Although the R50 million that turned the Big Hole into a world-class tourist destination came from De Beers, touring the world’s largest hand-dug hole gives an honest impression of the mining industry’s chequered past in Kimberley. Visits start with an entertaining 20-minute film about mining conditions and characters in late-19th-century Kimberley, and a walk along the Big Hole viewing platform. The open-air steel contraption, jutting out over the 1.6km-round, 215m-deep chasm, enhances the vertigo-inducing view of the 40m-deep turquoise water.
A lift takes you down a shaft for the simulated mine experience, where audio and visual effects give an idea of how bad life was for the early diamond miners. Sounds of tumbling rubble and explosions add to the claustrophobia.
After exiting the mine, spend some time in the exhibition centre, which covers South African history and diamonds in general, as well as Kimberley’s story. Also here is the guarded diamond vault, holding more than 3500 diamonds and replicas of the Eureka and 616 (the world’s largest uncut eight-sided diamond, weighing 616 carats), which were unearthed here.
Outside, and entered for free, is a partial reconstruction of Kimberley’s 1880s mining settlement, constructed using original relocated buildings, including a corrugated iron church, funeral parlour, sweet shop and bank, as well as a functioning pub-restaurant and guesthouse. Try your luck panning for diamonds and hitting skittles in the bowling alley. There is also a restored Victorian tram that takes visitors on a short ride (R10) to the other side of the Big Hole. There are plans to extend the line to City Hall.
If you just want to see the hole itself, a reduced rate is offered (though not generally advertised).