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What began as a discovery of a small shiny stone on the Orange River in 1866 culminated in an enormous diamond rush to the Kimberley area 5 years later, and eventually resulted in a town now firmly associated with diamonds. Kimberley is the capital of the Northern Cape Province in South Africa and takes its name from the Earl of Kimberley who annexed the diamond mines for Britain in 1873.
Kimberley’s most striking feature is the Big Hole, a gigantic hole created by miners seeking instant wealth. This massive manmade hole conceals the suffering and sacrifice made to source the jewels during the diamond boom that lasted for 43 years.
It was diamonds that contributed to the wealth of the city too, with the De Beers mining company and other corporates responsible for the architectural gems found in the town centre.
When viewed from high above, the roads radiating out in all directions appear as the legs of a spider with Kimberley at the centre, an oasis in a semi-arid land.
Top 8 reasons to visit Kimberley
1. Walk the streets to appreciate the charming Herbert Baker-designed buildings and the memorials, busts and decorative fountains scattered throughout the town. Kimberley is a town of Southern Hemisphere firsts: first with electric street lighting, first to host a world exhibition and the first flying school established here.
2. A tour of the Big Hole is an absolute must to gain an appreciation of the effort undertaken by miners to dig this vast hole. Climb the ramp to the viewing deck, join an underground tour then explore the old town. Several eateries are onsite and the venue hosts an annual international skateboarding event.
3. A visit to the last remaining drive-in pub at the historic Halfway Hotel is worth a drink! The hotel was granted a drive-in liquor licence in the 1870s to serve horsemen while they waited to pass the tollgate.
4. The building exterior doesn’t look like much but the William Humphreys Art Gallery has an exceptional collection of local art and paintings by Dutch masters. The gallery organisers take exhibits to the people, an initiative to encourage awareness of this visual medium.
5. Take a break from culture and enjoy a relaxing retail experience at the Diamond Pavilion Mall south of the city. The mall has close to 100 stores and a food court. For more intimate shopping, try the smaller Kim Park Shopping Centre in the centre of town.
6. The 400ha pan at Kamfersdam just outside Kimberley is on private land, however, there is a view site to marvel at the thousands of flamingos that gather at the pan. Over 180 species of bird and hordes (flamboyance?) of up to 18000 flamingos have been recorded here.
7. Try your luck at the Flamingo Casino tables or visit simply to enjoy a spa session followed by a well-grilled steak at the casino’s Harvest Charcoal Grill restaurant.
8. The cross-country Amegeza Rally (amegeza meaning crazy in Xhosa) takes place in Kimberley every August. Off-road participants travel through gruelling mountainous terrain, salt pans, thick bush and desert to reach the finish in Kimberley 7 days later.
Incoming flights arrive from Cape Town and Johannesburg at the Kimberley Airport, located south of the town. Several car rental agencies are based in the town and at the airport, otherwise order a vehicle online. Metered taxis operate throughout Kimberley. The Shosholoza Meyl, a train service travelling between Johannesburg and Cape Town, stops in Kimberley. The ideal mode of transport though, is a car rental.
Did you know?
In the late nineties and early noughties, the name Kimberly was extremely popular for Generation Z-born girls but its popularity has since waned.
Kimberley’s slogan is the ‘city that sparkles’ and the town is gradually gaining recognition as an extreme sports hub.
The Kimberley Hole is the world’s deepest (not largest) manmade hole, dug to a depth of 240m. Some of the sides collapsed and water obscures the bottom, however, it’s still an impressive site at 175m deep. More impressive is the fact that the area was once a hill!
For a more down to earth experience there are guest houses. Less expensive than hotels, they offer a more homey environment, as well as more privacy. Converted from a private house it’s a much gentler environment and for those with furry friends, there are also pet friendly options. They are usually well situated with shops and places of interest nearby. Being so small it offers a much more personal and intimate attention to it’s upkeep, leaving you with a more polished and homely experience.