"A cracking good day out in Kimberley!" Top 5 Page for this destination Kimberley by CatherineReichardt

Kimberley Travel Guide: 51 reviews and 72 photos

What possessed me to visit Kimberley on the coldest day of the year - and the day after a huge unseasonal rainstorm had wreaked havoc over the entire interior of the country, leaving the usually parched ground waterlogged?

Well, as with much of my travel to unglamorous spots in the South African platteland, quite simply I was paid to do so. And as I stepped off the plane to bone numbing dampness and a temperature of 2 Centigrade, I could have been forgiven for being more than a little glum since the limited flight schedule meant that I had seven hours to kill before the interview that I had flown in to conduct. But, being a seasoned VTer, having the best part of a day to explore somewhere that my fellow VTers seemed to have precious little positive to say about was both a challenge and an opportunity ...

It is probably fair to say that Kimberley is one of South Africa's most forgotten tourist destinations, and in general, people only visit to break the road trip between Johannesburg and Cape Town. Even then, they tend to do a whistlestop tour to the Big Hole and then leadfoot it out of town (never a good idea in a small South African towns and cities, which seem to reap a disproportionate of their municipal income from speeding fines).

In preparation for my trip, I have trawled the VT pages (surprise!) and was dismayed at what I found. Given that I had not visited Kimberley as a tourist for about 15 years, I was prepared for things to have changed in the interim. However, I had enjoyed my previous visits and could not believe that fellow travellers had so little good to say about it, and seemed to have experienced such a limited range of things. Could Kimberley have become so dull so quickly???

Happily, the answer is a resounding "No", provided that you have a passion for history - in which case Kimberley has it in spades, and you'll probably need to overnight to fully appreciate its attractions and charms. In many ways, exploring Kimberley and its heritage is like experiencing South African history in microcosm, and I was heartened to discover that it is even more tourist friendly than it was last time I visited.

The towering influence of Sol Plaatjes

Those who have read some of my other travel pages will know that my preferred mode of tourism is to find a person whom I feel epitomises that place, and then 'follow in their footsteps'. Courtesy of Kimberley's colourful history, I was unusually spoiled for choice, from the bombastic, egotistical Cecil John Rhodes to the pugnacious East End streetfighter Barney Barnato and the paternalistic Oppenheimer clan (of De Beers fame) - all larger than life characters uncomfortably juxtaposed by the diamond rush. But I chose none of these, because for me, there was one person of such towering stature and influence that he easily overshadowed this motley bunch of mining magnates: Sol Plaatje.

Sol Plaatje is perhaps the most forgotten of South African leaders: a man who exerted a profound influence on our transition from colony to democracy (and all the exceedingly painful steps in between), but whose legacy seems to have been sadly eclipsed by the generation of ANC icons such as Mandela and Sisulu who emerged in the 1960s. Born near Kimberley, and educated at the German mission station at Pniel, Plaatje was one of the co-founders of the ANC, and had an astonishing varied career as a celebrated journalist, translator, author, human rights campaigner and baritone. He was present at the siege of Mafikeng, and spent a number of years in the UK trying (unsuccessfully) to raise awareness at the unfairness of colonial legislation that effectively precluded Africans from owning land. Quite simply, he was a true Renaissance Man, and it is only fitting that his legacy is again being rediscovered. For more on this fascinating man, have a look at my travel tips.

City of Firsts

I am a self confessed trivia junkie, and the more obscure the fact, the more I relish it! I have therefore reproduced this fabulously eclectic list of Kimberley 'firsts' verbatim from the wonderful - and free - Kimberley Meander publication (I suspect that most of these are 'South African firsts', unless otherwise stated):
1871: The first private postal delivery service
1877: The first professional training of nurses
1875: The first drive-in bar (see my travel tip on the Halfway Inn)
1882: The first city in the Southern Hemisphere to install electric street lighting on 2 September 1882. The electric lights of Kimberley came on before those of London
1883: The first Stock Exchange in South Africa
1889: The first hotel with electricity
1889: The first to win the rugby Currie Cup
1911: The first public flight in the first South African built aircraft
1913: The first airplane accident
1913: The first ten pilots in the South African Defence Force
1913: The first pilots in the South African Aviation Corps
1926: The first Industrial Council
1928: The first diamond cutting factory
1929: The first woman to play tennis without stockings at Wimbledon
1931: The first airport safety regulations
1931: The first airport to install lighting equipment
1931: The first night landing by a pilot
1931: The first airport to offer 24 hour services
1931: The first municipal rest house and aerodrome in Africa
1934: The first National Air Rally
1936: The first South African Museums Conference
1936: The first South African Museums Association constituted
1940: The first female municipal traffic wardens
1954: The first State school for paraplegics
1954: The first State school for physically disabled
1965: The first twelve year old to hold a world record in swimming
1967: The first Commando Training Unit
1967: The first nationwide direct dialing telephones
1969: The first woman Judge: Miss Justice Leonora van de Heever
1976: The first housing scheme, Ipopeng in Galeshewe, for black employees
1977: The first remoted controlled ore trains in underground operations
1980: The first South African to be elected to the world swimming hall of fame - Karen Muir
1983: First elected black town council: Galeshewe in South Africa (30/11/1983)
1983: The first coloured priest becomes a bishop
1983: The first manufacture of self-propelled irrigation pivots in South Africa
1992: The first City Council to amalgamate all group areas

Lastly a word about the weather. The Northern Cape has an extreme climate, and like other continental interiors, it is baking hot in summer - in other words, this is not the time to economise by opting for the 'rent a bomb' hire car with no air con! However, bear in mind that although the summer days are very hot, it can cool down dramatically at night (which is actually more comfortable for sleeping). Rain usually falls in summer as isolated thunderstorms, which can be quite a spectacle to behold.

In winter, the temperature can often drop below zero at night, and the days can be chilly (if usually bright).

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Packed full of fascinating history and a great stop off en route for Cape Town
  • Cons:A city that's a long way from anywhere, and whose glory days are long past
  • In a nutshell:Quite possibly South Africa's most tourist friendly town - a taste of our past, an experience of our present and a glimpse of our future
  • Last visit to Kimberley: Jun 2011
  • Intro Updated May 6, 2012
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Reviews (34)

Comments (4)

  • kenHuocj's Profile Photo
    Oct 18, 2013 at 5:00 AM

    Sonny Leon(g) is another Kimberley citizen who made the headlines, other than being one the officers in the Cape Coloured Corp in N Arica duringWW II , then his political days from the 50's through the 80's ;-)))

  • HORSCHECK's Profile Photo
    Feb 6, 2012 at 10:44 AM

    Cathy, fabulous page with outstanding photos. By the way 2° C is quite warm compared to the temperatures we are currently having in Europe. *winkygrin*

  • toonsarah's Profile Photo
    Dec 6, 2011 at 2:54 AM

    Excellent page Cathy. I do enjoy it when a VT member succeeds in "selling" a destination that someone else might ignore or shun, and you've done just that for Kimberley. I was fascinated by all the info on Sol Plaatje, whom I knew sadly little about, and loved the cute hyaena sculpture in the art gallery (and who ever thought the words "cute" and "hyaena" could appear in the same sentence?!) Your restaurant tips raised a few smiles too :-)

  • Jun 29, 2011 at 5:46 PM

    diamonds are a girls best friend... and so are statues of 'chippendale-esque" rippled muscle men! i enjoy reading your pages cathy, just wish i had more time to do so! nice work.

CatherineReichardt

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