In 1871, diamond deposits found on a hillock dubbed Colesberg Kopje on the farm Vooruitzicht, owned by the De Beers brothers, led to a mad scramble for fame and fortune and the world’s largest, hand-dug excavation, the colossal Kimberley Mine or Big Hole.
By 1872, the tents and shacks of more than 50 000 feverish diggers crowded New Rush, the mining town surrounding the hillock. Overcrowding, insufficient water, unsanitary conditions, disease, heat, dust and flies were ever present problems in the mining town’s early days.
In the fledgling city’s many gambling dens, card- and loan sharks thrived on a diet of other people’s blood, sweat and tears. The stakes were high and the ruthless ruled as fortunes were made and lost in a day. Some found only despair and heartbreak, but others struck it rich.
Spacious homes began to rise from the dust and, in 1873, the town was renamed Kimberley, after the Earl of Kimberley, British Secretary of State for the Colonies. Despite the town’s severe dose of diamond dementia, it was, by 1900, a prosperous town. Its complex, higgledypiggledy web of roads is a topographic reminder of a chaotic past. And not one, but five big holes, and a number of smaller mines, had been gouged out of the earth, reaching ever deeper into its bluish, diamond-bearing Kimberlite pipes! The Kimberley Mine was closed in 1914. Covering 17ha, it reached a depth of 1 097m and yielded three tons of diamonds. A bawdy shanty town born of a desperation and greed redolent of the American Wild West, Kimberley swiftly donned a mantle of architectural elegance.
Today, it is a prosperous, thriving metropolis with Victorian buildings that complement the more modern buildings of the CBD. Lacking the furious pace of South Africa’s larger urban giants, it is perhaps the country’s most innovative town. Home of our first flying school, our first stock exchange and the first city in the Southern Hemisphere to install electric street-lighting, it is mining a brilliant future from a glorious past.
Du Toitspan Rd. Containing missionary Robert Moffat’s personal copy of his SeTswana translation of the Bible, the library is a rich repository of books, manuscripts and photographs portraying life in the Northern Cape. Tel 053 830 6247. (08:00-12:45; 13:30-16:30)
Chapel Str. The original Museum was built in 1907 in memory of Alexander McGregor, a former mayor. Today, as a satellite of the McGregor Museum, it houses new displays on Kimberley’s suburban and township development. Tel 053 839 2700.
In the Kimberley Mine Museum, it contains a set of De Beers-commissioned watercolours depicting Victorian life in Kimberley.
The many battlefields of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) can be explored on the well marked N12 route.
The oldest, exclusively residential suburb originating in the 1870s. A self-guided walk starts at the McGregor Museum.
Tucker Str. Visit the largest hand-dug hole in the world and its museum complex that has undergone a R52-million revamp. Click here for more information.
Molyneaux Rd. Tours of the surface workings take place on weekday mornings and include a video on the history of Kimberley, modern diamond mining and recovery processes. Bultfontein offers the world’s only underground tour of a working diamond mine. Visits must be booked. Tel 053 842 1321.
Magersfontein. The gravesite of Boers killed in the Anglo-Boer War’s western campaign (1899-1902). Tel 053 839 2700.
Du Toitspan Rd. The elegant building, consecrated in 1908, has the longest nave in the country.Tel 053 833 3437.
Cnr Old Main Str & Transvaal Rd. In Roman Corinthian style, the City Hall was designed by F Carstairs Rogers. Built in 1899, it was completed just before the Anglo-Boer War. Tel 053 832 7242.
Next to MOTH centre A display of international military badges, medals and other relics.
Stockdale Str. Once the headquarters of Barney Barnato’s Kimberley Central Diamond Mining Company and a national monument since 1985, it has been in use by De Beers since the company’s amalgamation under Rhodes in 1888. Not open to the public. Tel 053 839 4270.
More than 3 000 rock engravings, predominantly abstract or entoptic designs, relating to San religious experience, are pecked into glacial pavements in the bed of the Riet River near Plooysburg. Tel 082 222 4777.
Egerton Rd. Revamped photographic gallery with ethnographic emphasis. The core of the collection consists of some 8 000 photographs taken by Irishman AM Duggan-Cronin between 1919 and 1939. Studies by Jean Morris, Aubrey Elliot and Alice Mertens form part of the collection. Tel 053 839 2700.
