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The Big Hole and the Kimberley Mine Museum, Kimberley

Picture dusty streets, tens of thousands of prospectors, some who will make their fortune, and some who will die trying, all armed with picks and shovels. Between digging they live in makeshift tents and ‘shanty’ settlements, and are entertained by ladies of ‘ill repute’, their evenings spent in bars, their faces and clothes covered in mud, dust, blood, sweat and tears, their muscles aching and their bodies exhausted from the heat. It’s a lawless landscape from which some of the most famous names in South African history as well the first millionaires and financiers of future mineral and gold prospecting in South Africa will emerge. This is Kimberley 150 years ago, when daily and under a baking sun over 20 – 30 000 prospectors were digging what is now The Big Hole in the arid landscape of the Northern Cape.

The Big Hole is commonly thought to be the largest man-made hole in the world, but this ‘honour’ in fact goes to the hole in the former diamond mining town of Jagersfontien in the Free State – closed to tourists and the centerpiece of what is now all but a ghost-town.

In contrast to that mine, the Kimberley Big Hole has attained its fame through tourism and the infrastructure that Kimberley offers. Still – the second largest hand-dug diamond mine the world is impressive. The Big Hole is 215 metres deep, 17ha across and has a circumference of 1.6km. Begun in 1871, it was closed in 1914, after yielding 2722 kilos of diamonds.

Today the Big Hole is a world-class tourist destination, with many attractions ‘added’ to the actual giant pit to form what is now the Kimberley Mine Museum and Big Hole Complex, including the restoration of the ‘old town’ that started growing around the mine in the 1870′s. The Big Hole Complex comprises the Old Town, the Diamond Display where you can see thousands of Diamonds and learn about the Kimberlite mineral pipes that yield them, a viewing platform from where you can see into the hole, a theatre where you can watch a movie on the discovery of diamonds in Kimberley, a restaurant and pub and shops. Activities also include an underground tour into the mine.

A full experience of the The Big Hole and the displays of the musuem takes a half day.

For more info

More info on the quaint town of Kimberley More info on the Diamond Fields area