In south Africa, what makes Kimberley’s Big Hole that much more interesting is that it is a complete man-made structure; the largest hand-dug excavation in the world. The early history of Kimberley is also the tale of the discovery of diamonds, a definitive turning point in the history of the country.
It all began back in 1866 when Erasmus Jacobs found what he took for a shiny pebble on the Orange River banks. It was later sold in London, after it was determined to be a 21.25 carat diamond, for £500. After a further two diamonds were found in the area, a diamond rush ensued and miners arrived in their thousands. The hill disappeared in a flurry of prospection, as picks and shovels yielded as much as 2,722 kilograms of diamonds.
The underground mine of Kimberley reaches as deep as 1097 metres. Underground operations at the Kimberley mines have only recently closed, and the Big Hole has had a massive upgrade to turn it into a tourist experience.
Now visitors can go underground in a recreation of a mine shaft of the period, watch a film that introduces one to diamonds in Kimberley, visit an exhibition centre, take in a diamond display, use the new viewing platform that allows one to get a bird’s eye view of the Big Hole from above, and visit the Old Town to see Kimberley in its heyday.