An elegant home at 10 Lodge Road, built in 1897 for Gustav Bonas. John Orr’s family home from 1902 to 1975. Declared a national monument in 1990. View by appointment through the McGregor Museum. Tel 053 839 2700.
Hertzog Square. Mother church of the Kimberley congregation, dating back to 1871. The present church was built in 1885. The Concentration Camp Memorial, honouring those who died in the Newton Concentration Camp during the Anglo-Boer War, stands in front of it.
Next to Kimberley Golf Club. The casino offers an elegant leisure experience with its Victorian-inspired décor. The casino itself is cash free and punters use state-of-the-art smart-card technology. Squires Grill and Bar features a sports bar and a feature grill and topping off the complex is a 200 people conference centre. Accommodation is available at the 90 room Flamingo Road Lodge.
The lower Vaal and Riet Rivers near Kimberley are renowned for stable yellowfish populations yielding world class catches of largemouth and small mouth yellowfish in pristine surrounds. Tel 053 861 4983.
Golf Club, Kamfer’s Dam. Tel 053 841 0179. (Mon-Sun 07:30-20:00)
Du Toitspan Rd. Once the Halfway Hotel, legend has it that Rhodes, when passing on his way to the Sanatorium, was served his drink while mounted. The drive-in license granted the present owners owes much to this tale. Tel 053 831 6324. (Mon-Sat 10:30-02:00 next morning)
Walks The Belgravia Historical Walk takes in 33 of the city’s most historic sites and The Great Kimberley North Walk shows off 42 more sites of interest. Contact the Diamantveld Visitor Centre for maps and more information. Honoured Dead Memorial Dalham & Oliver Rds. Designed by Sir Herbert Baker and built at CJ Rhodes’ behest to honour those who died defending Kimberley during The Siege. ‘Long Cecil’, the De Beers manufactured field gun used during the Siege, is mounted on the stylobate surrounded by shells from the Boer ‘Long Tom’. Of Zimbabwean sandstone, it bears an inscription by Rudyard Kipling and bronze plaques by Kipling’s father.
Dalham & Oliver Rds. Designed by Sir Herbert Baker and built at CJ Rhodes’ behest to honour those who died defending Kimberley during The Siege. ‘Long Cecil’, the De Beers manufactured field gun used during the Siege, is mounted on the stylobate surrounded by shells from the Boer ‘Long Tom’. Of Zimbabwean sandstone, it bears an inscription by Rudyard Kipling and bronze plaques by Kipling’s father.
Off the Transvaal Road. The water pan and reed beds are frequented by flamingoes and many species of waterfowl.
Du Toitspan Rd. A national monument since 1984, the Kimberley Club was established in August 1881. Among its more illustrious past members, it counts CJ Rhodes, Leander Starr Jameson, Charles Dunnell Rudd, Barney Barnato, Sir Ernest and Harry Oppenheimer. Tel 053 832 4224.
Visit the haunted corners of a city that was plagued by war and mine disasters. Tel 053 832 7298.
Off the new Bloemfontein road 31,5km from Kimberley. Its original gun positions, trenches and other defences intact, the site of General Piet Cronje’s crushing defeat of Lieutenant-General Lord Methuen, leading a relief column to the besieged Kimberley, was declared a national monument in 1971. The commanding officer of the ighland Brigade, Major-General AG Wauchope, was killed early in the battle between 12 000 British troops and 8 200 Boers entrenched at Magers-fontein. With the new audio-visual experience the museum displays uniforms, equipment, weapons, documents and photographs from both armies, bringing one of the Anglo-Boer War’s most important and decisive battles back to life. Tel 053 833 7115. (Mon-Sun 08:00-15:00, except Christmas Day and Good Friday)
Next to the City Hall. Kimberley developed around this square, formerly the main trading area for the dry diggings. A memorial of balancing rocks commemorates the 1890 departure for Zimbabwe of the Pioneer Column which opened the then Rhodesia to white settlement.
In the Sanarorium, Atlas Str. A national monument, built in 1897 at Rhodes’ instigation as an hotel and health resort. Rhodes’s home during the four-month siege, it was refurbished and renamed the Hotel Belgrave. A convent school run by the Sisters of the Holy Family from 1933, it became the McGregor Museum’s headquarters in 1971. Displays include natural history, the Siege of Kimberley, a Hall of Religions and the acclaimed Ancestors Gallery depicting 3 million years of human history in the Northern Cape. Tel 053 842 0099.
