Five reasons to visit Kimberley

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When you think about Kimberley, the first thing that comes to mind could be the big hole and diamonds. While the Northern Cape’s capital city is not necessarily a destination that pops up when thinking of a family holiday, this historic mining town and its surroundings should not be underestimated. There is plenty to do within a stone’s throw from the city. We compiled a list of the top five reasons to visit Kimberley, especially for those who love spending time outdoors, though there is much more to do. 

Big Hole Museum and vintage tram ride

Number one on our list of reasons to visit Kimberley is not difficult to guess as it is a massive tourist attraction with a rich history. People from all over the world descended on Kimberley during the diamond rush. It was a time of hope, with a lucky few sharing the massive riches. While some might feel this experience is a little outdated, it is still a great way to travel back in time and live in history, even if it is just for a short while. The Big Hole Museum is an open-air museum, so you get to transport yourself back to this period while wandering the streets of old Kimberley. Walk past old car dealers, banks, a church and plenty of shops displaying the items available during the gold rush. The guided tour gives much more insight into history. It includes a short movie and a guided experience through an old mine setup, complete with fake explosions. Youngsters might enjoy this part, while the fairer sex might prefer the glitz and glamour of the diamonds on display. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take photos of these beauties. Go on the outing and snap some Insta-worthy shots too!

Big Hole Museum
Big Hole Museum

The old tram formed part of the public transport system in Kimberley and ran from 1897 to the late 1940s. The short ride will take you past the original mining shaft, the Star of the West Bar, and to the other side of the Big Hole.

Stay for the night

What is more unique than staying in one of the historic buildings for a night, long after all the tourists have left the area? The New Rush Guesthouse is inside the old mining town. These corrugated buildings might look old outside, but they are luxurious inside and offer the perfect escape. There are a few options to choose from, and there is 24-hour security available on-site. 

Luxury accommodation at the Big Hole in Kimberley
Luxury accommodation in an old-style setting

Mokala National Park

The park is situated approximately 80km southwest of Kimberley and is known as the park where endangered species roam. While species such as roan, sable and tsessebe are present in other parks, Mokala has higher densities. Mokala is also famous for its camel thorn trees. Specimens range from small shrubs barely 2m tall to magnificent trees with large spreading crowns. These trees make brilliant silhouettes at sunset. 

Sunset in Mokala National Park
Sunset in Mokala National Park

Mokala also offers guided game drives, excursions to rock engraving sites and more. Book a bush braai or breakfast under a 400-year-old camel thorn tree, but book in advance. The Lilydale side of the park is home to the Riet River, so keen fishermen can pas some time at one of the fishing spots. 

Stay in Mokala National Park

Mosu Rest Camp has many options available, ranging from two-person units to larger family chalets. A treetop chalet is a romantic option for couples. You will sleep in the branches of a camel thorn tree and wake up amongst the birds.

Dronfield Nature Reserve

Roan antelope in the Dronfield Nature Reserve
Roan antelope in the Dronfield Nature Reserve

Don’t expect a grand entrance gate or a reception building. This private nature reserve belongs to the De Beers Group of Companies, and entrance is by appointment only. You announce your arrival at the gate via the handheld radio, enter and head to your unit. Someone will check up on the family after arrival, and the team is helpful, but you are generally on your own to enjoy your natural surroundings. The reserve is home to giraffe, springbok, red hartebeest, gemsbok and blue wildebeest. When I visited, the high-value species like sable, roan and buffalo were kept in breeding camps, though this is some time back and might not be the case anymore. Dronfield is also home to a massive population of white-backed vultures, and carcasses are placed at the vulture hide to feed these critically endangered birds. Kamfers Dam is across the road from the entrance gate and is home to a large population of breeding lesser flamingos. 

Stay: The reserve has six fully equipped chalets set among the camel thorn trees.

Rooipoort Nature Reserve

This nature reserve is much like Dronfield and part of the De Beers group, but much more rugged and wild. In fact, at just over 42 000 hectares, it is advisable to drive with a guide to prevent getting lost or take a radio if you want to do your exploring.

Bushman’s Fountain where you will find plenty of rock engravings

Rooipoort is home to 14 species of antelope, zebra and also giraffe. While there are no dangerous predators such as lions, many of their species hold special conservation value. Their ostriches are the only recognised pure flock in South Africa. They never mixed with imported individuals from West Africa during the feather boom in the late 1800s. When I visited a few years ago, not all wildlife was habituated to vehicles as you get in national parks. As a result, some animals would run, but luckily there is enough to see on drives.

Bushman’s Fountain is a special place in the park. This rocky outcrop is not only ideal for stretching the legs but also home to more than 4000 rock engravings. It is also a permanent water source in this arid environment, apart from 32km of the Vaal River frontage.

Stay for the night

Most of the accommodation options have historical connections. The Shooting Box was built under the instruction of Cecil John Rhodes to accommodate hunters in the area. This building can accommodate a large family group of up to 12 people. 

Smaller families can stay in one of two cottages in the same complex, sleeping four people each. Older kids will love the old mining implements displayed in the area. The reserve also has eight safari tents able to accommodate two people each.

Accommodation in the Rooipoort Nature Reserve
One of the accommodation options at the Rooipoort Nature Reserve.

Kimberley’s War History

The Anglo-Boer War began on 11 October 1899. Within four days, British soldiers besieged Kimberley. Battles took place at Belmont, Graspan, and Modder Rivers. But the biggest of them all was at Magersfontein, an event that was a total disaster for the British troops. The Boers used trenches and outwitted the English, and these can still be seen at the Magersfontein Battlefield Museum today. But apart from this site, there are plenty in and around town. The Honoured Dead Memorial is one example. This monument is the work of Sir Herbert Baker, commissioned by Cecil John Rhodes. It commemorates the 27 men who lost their lives defending the mining town during the Siege of Kimberley.

For more details:

Big Hole Museum: 053-839 4600 or www.bighole.co.za

New Rush Guesthouse: 053 839 4455 or reservations@debeersgroup.com

Mokala National Park: 053 204 8000 or www.sanparks.org

Rooipoort Nature Reserve: 053 839 4455 or reservations@debeersgroup.com

Dronfield Nature Reserve: 053 839 4455 or reservations@debeersgroup.com

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