The registered international head office of De Beers, near the fabled Big Hole or Kimberley Mine. Pictures: Kevin Ritchie
The registered international head office of De Beers, near the fabled Big Hole or Kimberley Mine. Pictures: Kevin Ritchie
A charcoal sketch of Cecil Rhodes, drawn just before his death, hanging in the Kimberley Club.
A charcoal sketch of Cecil Rhodes, drawn just before his death, hanging in the Kimberley Club.
The diggers memorial in Kimberley Oppenheimer Gardens, with the diamond sorting Harry Oppenheimer House behind.
The diggers memorial in Kimberley Oppenheimer Gardens, with the diamond sorting Harry Oppenheimer House behind.

Kimberley - The chattering classes will tell you differently, but you could do a lot worse than choose the N12 as your route to the Cape next time you travel.

The aficionados will tell you to take the N1 – if you can’t afford to fly – or some convoluted trip that looks like David Livingstone in reverse through lesser spotted and even lesser visited Free State dorpies. Nonsense. Gird your loins, take a deep breath, exhale and take the N12 off-ramp on the N1 south.

You’ll be up for bit of roadworks around Carletonville, about 40km from Joburg and extending for 30km further. It’s not a crisis, seriously, and beyond lies a pristine road all the way to Kimberley.

I lived there for years and regard it as a spiritual homeland, but the prospect of the N12 and the potholes outside Christiana – even the re-modelling of the road around Wolmaransstad – often had me reaching for two Panados and lying down in a dark corner until the feeling had passed.

It’s all different today, even the Wimpy at Wolmaransstad has had a total revamp and is well worth a stop to refuel, revictual and ablute, at what is traditionally the halfway point to Kimberley.

Kimberley itself, and I’m hopelessly biased here, remains a treasure trove of Victoriana. If you’re just overnighting, this is what I would do: take a trip through the Open Mine Museum in the afternoon, have a pint at the Kimberley Club in town (whose dining room once had more millionaires per square foot than any other place in Africa) and return to the delightfully named Occidental Bar in the evening, back at the Open Mine Museum for another cold beer and steak that is out of this world.

After all the #rhodesmustfall clamour of recent weeks, don’t go to Kimberley if you’re allergic to colonialists. They live and breathe in almost every nook and cranny from the father and son Kipling-inspired Honoured Dead Memorial to Queen Victoria gazing balefully out of the grounds of the William Humphreys Art Gallery.

Rhodes is front and centre throughout, as you might expect from one of the founders of De Beers, which itself began in Kimberley.

He sits about 4m high atop his horse behind railings just off Du Toitspan Road; he holds a pint aloft from the wall of the Halfway House (which benefits from his having the liquor laws changed to create a drive-in pub so he wouldn’t have to get off his horse for his tipple) and, in the parlance of the youth, “owns” the Kimberley Club, where you’ll find him in statue, bust, painting, drawing and sketch.

The next day, as you prepare to bid Kimberley adieu, drive past the Oppenheimer Gardens and take a peek at the statue of Sol Plaatje hard at work editing his newspaper.

The celebrated writer, author, journalist and newspaperman was educated up the road at the Berlin Mission at Pniel and then returned to Kimberley after the Anglo-Boer War to start not one but two newspapers, between travelling to Britain in an attempt to get the king to overturn the 1913 Land Act.

As you drive out of town on the Cape Town road and go past the “Honoured Dead” look out for “Long Cecil”, the only field gun made by amateurs during the Siege of Kimberley from plans they found in what is today the Africana Library and built in the old De Beers workshops.

Once you’re on the road proper, you’re still not free yet.

Turn in at Modder River and double back about 10km on a dirt road to Magersfontein – the battle that humiliated the Brits and immortalised Koos de la Rey – and kept Rhodes sulking in the sanatorium as the Boers bombarded Kimberley with their Long Tom.

There’s something about Kimberley that will keep you coming back for years; it’s a combination of incredible history, romance, war, schlenters and feuds, wide open spaces that fill the soul and a hospitality so generous it has to be experienced, rather than told.

 

Getting there

The N12 to Kimberley is 482km and takes you from the N1 to Potchefstroom, Klerksdorp, Wolmaransstad, Bloemhof, Christiana, Warrenton and then Kimberley.

Depending on bladder capacity and your fuel tank, you can do it in one go or stop along the way.

This is biltong country, so you can stop at every town on the guise of sampling droëwors and biltong, from beef to any number of game variants.

We travelled six up in a Ford Tourneo Connect Titanium LWB automatic, which was a revelation both in terms of the engine size (fuel injected 1.6 litre) and actual load-carrying ability.

We didn’t pack for Perth but rather a weekend, so the small boot had all the space we needed. The kids each had their own seats, with power points for phones and tablets and storage places for books and cooldrinks.

Up front, from the captain’s seat, with its armrests, the trip was an absolute breeze, with more than enough power to make full use of the overtaking lanes between Joburg and Potch, and plenty to punish the long straight south of Klerksdorp.

Saturday Star