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TThe Kimberley Mine Museum is a window back to a time when fortune seekers converged on a small hill in what is today Northern Cape province to dig for diamonds. This mining museum recreates what the town must have looked like, while allowing visitors to admire a replica of the stone on which the country’s diamond wealth was founded.
The Kimberley Mine Museum memorialises a history that dates to 1866, when the first diamond was discovered in South Africa, near Hopetown in Northern Cape. Three years later, the 83-carat Star of South Africa was found in the same area, unleashing a frenzied diamond rush seldom seen before or since.
Then came significant finds in Griqualand West, near the Vaal River, on the farms Bultfontein, Dorstfontein and Vooruitzicht. On a nearby hillock, then called ‘Colesberg Kopje’, the richest treasure house of all was unearthed.
Diamond diggers poured in from all over the world, and the grey, dusty air around the Kimberley camp was soon filled with the rocking of soil sifting cradles, metal clanging on rocks and honky-tonk. In no time, the hillock had disappeared to be replaced by the famous Big Hole.
The town was at first a place of weather-discoloured tents and corrugated iron houses, interspersed with trading stores and many bars and brothels. But as surface and alluvial diamonds became harder to find, many independent diggers were forced to leave.
Heavy equipment was by then required to exploit the kimberlite pipes which contain the gemstones. With only those with enough capital to finance such equipment and their employees left in town, Kimberley settled down to become a respectable, elegant Victorian city.
A snippet of those early days has been captured by the Kimberley Mine Museum, with various displays and exhibitions detailing what life was like for the fortune-seekers who converged on the area hoping to strike it lucky.
There is a lookout point over the famous Big Hole at the museum. The hole itself is 225m deep, with a surface area of 17 hectares and a perimeter of 1.6km (a mile). It ceased production on 14 August 1914, when the lower reaches were flooded.
The De Beers Hall in the grounds of this mining museum houses a display of jewellery and uncut diamonds, including a replica of the first Hopetown stone.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Kimberley Mine Museum
Tel: +27 (0)53 839 4600
How to get here
There are flights from all other major South African cities to Kimberley, or you can drive from Cape Town (almost 1 000km and an 11-hour drive) on the N1 and N12. The city is only 470km from Johannesburg via the R59; a drive of just over 5 hours. The Kimberley Mine Museum can be found on Tucker Street, close to the city centre.
Best time to visit
The Kimberley Mine Museum is open daily between 08h00 and 18h00.
Around the area
Ghost tours, diamond field tours and a trip to the site of the Battle of Magersfontein are but a few of the many outings available from Kimberley.
Kimberley is the only South African city with an operational tram system, dating back to the time of the diamond rush. You’ll want your own car or a rental so you can explore further afield, though.
Length of stay
A visit to the mine museum, the Big Hole and Old Town should take you approximately 3 hours, so plan an overnight stay at least – but you could easily while away a long weekend in the area.
Where to stay
Kimberley has several luxury hotels, but the B&Bs and guesthouses in the historic part of town, many of them in buildings dating back to the diamond days, come highly recommended.
What to eat
There is a cafeteria at the Kimberley Mine Museum serves light meals. Nearby is the historic Star of the West pub that first opened during the diamond rush, which offers both liquid and solid refreshments.