Before exploring Kimberley I thought it had little more to offer than its ‘Big Hole’ experience. But the biggest city in South Africa’s largest province has a lot more going for it than we give it credit for. It’s origin as a diamond rush town made it the fastest-growing city in the southern hemisphere at the time that Cecil Rhodes amalgamated hundreds of claims into one hugely wealthy diamond industry.
Today it’s a bustling, albeit small in terms of a city, community that Leana Coetzee, resident of the house next door to the one in which my father-in-law was born (it’s a long story!), explains to me is one of the friendliest you’ll find in the country…
‘I even convinced my husband-to-be to move here, the place is so welcoming. I wouldn’t live anywhere else.’ She isn’t kidding. In our couple of days in Kimberley we receive unsolicited neighbourliness at every turn (standing vaguely on street corners, whilst scrutinising historical buildings, obviously evokes the locals’ charitable streak).
And if historical tales, wide streets lined with Victorian mansions, battlefields, museums, galleries, gardens and good food entice you, then Kimberley is your kind of city. I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed my stay.
Here are the best kept secrets in Kimberley…
Photograph: The Cenotaph in memory of Kimberley’s 400 men who died in WWI, Belgravia Walk, Kimberley
V I S I T
The Big Hole really is worthy of its major attraction status. It doesn’t serve as much of a landmark as most of it is under the ground, but it’s every bit as iconic as, say, Table Mountain. [Whilst we’re on the subject of geography, getting around Kimberley is confusing – there are numerous one-way streets and an ungrid-like system of roads that leaves you speechless when, after two days, you still cannot find your accommodation after exploring the sights. [A GPS or the Waze App are essential!]
The world’s largest hand-dug hole’s deep chasm is breathtaking from the viewpoint, and its superb museum a wealth of information. Your tour will start with a brilliant and succinct 20-minute video outlining the discovery and ensuing diamond rush that gave birth to Kimberley (known then as New Rush). To the north of the museum complex is the mock-up Victorian village.
Where: park in West Circular Road in the parking area across from the museum
Tip: stroll the Victorian village for free; you pay only when entering the museum complex; tours are on the hour every hour from 09h00 to 16h00 (weekends, every 2nd hour)
Photograph: The Thandabantu Exhibition at Duggan-Cronin Gallery
On the other side of the Alex Hall Memorial Garden, with its tree and shrub trail, from the McGregor Museum (housed in the old Kimberley Sanatorium), is the Duggan-Cronin Gallery. I have the impression that it is seldom visited.
The ethnographic gallery is home to a fantastic, but small, collection of photographs of the tribes of southern Africa taken in the 1920s and 1930s by the Irish-born Alfred Duggan-Cronin and his assistant Richard Madela. The two travelled the country photographing indigenous people.
The Thandabantu (the name Alfred picked up along the way) exhibition is only a fraction of his careful, honest and poignant collection. They offer a priceless insight into a way of life largely vanished.
Where: Egerton Road, Kimberley
Tip: The McGregor Museum has many satellite buildings, including the beautiful Rudd House and Dunluce (both on the Belgravia Walk). Phone ahead to see them. Their entrance fee is nominal
Photograph: 22 Erlesmere Road, Belgravia Road, the residence of the grandson of HA Morris.
This is one of several historical walks available in the city. Pick up a copy of The Kimberley Meander – guided tours in and around Kimberley – from the tourism office or any hotel or attraction, for details. The tour is only 3.6 km but it can take you hours if you’re at all interested in historical buildings.
We cut the leg down the west end of Du Toitspan and Park roads so as to complete it in a morning. You can buy a DVD accompanied by a documented handbook of the Belgravia Walk. Ask at the Kimberley Club reception, Currey Road.
Where: Belgravia lies south west of The Big Hole and is the oldest suburb in Kimberley with over 9 properties declared national monuments; it is named after London’s posh district
Tip: If you don’t want to do the walk, do the next best thing – drive the blocks between Egerton, Du Toitspan, Lodge and Park roads in Belgravia – the houses are gorgeous
Photograph: Dunluce No 10 Lodge Road, Belgravia Walk
The Ghost Trail
The Diamond diggings, Anglo-Boer War, failed romances and gory deaths have given Kimberley more than a couple of haunted buildings and places.
Be warned: this entertaining night tour of Kimberley is popular.
Where: start at the famous Honoured Dead Memorial (you can’t miss it, it’s in the centre of the traffic circle on Memorial Road)
Tip: contact either Steve Lunderstedt 083 732 3189 or Jaco Powell 082 572 0065, but do so way in advance as both men are in demand!
Photograph: The McGregor Museum in Kimberley
E A T & D R I N K
The historic, colonial-style Kimberley Club has two restaurants – Rhodes Grill, a more formal diningroom, and Café Vitello, a casual front porch eating arrangement that, on a balmy evening, is just the ticket (they share a menu after 6pm, however). The food was exceptionally good, their pork chops, roast duck and oxtail delicious and the service from a bygone era.
Where: the official entrance is on Currey Road; although the hotel has an equally formal entrance on Du Toitspan it remains gated
Tip: sit awhile on the bench provided in the peaceful courtyard garden overshadowed by a huge tree and the statue of Rhodes
Good food and good music, as well as braai facilities and a huge entertainment area outside (perfect for smokers), Cheers is a favourite amongst the locals in Kimberley, which says it all.
Where: 39 Main Road, Beaconsfield
Tip: They’re great for big screen weekend rugby, and regularly host live, local acts
Photograph: Kimberley Club Cafe Vitello
S L E E P
It doesn’t come better than the Kimberley Club. Colonial-style history on every floor evident in both the furnishings and the many photographs, including a gallery of portraits on the first floor of the boutique hotel. Kimberley Club offers a range of double bedrooms that open up onto a Victorian balcony, with excellent service and good food.
But the best is the family annexe, over the road on the back side of the parking lot. The huge suite has a fully equipped kitchen, bathroom and dressing room with two sleeper couches for kids.
Where: 42 Currey Street, Kimberley
Tip: The private garden on the family annexe is all yours if the other three suites are vacant
Others: See other accommodation in Kimberley here.
Photograph: The Thandabantu Exhibition at Duggan-Cronin Gallery