‘Set in the Northern Cape, the city of Kimberley was founded in the 1870’s on the hope and fervor of the diamond rush that saw prospectors descend on the area to stake their claims with dreams of striking it rich. This was a definitive turning point in South African history.
It had all begun in 1866 on a farm called De Kalk when two children found a large shiny stone while out playing. Giving it to their father, the stone eventually made its way to Grahamstown in a bid to ascertain it’s value and was discovered to be a 21,25-carat diamond later named Eureka.
Not long afterwards, a local farmer bartered an even larger stone off a Griqua shepherd that would become known as The Star of Africa or Cullinan diamond, and at 530 carats is still the largest cut diamond in the world.
News soon spread as more diamond deposits were found, leading to a mad scramble for fame and fortune and the digging of the great Kimberley mine began.
By 1872 the tents and shacks of more than 50 000 hopeful diggers crowded the area. Insufficient water, unsanitary conditions, disease, heat and dust were everpresent challenges in the mining town’s early days. But the stakes were high and with money made and lost in a day, the early prospectors were not deterred.
Today Kimberley is a modern manicured city showing signs of upkeep, care and growing investment. Yet these tales of intrigue and wonder, as well as romance, remain imprinted on the city’s character and are ever evident in its tourist attractions, making it well worth a closer look.
Start your visit at the site where it all began, The Big Hole Complex, where you can peer into the deepest man-made crater in the world, experience a trip deep into a mine and walk about the old town that still pulsates to the rhythms of a bygone era, while gaining unique insight into diamonds and the process of recovering rough diamonds and turning them into polished gems. Take the vintage tram around the big hole.
Spend time at the impressive McGregor Museum with its natural science exhibitions, research projects and displays that range from the early history of humankind 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 about 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’.
Have a drink at the Star of the West pub that 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.
Visit the Cathedral Church of St Cyprian the Martyr, Kimberley, the seat of the Bishop found on Du Toitspan road. Said to have the longest nave of any Church in South Africa, it was constructed over four periods, with the original section dominated by a suspended crucifix and illuminated hues emanating through its stained glass windows.
The Honoured Dead Memorial is a provincial heritage site and is situated at the converging point of five roads and commemorates those who died defending the city during the Siege of Kimberley during the Anglo-Boer War. While 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.
After a full day exploring the city, head out to Kamfers Dam in search of the flamingoes for which it is famous. It’s a beautiful place to enjoy a peaceful sunset over Northern Cape plains.
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 learning the history of the !Xun and Khwe San people who now own the land, brings the story full circle.
For the history enthusiasts, about 31 km out of Kimberly on the Modderriver, you’ll find the Magersfontein battlefield. 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.
For the brave, the Guided Ghost Walk offers 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. Don’t leave without a visit to the Sol Plaatjie Museum.
Kimberley is a friendly city that is easy to navigate either with a printed map, which you can get at the Tourism office. Allow yourself at least two full days to do it justice.
How to get there?
Access to Kimberley was originally by wagon, as roads were rapidly developed to service the diamond fields. Today, Kimberley is located at the intersection of the N12 and N8 national roads and makes for a wonderful diversion while travelling through the Northern Cape. Daily direct flights are also available with Airlink, which services the Johannesburg and Cape Town routes.For accommodation look at the Kimberley Anne Small Luxury Hotel, a new addition to the city that is impressive in style, friendly service and modern opulence.
At the very sight of the Big Hole, between 1871 and 1914, 2722 kilograms of diamonds were extracted from 22,5 million tons of soil. Kimberley was the first city in the Southern Hemisphere to install electric streetlights on 2 September 1882. Meaning that the electric lights of Kimberley came on before those of London.’
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