150 years ago, the site of the Big Hole was a featureless, flat-topped hill. When word spread that diamonds had been discovered, thousands of prospectors, armed with nothing more than picks, shovels and hope, descended on Kimberley and created the largest hand-dug excavation in the world
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 214 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.
Through an investment by De Beers Consolidated Mines, numerous attractions had been added to the Big Hole facility - a world-class tourist destination, providing unique insights into diamonds, diamond mining and the process of recovering rough diamonds right through to the polished gem found in today’s jewelry.
With the development and ongoing improvements to the N12 national road, visitors are encouraged to take an alternative route through the breathtaking Northern Cape and to come and explore the wonderful attraction that is the Big Hole in Kimberley. The Big Hole facility also has numerous shops catering for all tastes.
What to Do
Real Diamond Display
The real diamond display is housed in a high-security vault, specially constructed for the Big Hole facility. Thousands of gems are on display, allowing the visitor to fully appreciate the interesting colours, types and sizes of diamonds recovered in South Africa
Diamond & Destiny Film
A short film screened in a state of the art theatre introduces visitors to the story of diamonds in Kimberley. The film takes audiences back to early 1867, when curious children picked up a shiny stone on the banks of the Orange River. This stone, proved to be a diamond. The film follows the fascinating story of how its discovery changed the destiny of the entire region.
Underground Mine Experience
The techniques of underground mining were pioneered at Kimberley. The mine revealed to geologist, for the first time, that the primary deposits of diamonds were volcanic pipes. Until Kimberley yielded its secrets, prospectors assumed that diamonds were found only in rivers – as was the case in India and Brazil.
The equipment used to process the diamond ore was housed in the Pulsator Building. Visitors can see the old jigging machines and grease tables specially designed to extract the diamonds from the ore. Although the techniques of mining and extracting diamonds have vastly improved, modern diamond mining still uses the same basic methods that were developed in Kimberley.
Inside the Exhibition Centre the multi-faceted story of diamonds is revealed, including the myths and legends of ancient peoples who believed that diamonds had many mysterious powers. The storyline also covers the colonial history of South Africa and the sub-region, which entered a dramatic phase following the diamond rush.
Like any epic story, the history of diamonds in South Africa contains episodes of anguish and tragedy. After walking hundreds of miles from their villages around Southern Africa, many workers were faced with a hard existence in the compounds which were constructed to keep them productive – and prevent theft. Photographs, archive material and original artifacts illustrate the story of diamonds from past to present.
School and university groups will find the exhibition centre both fascinating and educational. It covers topics such as history, chemistry, geology and engineering.
The viewing platform is one of the unforgettable experiences of a visit to the Big Hole. The end of the platform is 30 Cape feet wide and 30 Cape feet long – exactly the size of a 19th century mining claim. The platform offers the visitors the opportunity to see the Big Hole from above, giving a wonderful sense of the Big Hole’s remarkable scale and grandeur.