Signposted off the Barkly West road 24km from Kimberley. Ventersdorp lava some 2 500 million years old was scoured by slow-moving glaciers during an Ice Age about 250 million years ago. Gravel and rock in the ice gouged striations into the surface of the pavements, which also have 1 500-year-old rock engravings on them. New displays and a boardwalk are being developed. Tel 082 222 4777
Jan Smuts Blvd. A memorial to Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, mining magnate and erstwhile mayor of Kimberley. Surrounded by a rose garden, the Miners Memorial or Diggers Fountain, comprising a fountain and statue of five miners holding up a sieve, was erected to honour diamond diggers, past and present.
General van der Spuy Dr. The site of South Africa’s first flying school. Started in 1913, pilots of the South African Aviation Corps, later the South African Air Force, were trained here. A replica of the Compton Paterson biplane trainer is on view. Tel 053 839 2700.
Du Toitspan Rd. Portrayed astride his horse, a map of Africa on his lap.
A municipal pleasure resort on the Vaal River, Riverton offers boating and fishing, and the resort has a large swimming pool. Accommodation is available. Tel 053 832 1703.
House Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, founder and first president of the Pan Africanist Congress, spent his last years practising law in Kimberley under a banning order. Breaking away from the ANC’s passive stance to form the PAC in 1958, Sobukwe rallied support for the massive, 1960 anti-pass protests. After police killed 69 people at Sharpeville, they arrested Sobukwe. Sentenced to imprisonment on Robben Island, he was released after nine years to live under house arrest in Naledi Str, Galeshewe. He died in 1978.
Formerly the lavish home of HP Rudd, a mining magnate, it is now part of the McGregor Museum which restored it to its full grandeur. Declared a national monument in 1990, the house at 5-7 Loch Road can be viewed by appointment through the McGregor Museum, tel 053 839 2700.
Hull Str. South Africa’s first school of mines opened in Kimberley in 1896. Moved to Johannesburg in 1903, it became the core of the University of the Witwatersrand. Its original building now houses a theatre workshop.
Cnr Blacking Str & Dyer Place. Built in 1890 by Pieter Wessels, the small, corrugated-iron church, is the mother church of Seventh Day Adventists in South Africa and Australia.
St Cyprian’s Cathedral, Du Toitspan Rd. An Anglican nursing nun, Sister Henrietta was the first matron of Kimberley’s new hospital. Through her efforts to secure legal recognition for the nursing profession, she brought about the first state registration of nurses in the world, in 1891. Contact the nurses’ home and visit the chapel built at Sister Henrietta’s request. The statue is the world’s only portrait statue of a nun.
In the former Malay Camp – now Kimberley’s Civic Centre – visit the house of one of South Africa’s most famous sons. A founding member of the African National Congress and its first Secretary General, Plaatje started out recording events of the Anglo-Boer War and went on to make significant contributions to South African journalism and literature.
Kimberley railway station. Documents the development of the railway and transport systems of the region.Tel 053 838 2376. (Mon-Fri 08:30-15:30) Entrance fee charged.
Du Toitspan Rd. Built to honour those of the Cape Corps who lost their lives in the Battle of Square Hill, Palestine during the First World War.
North Circular & Barkly Rds. Formerly an hotel and today South Africa’s oldest continuously operating bar. Dating back to the 1870s, the pub was restored and made a national monument in 1990. Tel 053 832 6463.
Austin Rd, Beaconsfield. Visits by appointment only. Contact Theuns Klopper, tel 053 838 3131.
Memorial Rd. Opened in 1901, a building in Byzantine style.
Running several times a day between the City Hall and the Mine Museum, the tram – introduced to Kimberley in 1887 – was refurbished to assist visitors. Its route between the City Hall and the Big Hole includes historical buildings and places of interest. It is the only tram service running in South Africa. Tel 053 832 7298.
Off the R31 between Kimberley and Barkly West. One of South Africa’s premier rock art sites (over 400 rock engravings) with audio visual introduction, displays and audio tour on site. !Xun and Khwe San art and crafts on sale at shop and tea room. Tel 053 833 7069 / 082 222 4777
Civic Centre, Jan Smuts Blvd. One of the most important galleries in the country, and the cultural oasis of the area. Housing a representative collection of South African works, 16th and 17th century Flemish and Dutch Old Masters, and British and European Masters. Tel 053 831 1724/5. (Mon-Fri 08:00-16:45; Sat 10:00-16:45; Sun 14:00-16:45)