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South Africa Holiday: Barkly West

Situated on the banks of the Vaal River just northwest of Kimberley in the Northern Cape, Barkly West was once a thriving diamond digging community of which many reminders can still be seen.

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Barkly West is 36km northwest of Kimberley. As you approach the solid dolomite bridge traverses the Vaal River, conveying you into the town.
Click to see a detailed map of Barkly West and the Northern CapeIts early human history includes prehistoric man, followed by iron age people and then the Koranna tribesmen.
European Missionaries from the Berlin Society founded a station here in 1849 and named it Pniel, meaning the "Face of God" (one of their most famous students was Sol Plaatje, who was a pupil in the 1880s and then a pupil/teacher in the 1890s. He went on to be the first General Secretary of the African National Congress)
This tranquil life was shattered in 1869 when prospectors discovered diamonds at Canteen Koppie and in the Vaal River gravel. A wave of diggers arrived and set up camp at a settlement called Klipdrift. A turbulent clash over ownership of this land commenced until Sir Henry Barkly, the Governor of the Cape Colony, visited the diggings in December 1870 and established order. The camp was thereafter known as Barkly West.
Another famous name associated with Barkly West is Cecil John Rhodes who, in 1880, entered the Cape House of Assembly as the member of parliament for the newly created constituency of Barkly West, a role which he kept until his death in 1902.
Barkly West still retains its prospecting town atmosphere and diggers continue to come here every year to search for diamonds.
In 1885 the first steel bridge to cross the Vaal River was built at Barkly West using steel girders imported from England.  It can still be seen today and the original Tollhouse has been restored to form a museum which displays unique collection of geological, archaeological and historical relics.
Canteen Koppie is now a nature reserve with an important archaeological site where fossil remains of extinct animal species and numerous stone-age implements have been found.
Other places of interest include St Mary's Anglican Church, built in 1871 and the first church to be built on the diamond fields. The old stone bridge across the Vaal are also worth a visit.
Nearby, the Nooitgedacht Glacial Pavements, scoured from lava rocks by slow-moving glaciers, exhibit early bushmen rock engravings from 1,500 years ago.
There are three sections of glaciated pavement with over 250 San and Khoe rock engravings, including geometric motifs, eland, giraffe, human figures and rhinoceros.
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