’s Cenotaph was unveiled on 15 July 1928 to commemorate the fallen of World War I with plaques added in memory of fallen Kimberley volunteers in World War II. The a garden around it offers a suitable tranquility.
After a full day in the city we headed out to Kamfers Dam in search of the the flamingoes for which it is famous. The water levels were low and we braved the muddy bumps with skids and slides, it was unbelievably beautiful when you take a closer look. The shapes formed looked like those of an elephants hide and the sun set on the evening. We may not have got too close to the flamingoes but it was beautiful out there anyway.
Happiness as I got mud all over my shoes!
Walking on the ‘elephants hide’.
Well actually you probably shouldn’t linger on the railway track, it’s not a safe activity by any measure, but as we hopped across to the flamingoes I had to stop and ponder the significance of the crossing while remembering my trip on Rovos Rail that took me from Cape Town to Pretoria in glorious style, stopping in Kimberley for a tour of the old town.
Blissfully breathing in the Northern Cape air.
Highly recommended is a visit to the Wildebeest Kuil Rock Art Centre where there are as many as 400 engravings. A must see in Kimberley and the history of the !Xun and Khwe San people who now own the land, brings the story full circle.
Our guide Petrus, who walked us through the history, area and engravings.
Some of the rock engravings we found on our walk, this elephant may be my favourite.
A wildflower discovered walking the ‘veldt’.
About 31.5 km out of Kimberly on the Modderriver Road past the airport you’ll find the Magersfontein battlefield, recommended to any visitor to Kimberley. It was here that General P A Cronje and his Boer troops defeated the English forces of Lt Gen Lord Methuen who were on their way to relieve besieged Kimberley.
Standing there on the elevated position that saw the advantage to the Boers, you can feel on the eery the history of the day. There’s an excellent museum with enacted video, a stopped in time tea shop with delicious toasted sandwiches and the option of visiting the Burgher and Highlander Memorials.
The view towards the land from which the English approached.
The Highlander Memorial on the hill above the museum.
The Burghers Memorial with original tombstones.
On the way back to the city after our remote explore I had to stop and take in the beauty of the open landscapes of the Northern Cape, as I was once again reminded of how much South Africa has to offer.
And then our time was up …
I wish I’d done one of the Guided Ghost Walks as Kimberley is reputed to have many genuine stories of ghost sightings. The trail starts at the Honoured Dead Memorial and takes you to some of the city’s 158 haunted houses and buildings. There are also alternative Ghost tours of the haunted city centre, as well as a visit to Magersfontein battlefield where you may see the swinging lanterns of the stretcher bearers and hear the ghostly bagpipes … Don’t miss out on this.
You may also want to get to the Kimberley Club for a drink. Some historic greats have walked through those doors and a visit to the Sol Plaatjie Museum.
With a layer of dust as evidence of a happy day, we headed for our Fly Airlink flight home.
It was such a pleasure to get to know Kimberley better, it really is a place worthy of a leisurely visit, one that would allow you to learn more about it’s rich history, attractions and the rich offerings of the surrounding areas. Everybody we dealt with was incredibly friendly and went out of their way to welcome and assist us, which added a charm of the experience.
It’s a city that is easy to navigate either with a printed map, which you can get at the Kimberley Tourism office, or with your phone’s google maps or GPS.
Best thing of all is that there are daily flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town to Kimberley with FlyAirlink.com, which remains the best and most convenient way to get there. Check out their other unique routes too.
We stayed at the new Kimberley Anne Small Luxury Hotel and recommend that you do so too.
Disclaimer: Flying there with FlyAirlink I was hosted by them during my stay as I discovered more about Kimberley, one of the many destinations they service.