“Today the very place that saw prospectors win and lose their fortunes is a modern manicured city showing signs of preservation, care and growing investment. It’s rich in accommodation, attractions and restaurant offerings.”
After diamonds were first discovered here in 1871, hopeful prospectors descended to the area to stake their claims with big dreams of striking it rich. It was a definitive turning point in the history of South Africa.
It all began with the first significant diamond discovery 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 dad, he to the neighbour who in turn gave it to a trader in a bid to ascertain the value. It eventually made it’s way to Grahamstown and was found to be a 21,25 carat diamond later named Eureka.
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 as more diamond deposits were found on the hillock Colesberg Kopje, at the time owned by the De Beer brothers, which 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 place that saw prospectors win and lose their fortunes is a modern manicured city showing signs of preservation, care and growing investment. It’s rich in accommodation, attractions and restaurant offerings.
Top 10 things to do in the Diamond City
1. Start your visit at the site where it all began, the The Big Hole Complex.
Here 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.
Through an investment by De Beers Consolidated Mines, numerous attractions had been added to the 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 and covet today.
A lovely fact is that Kimberley was the first city in the Southern Hemisphere to install electric street lighting on 2nd September 1882, coming even before those of London.
Book cheap tickets to Kimberley here.
2. Take the vintage Kimberley tram.
The tram dates back to the days of the first prospectors. 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.
3. Stop in for a drink at the 2nd oldest pub in SA
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.
4. Visit the McGregor Museum.
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.
5. Admire the Cathedral Church of St Cyprian the Martyr.
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 you may even be lucky enough to be invited in by the caretaker. 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. Walk the full length and enjoy the illuminated hues that emanate through its stained glass windows, read the history and took note of the well tended gardens as you learn the tales of the Bishops that have called this home.
6. Reflect at the Honoured Dead Memorial.
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.
7. Head out for a visit to the Wildebeest Kuil Rock Art Centre.
Here there are as many as 400 engravings and where the history of the !Xun and Khwe San people who now own the land, bringing the story full circle. Allow at least a couple of hours here.
8. History buffs head to the site of the Battle of Magersfontein.
About 31.5 km out of Kimberly on the Modderriver Road past the airport, you’ll find 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 all men, whatever their allegiance. 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 the eery 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.
9. Flamingo fun at sunset
After a full day in the city head out to Kamfers Dam in search of the flamingoes for which it is famous. The water levels are often low but you should brave the muddy bumps with skids and slides, it is unbelievably beautiful when you take a closer look. The shapes forms look like those of an elephants hide. A good spot to watch the sun set on the evening.
10. Feeling brave? Book one of Kimberley’s famous Guided Ghost Walks.
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 …
Call +27 83 732 3189 to book your own Guided Ghost Walk, held from 6pm to 10pm in the evening.
You may also want to get to the Kimberley Club for a drink. Some historic greats have walked through those doors. Talking about greats, the Sol Plaatjie Museum should not be missed. 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.
On my visit I found it an absolute pleasure to get to know Kimberley better, it really is a place worthy of a leisurely stay, one that would allow you to learn more about it’s fascinating history, attractions and the offerings of the surrounding areas. Everybody I dealt with was incredibly friendly and went out of their way to welcome and assist me, which added an immense charm to the experience.
On the way back to the city after your remote explore, stop to take in the beauty of the open landscapes of the Northern Cape, the landscape is breathtaking.
Useful Information when planning your trip to Kimberley.
- Airlink offers direct flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town to Kimberley daily. The airport is a short drive from the centre of the city.
- You’ll need at least two full days and I recommend that you pick up a rental car on arrival to allow enough freedom and flexibility.
- It’s a city that’s 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, which is what I used.
- My recommendation is that you divide the attractions into two sections. One day exploring the city, the other the outskirts. It will be most efficient on your time and give you a full day in the beautiful surrounds.
- As for accommodation, I stayed at the luxurious Kimberley Anne Small Luxury Hotel and recommend that you do the same. A new addition to the city, it is impressive from the moment you approach it’s modern exterior. The rooms are large and richly opulent, the food delicious and the service warm and friendly. They also have excellent free wifi.
This video should further inspire your visit – Kimberley, the Diamond City.