Kimberley is the capital city of South Africa’s Northern Cape Province. It’s known for its 19th-century diamond mines, like the deep, hand-dug Big Hole. Nearby, the Kimberley Mine Museum is a re-creation of the town in its heyday, and displays jewelry and uncut diamonds. The William Humphreys Art Gallery exhibits South African work, Old Master drawings, 17th-century European paintings and modern art.
Surrounding Kimberley are many memorials and sites of some important battles of the Anglo-Boer war, most notably the Siege of Kimberley in 1899 with the famous “Long Cecil” on display, and the battlefield site of Magersfontein where Boer General used trench warfare for the first time.
The city boasts other firsts like the first city in the Southern Hemisphere to install electric street lighting and the first city in South Africa to switch to an automatic exchanges, and it housed the country’s first Stock Exchange.
Big Hole and other mines
As miners arrived in their thousands the hill disappeared and subsequently became known as the Big Hole (or Kimberley se Gat in Afrikaans) or, more formally, Kimberley Mine. From mid-July 1871 to 1914, 50,000 miners dug the hole with picks and shovels, yielding 2,722 kg of diamonds. The Big Hole has a surface of 17 hectares (42 acres) and is 463 metres wide. It was excavated to a depth of 240 m, but then partially infilled with debris reducing its depth to about 215 m; since then it has accumulated water to a depth of 40 m leaving 175 m visible. Beneath the surface, the Kimberley Mine underneath the Big Hole was mined to a depth of 1097 metres. A popular local myth claims that it is the largest hand-dug hole on the world, however Jagersfontein Mine appears to hold that record. The Big Hole is the principal feature of a May 2004 submission which placed “Kimberley Mines and associated early industries” on UNESCO’s World Heritage Tentative Lists.
What makes Kimberley’s Big Hole that much more interesting is that it is an entirely man-made structure; the largest hand-dug excavation in the world.
By 1873 Kimberley was the second largest town in South Africa, having an approximate population of 40,000.
Kimberley is set in a relatively flat landscape with no prominent topographic features within the urban limits. The only “hills” are debris dumps generated by more than a century of diamond mining. From the 1990s these were being recycled and poured back into De Beers Mine (by 2010 it was filled to within a few tens of metres of the surface). Certain of the mine dumps, in the vicinity of the Big Hole, have been proclaimed as heritage features and are to be preserved as part of the historic industrial landscape of Kimberley.
The surrounding rural landscape, not more than a few minutes’ drive from any part of the city, consists of relatively flat plains dotted with hills, mainly outcropping basement rock (andesite) to the north and north west, or Karoo age dolerite to the south and east. Shallow pans formed in the plains.
One of Kimberley’s famous features is Kamfers Dam, a large pan north of the city, which is an important wetland supporting a breeding colony of lesser flamingos. Conservation initiatives in the area aim to bring people from the city in touch with its wildlife. In 2012 rising water levels flooded the artificial island built to enhance flamingo breeding, while in December 2013 a local outbreak of avian botulism bacteria resulted in the deaths of hundreds of birds. The island has since re-emerged.
Kimberly is in the Northern Cape of South Africa and this region is malaria free.
Barkly West is 35 Km’s to the north west on the R31.