This small town, barely 35 km from Kimberley already brings us face to face with the differences between town and city life.
The town is largely made up of older buildings that are now used for more modern purposes and, should you choose to drive straight through, you could miss some of the unexpected treasures that the little town has. Barkly West started out as a small mission village in 1849, under the name Pniel (meaning Face of God).
When diamonds were discovered on the Vaal River in 1869, thousands of prospectors flooded the area and Barkly West became the site of the first diamond diggings in South Africa. On 30 July 1870, the diggers proclaimed the Republic of Klipdrift and in 1873 the area was named Barkly West.
The district’s current economy is dependent on stock- and irrigation farming, although lone diggers still pan a 150-km stretch of the Vaal River close to the town.
The nearby town of Delportshoop started off as a miner’s camp in the 1870s. Today most of the inhabitants of the village are employed at the opencast lime quarry and the cement factory nearby.
Adventure and Sport
Hunting: Contact the Diamond Fields Tourist Office or the Northern Cape Hunters’ Association for more information.
Rekaofela Resort: The Setswana name for this resort means “Place of Gathering”. The resort lies 5 km from town on the banks of the Vaal River. It can provide accommodation to more than 100 people and has facilities for activities such as canoeing, archery, rock climbing, hiking and orienteering. The resort also houses an adventure centre that presents courses in personal and group development.
Archaeology and Palaeontology
Canteen Kopje: The diamond diggers did not only bring the literal riches of diamonds to the surface, they also uncovered many archaeological treasures in the Northern Cape. The Canteen Kopje (Dutch word for hillock) site is situated on a hillock and is one of the most exceptional archaeological sites along the Vaal River. Stone tools ranging from 500 000 to one million years old have been discovered here. The site has an open-air archaeological museum with geological exhibits and fossils.
Fauna and Flora
The Oribi Game Reserve allows us to see different species of game in their natural habitat.
Vaalbos National Park: The park is named after the camphor bush (also known as the vaalbos).
Tucked along the Vaal River, this 23 000-ha park conserves part of the transitional vegetation zone where typical Karoo, Kalahari thornveld and grassveld meet. In an area that was once the heart of the alluvial diamond diggings, large raptors and the rare yellow-breasted form of the crimson- breasted shrike now contend with cold winters and scorching summers.
History and Architecture
Barkly Bridge: This bridge, dating from 1885 was the first bridge built across the Vaal River.
Barkly West Museum: The exhibits in the museum include archaeological and geological findings from Canteen Kopje, as well as many historical artefacts from early life in the Diamond Fields.
Cultural History Museum: The museum is in a wing of the library and houses a collection of cultural, historical and archaeological paraphernalia.
Old Toll House: This relic stands on the northern bank of the Orange River.
St. Mary’s Anglican Church: This, the first church on the diamond fields, was built in 1871.
Alluvial Diamond Diggings: Quite a large number of prospectors are still hard at work on the river banks, searching for diamonds. Watch them while they work, but do not get too close.