South Africa Road Trip: Off-the-Beaten-Track in Kimberley

Kimberley. The second stop on a 10-day South Africa road trip, the unassuming capital of South Africa’s Northern Cape province and a very, very strange place. Officially founded in 1873 following a mad diamond rush, the tiny town in the Northern Cape has slowly sunk into a sad demise following the abrupt but total destruction in 1914 of its infamous diamond mine: the Big Hole.

Nowadays, Kimberley is mainly used as a convenient stopover point for those making the drive from Cape Town to Johannesburg and vice versa. A quick flip through my ever-present Lonely Planet, however, told me this was more than just a pitstop. Cue: Kimberley. A wistful town of colonial heritage, history, bloodshed and diamonds.

I was sold. I eyed up what there was to do in our first stopover down to Cape Town. There seemed to be two viable attractions. The Big Hole Museum and… a ghost tour.

Ghosts at The Big Hole

Even if it is, effectively, nothing more than a huge crevasse in the middle of the dusty bush, the imaginatively-named Big Hole is pretty captivating. Once the home of one of the most lucrative diamond mines in South Africa, life in the quaint, colonial town of Kimberley catastrophically ground to a halt when miners hit water. The 1000km-deep, manmade hole abruptly flooded with cool, blue water – claiming the lives of those inside and shutting down the mine forever. And with all that macabre history, the prospect of a midnight ghost tour sounded like the perfect way to end the trip.

Alas, neither of the two things that Kimberley had going for it were attainable that evening. The museum closed at 1700, and the ghost man recommended in my trusty Lonely Planet guide was nowhere to be found. (I was to receive a message a few days later from Steve the ghost man, apologising that he was at a battle reenactment. Next time, Steve, next time...). So, we wandered around the 19th-century of Kimberley, sipped on a few icy Savannahs and headed back to our questionable motel on the outskirts of this strange city.

Adios, Kimberley

The next day we got up early to take the 9 am tour of the mine. I mean, there was no point in going there and not seeing it all. We stocked up on braai and beers, bid Kimberley farewell and headed on our merry South way to the next stop on our South Africa Road Trip: the beautiful, beautiful Karoo.

The Big Hole Kimberley South Africa Road Trip @charlvanrooy

Would I recommend a stop in Kimberley? Well, if you’ve got time to spare and need a stopover on your way from Johannesburg – Cape Town (or vice versa), then yes. Book the elusive ghost tour days, nay, weeks in advance to avoid mild disappointment, and prepare for a weird but pleasant stop on your South African Road Trip.

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