|When you think of Kimberley
and its Diamond fields, it is easy to imagine a wonderland of romance and
riches. And yet, the reality is that Kimberley and its surrounds are mostly
dry and uninspiring; it is unlikely that the city will again experience
the glamour and importance that it had for two decades at the end of the
19th century. For this reason, many tourist by-pass Kimberley and it was
this self-same reason that I decided to purposefully travel to this city.
In doing so, I found a well-hidden gem beneath the dusty surface of the
region, simply waiting to be discovered by the intrepid traveller!
My arrival in Kimberley did
not bode well. I arrived later than planned, and found myself bedless-and-breakfastless
too. After several calls to hotels that were full, I found a room in a
religious establishment of sorts. The greeting at the establishment was
less than warm, to put it politely, however the room was clean and the
bed comfortable and I was too tired to go elsewhere.
After a refreshing shower,
I found myself in better spirits and it was with a spring in my step that
I once again located my little run-around and headed into town. It was
thus in a chirpy frame of mind that I found, and thoroughly enjoyed, what
I believe to be Kimberley's best kept secret. The Star of the West!
around the corner from the Big Hole, the Star of the West is a pub that
draws its clientele from the locals. It is Kimberley's oldest pub and it
still serves beer to diamond diggers after the diamond markets on Saturdays.
As a female, I was a bit concerned as to whether I was welcome when I noticed
several worrying, framed newspaper cuttings - all dealing with the objection
of the local drinkers (men) to allowing the weaker sex (women) into the
pub. Fortunately, these do seem to be more of a decorative touch than a
not-so-subtle warning, and I felt very welcome in the sparsely decorated
The food was possibly the
best that I had tasted in several weeks. I had eaten several steaks in
Johannesburg, many at some of the priciest places in the city, but not
one could compare to the steak and salad that I enjoyed in the Star of
the West. And at a quarter of the price of my previous steak-encounters
- a mere R40/ £4 - my credit card didn't complain either!
You may think that this is
enough for me to rate the place so highly, however it was the customers
that made the evening for me. My neighbours at the bar comprised a priest
and two diamond diggers, and they were some of the best live entertainment
that I have witnessed in a pub for a long time. I was treated to some beautifully
sung Afrikaans songs, a rousing rendition of Shosholoza - on the bar, no
less! - and I was whirled around the "dance floor" (I use the term lightly)
in a rapid, albeit drunken, two-step.
By the time I left to return
to my little room, I felt quite at home and it was a heavy heart that I
waved goodbye, knowing that I would not sample the fare or the entertainment
of the establishment again. (Location: Near the big hole, on the corner
of West and North Circular Roads.)
As sad as I was to leave
the Star of the West the day before, I was quite happy to pay my bill and
leave my accommodation in the morning after the night before.
I was looking forward to
some seeing some of the mining sites, and the first on my list was a tour
of Bultfontein Diamond mine. At nine o'clock sharp, I presented myself
to a cheeky Yorkshire man who had been working in Kimberley for the longest
time, having fallen into the trap of getting married.
After a brief video about
diamonds and mining, I donned a very attractive, bright orange jumpsuit,
a hard-hat and several heavy boxes attached to my belt which were to power
my light. As promised, instead of wandering around a sanitised visitor
centre, I found myself travelling 825 meters into the depths of the earth
to the depths of the mine, where tourists weren't of much interest to the
Amid the noise of the turbines
and engines, the dust, the mud, the heat and the heavy air, I and 10 others
watched (and felt!) kimberlite being loosed with some form of explosive
device, dragged out by trolleys, crushed and then transported to the surface
for cleaning and sifting. And throughout, we enjoyed the friendly and informative
banter of our guide, our Yorkshire man, asking both technical and social
questions, receiving a range of answers that were both politically correct
as well as those that were less so.
A reflection on real life,
and a welcome change from the "politically correct, we're reformed" burble
that you so often find in countries that have had problems like those that
South Africa has had.
The experience was fascinating
and informative, highly recommended to all and sundry although probably
not a great idea for the timid and claustrophobic! Tours last 3-and-a-half
hours and are conducted Monday-Friday. Call +27 (0) 53 842 1321 (R75/ £7.50).
After this, I decided to
stick with the mining theme and headed for the Kimberley Mine Museum, which
is the only official way to get a good glimpse of the hole. Kimberley actually
has five big holes, not one as many visitors think. The De Beers mine,
which is situated a few steps away from the old De Beers boardroom, is
larger than the Kimberley Hole, but the Kimberley hole is special because
it was carved out of the earth entirely by brute manpower: pick and shovel.
That's some 250 million tons of rock removed basically by hand to produce
three coco pans of diamonds!!! (The three other mines belong to De Beers
and are found in the South East of the city).
The mine museum has several
attractions other than the Big Hole, so don't be put off by having to pay
to get in. The mine has two viewing platforms from which you can peer down
into the gaping hole beneath the platform. It is partially filled with
water, offering spectacular photo opportunities for happy snappers like
The cost of the ticket includes
a free bucket of alluvial soil, which you can then sift through in search
of a genuine Kimberley Diamond! This was great fun and I spent a thoroughly
enjoyable 15 minutes crossing my fingers and toes before finding nothing
at all, much to my disappointment as all the other "diggers" to my left
and right were discovering mock diamonds left, right and center! Their
discoveries led me to grumpily acknowledge that the claim of the museum
that "your chances of striking it lucky are one in five" was probably a
The rest of the museum comprises
a large collection of historic buildings including shops, banks, photograph
shops, and even a ten pin bowling alley! With many authentic artifacts
and original buildings rescued from the main Kimberley city center, this
truly is a living museum! A word of warning though - try to avoid the midday
heat! (Opening hours: daily from 8am - 6pm.)
Viewing these mines, one
current and one historical, was an all day affair! Before I knew it, I
was back in my car, heading away from Kimberley, on to my next destination.
Kimberley had made a significant
impression on me. Dusty, yes. Glamorous and important? Perhaps not. But
friendly and interesting and fun, yes. A recommendation for your South
African tours? Definitely! I wouldn't have missed it for the world!
Further attractions - Visit
a local township (+27 (0) 53 843 0017) - Visit the controlled area on the
banks of the Vaal River (+27 (0) 53 842 0099) - Visit the Anglo-Boer Battlefield
at Magersfontein (+27 (0) 53 842 0099) - Visit archaeological and San Rock
art sites (+27 (0) 53 842 0099)
About the Author - Suzanne
Whitby is the founder of Naturally Africa (naturallyafrica.org). It contains
a wealth of information for both South Africans and travellers to South
Africa. She loves South Africa and hopes to convey this in her writing
and her web endeavours.