It feels like most people I speak to about travelling in the Karoo Heartland of the Eastern Cape have been to Graaff-Reinet, yet many didn’t venture much further to also visit Nieu-Bethesda. Nieu-Bethesda truly is a very special village located barely 30 minutes from Graaff-Reinet and have a truly off the beaten track feeling to it. I say off the beaten track because that is literally what it is. No tar roads in the village, no street lights, no ATM, no petrol station and no night life other than crickets in the dark and the cow you have to swerve out for when it suddenly appears in your headlights. What the village does have are tons of character (the good kind), history, interesting nooks and crannies, even more interesting people, good food and nostalgia that will stick to you like blackjacks to wool socks long after you have left.
I was going to do a long and detailed post about Nieu-Bethesda but decided that my pictures could easily do most of the talking. For the rest you will have to visit the village yourself to discover.
Nieu-Bethesda, a town of Karoo landscapes, history, owls, dirt roads and (rusting in) piece
Not a tarred road or street light in sight where a traffic jam means two cars reaching an intersection at the same time perhaps twice a day
Nieu-Bethesda is one of the few places that still have leivore (farrows) with water flowing in them
The Owl House is what put Nieu-Bethesda on the map and well worth a visit
The late Helen Martins spent most of her life in the town and the latter part of it transforming her ordinary Karoo home into a place of colour and light. Over the years she and her assistant Koos Malgas, used concrete and glass to create a multi-coloured house and fantasy garden. In the Camel Yard visitors will find statues of owls, camels, wise men and much more and one can literally get lost In your own thoughts trying to take all of this in. Shortly before her 79th birthday, Helen Martins committed suicide by drinking caustic soda. It is said that at the time her eyesight was failing because of damage from ground glass and that depression was getting the better of her.
Doesn’t matter how many times I visit the Owl House, there is always something different to discover or some new angle to photograph
One can’t simply visit Nieu-Bethesda and not buy one of the hand made cement owls being sold outside the Owl House. I still have the owl I bought on my first visit to the village in my garden.
The Nieu-Bethesda cemetery has graves dating back to the early days of the village with the one of Helen Martins with its cement owl headstone standing out
The Karoo is famous for the fossils found there and Nieu-Bethesda seems to be right in the thick of things when it comes to fossil records. The Kitching Fossil Centre in the village is well worth a visit. The guide shows visitors how they clean the rock off the fossils and do a walking tour to the river bed to show you fossils in the rocks.
If you really want to learn more about fossils, Khoi San artifacts and rock paintings then you have to visit Ganora Guest Farm a little outside the village. Ganora has one of the biggest private fossil collections in the country in their fossil museum and if they ever established a Jurassic Park in the Karoo then I would want to be with owner JP Steynberg as he knows everything there is to know about the prehistoric animals found in that area.
Yes, that is the fossilised skull of a very small dinosaur
Don’t think that a tour through the Ganora Fossil Museum would be a boring affair
The Karoo Heartland is known for it’s amazing hospitality and farm stays are becoming more and more popular. At Ganora our little group were just in time to help bottle feed the hanslammers (hand reared lambs). Not the kind of experience that us city slickers are used to or get to do every day.
My visit to Nieu-Bethesda was way too short, taking up only a Sunday afternoon and Monday morning before the meeting I had to attend. Way too little to explore and experience properly. One needs at least a weekend, arriving on the Friday afternoon and leaving on Sunday after lunch, to have a chance to get to know the town properly and visit at least a few places. If you do want to know more, do check out this very comprehensive list of things to do in Nieu-Bethesda on the ECTOUR website.