The Big Hole? Isn’t that a rather unusual name for a tourist destination you might well ask? No more unusual than the fact that the Big Hole at Kimberley, in the Northern Cape province of South Africa, is the Earth’s largest man-made hole. So large, in fact, that it is visible from space!
Why dig such a big hole? Diamonds, and lots of them, will always be a good reason to begin digging a hole and to just keep on going until that hole covers a surface area of about 17 hectares, has a perimeter of approximately 1.6km, and is 215m deep; though at one point it was as deep as 240m but the depth has been reduced by the addition of rubble and debris into the hole.
How did it all begin? Once upon a time, in 1871, two brothers bought a farm and discovered that there were diamonds to be had by the spadeful. All too soon word spread and no sooner had a handful of intrepid miners arrived to find their fortunes than a whole bunch more arrived. Pretty soon, probably sooner than anyone might have predicted, there was such an influx of miners that we now refer this occurrence as ‘The Diamond Rush’. The de Beer brothers, to whom the land belonged, were so overwhelmed that it became impossible for them to keep the land and they sold it on.
How did the miners do it? The hole was dug by just over 50 000 miners using picks and shovels, and over the course of its existence it yielded no less than 2,722kg of diamonds.
What happened next? Two big mining companies were formed to manage and control the operations at this new site, but soon it became appropriate to merge the two, which in 1888 then became known as De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited. Though this company was named after the original owners of the farm, they had no interests vested in it. De Beers, the company, today controls virtually all diamond mining operations on Earth.
How long did mining go on for here? Mining lasted for just 43 years at the site, and was ultimately suspended in 1914.
What is there to see today? The Kimberley Mine Museum is located at the rim of the Big Hole, and is an open air museum, with a small recreated village showing the history of diamond mining at Kimberley that includes shops and houses, a church and a tavern, and other interesting structures just as they were in the heydays of the Diamond Rush. One can visit the Diamond Vault, a secure area that is home to the ‘616’, the largest (616 carats) uncut diamond in the world, as well as the ‘Eureka’ which is purported to be the first diamond discovered in South Africa in 1867 on the banks of the Orange River. The Viewing Ramp will allow you to almost ‘step over the edge’ as it is suspended over the Big Hole, which gives you an awe-inspiring view of the Big Hole from above.