Kimberley and The Big Hole

This day was one that I had looked forward to since I had first started reading about South Africa history back at UC San Diego in 2007. Journeying to the heart of South Africa which drew the world to a spot on the edge of the Kalahari desert and the veld. We awoke and passed on the breakfast on over at the Victorian Guest Lodge.

We set off directly to the Big Hole Complex that we had walked around the night before. It was not as dead as before, but certainly not as busy as one might expect for a winter holiday. We had just missed getting tickets for the Big Hole tour at 10am, so we bought two for 11am and set out to walk around the ‘town’, a replica of Kimberley during its boom years. The doors to the buildings were open and we were able to walk through them. While the town itself was a replica, the buildings themselves were authentic. One of them was a church that had been erected in the early 1800s. It’s always remarkable to find these little treasures in South Africa. There are few things of such fragility remaining from American boom towns, so to find a 200 year old wood church in the middle of Kimberley was quite unique. Even more remarkable. It had been in use up until just 50 years earlier when it was finally moved to the complex for preservation. We stopped to reenact the moves by our new friend Emo Adams, at the cable car before we headed in to take our tour.

Alex dancing like Emo Adams

We walked into the diamond store directly on the premise where Alisa scouted the merchandise. We then moved into a large theater as part of the tour where we learned about the history of Kimberley. I don’t recall learning anything that Lonely Planet or our other resources hadn’t turned up, but the tour as a whole as on the upscale. The complex was recently redone and it showed. Afterwards, we walked out onto the platform that overlooked the hole. Unfortunately our tour guide wasn’t the most talkative or sharing person that day, and we stared out over the gaping hole in the ground in mostly silence.

Alex at the Big Hole in Kimberley

We were then directed into a mine shaft that we took for over 90 seconds and emerged in what we believed to be part of the immense structure of the underground mines bording the Big Hole. After an underwhelming simulated mine blast (which Lonely Planet said scared the hell out of them so much that they weren’t going to mention the surprise to any of their readers), we were shown tools of the craft, but it had none of the aura that Gold Reef City in Johannesburg did. I soon learned why when we emerged from the mine shaft into a state of the art museum room, that adjoined the main entrance lobby. Our mine shaft ride had actually only taken us one floor down….

We decided to head towards downtown Kimberely, and since the cable car wasn’t working (it was on ‘lunch’) we hiked around the northern side of the hole towards the city. It was a much more African downtown than I expected. While the buildings were typical of a downtown South African city (meaning 1970s style), there was none of the Afrikaner influence that you often see in rural towns. Plus, there were hardly any white South Africans on the street. It was truly a bustling business-like downtown, akin to Johannesburg or Durban and less like Bloemfontein.

We walked past city hall where we found a pharmacy for me to get solution for my contacts, as I had somehow managed to leave them in Joburg while packing. We then headed south down the mainstreet, where we found a tall shopping mall that we wandered through looking for a place for lunch. We found Biacci’s. It was a fantastic Italian resturant, the result of the work of three Italian immigrants who had come to South Africa and eventually became wealthy enough to move their families to South Africa. This place was truly fantastic. I don’t believe it had been due to the lack of Italian food on the trip either. This place is definitely worth checking out if you find yourself in Kimberley, South Africa!

Food at Bacini's

We continued walking south where we came across the William Humphrey art museum. We walked in to see what we had read was one of the best art museums in South Africa and found ourselves in what could have been the European art wing at the Smithsonian. We walked the entire museum looking for something South African, but found nothing. To add on to that, we were followed by one of the conceirge/security/curators around the entire place. We decided to take a seat for a good long while in each room we came to, just to make them feel even more obvious. Not sure why two young people can’t be left to look at art by themselves, but perhaps they were just curious why we were there. Though the museum was under renovation, from what we saw of the art, there’s certainly no reason to include it on any itinerary.

We then hit the McGregor Museum, a natural history museum for the region. I was very fascinated by all the local artifacts on show and the collection had a siginificant amount of Boer War material. Of course Alisa had little interest in the museum (I think this may be the last Natural History museum she ever goes to with me). After Bulawayo, I thought she had reached her limit, so when the museum was closing up at 4pm, she was all to happy to leave.

However, we had run out of things to do in this small town, justifying our plans for a 30 hour stop over, and we decided to head to the Halfway House, one of Cecil Rhodes favourites, mostly due to the fact that it was a ‘drive-through’ bar (and still is). He would come by on his horse and rather than dismount and show his small statue, he had his beer brought to him. We were looking to kill over 4 hours at this place, so we dined very slowly, but the night still dragged on with the customary wary looks at us by the local Afrikaners who were regulars. We eventually were contacted by the Victorian Guest Lodge, with them saying they would come to fetch us and take us to the bus stop. They came through, and we were there to meet the Intercape bus at the downtown bus stop come the 2200 pick up time. It was quite cold that night, so Alisa was quite happy to make it onto the warm bus. I slept very well on the 9-hour journey. Bus rides in South Africa are now so luxurious compared to what we’ve done, that I am very comfortable on them.

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