Nieu-Bethesda is somewhere worth getting your tekkies dirty. Yes, there are plenty of lovely hikes in the area, but even just walking the dusty dirt roads lined by stone water furrows in this valley-village encircled by the Sneeuberg Mountains will keep you enthralled for hours. This Karoo-gem is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of the city where donkey carts and commuters on horseback are the closest resemblance to traffic.
Stroll along streams originating from an eternal spring that bubbles on the plateau just above the village whose name means place of flowing water and enjoy this nature lover’s paradise while the highest peak in the Eastern Cape, the Compassberg, watches over you. This quaint village emotes a time travel, blast in the past sentiment; hauntingly enchanting. Breathe fresh, clean air and discover a surprise around every corner.
With so many talented artists being attracted to the enigmatic; isolated; rustic charm of Nieu-Bethesda there are a plethora of galleries and studios to delight and indulge your right brain. The main tourist attraction being The Owl House; this museum pays homage to the eccentric and tragic Helen Martins. Exploring her house and Camel Yard is like wondering around her afflicted mind. Her unique concrete and glass sculptures and colored glass panes are fascinating.
Traversing the main roads of Nieu-Bethesda you won’t find any chain stores or ATM’s, but you will find a South-African Post Office that serves tea and cake; friendly dogs, cats; donkeys; horses and villagers; a pub; a brewery; charming guest houses; a magnificent 19th century church; The Kitching Fossil Exploration Center, named after paleontologist James Kitching and various restaurants.
Speaking of restaurants, after you have walked up an appetite, The Ibis Lounge is the perfect place to tantalize your taste buds with its consummate coffee and food menu which exceeds the highest expectations! You can also rest your weary head at The Ibis Lounge with a choice of three accommodation offerings; making this the perfect place to shop, eat and sleep.
Nieu-Bethesda is off tracks and off-beat and should be explored on foot. And don`t forget to fill up your tank and wallet with cash, Nieu-Bethesda has no petrol, bank or credit card facilities, another feature that makes this little town priceless.
THINGS TO DO IN NIEU-BETHESDA
VISIT THE OWL HOUSE AND THE HELEN MARTINS MUSEUM
Helen Elizabeth Martins is an artist known for her strange arbitrary sculptures at the Owl House in the Karoo village of Nieu Bethesda. After her parents’ death, Helen was left alone with the house and she started to transform it using cement, glass, and wire to decorate the interior of her home; drawing inspiration from Christian biblical texts, the poetry of Omar Khayyam and various works by William Blake.
In 1964 she was joined in her work by Koos Malgas, who helped her build the sculptures of owls, camels and people (mostly pointing east as a tribute to Martins’ fascination with the Orient). In order to pursue her vision, ‘Miss Helen’ endured great physical and emotional hardship until 1976, when she sadly took her own life at age 78. It was her wish that her creation be preserved as a museum, and her artwork has now become the single most important asset of the village of Nieu-Bethesda.
VISIT THE FOSSIL MUSEUM AND EXPLORATION CENTRE
The area around Nieu-Bethesda in particular has produced the most extensive evidence of life on earth. At Ganora Fossil Museum, the fossils on exhibit are roughly 280 million years old, the time when reptiles roamed the earth before the age of the dinosaurs and long before there were flowers, grasses, birds and mammals. The Kitching Fossil Exploration Centre is situated next to the world famous Owl House and tells the story of life in South-Africa 253 million years ago.
VISIT THE VALLEY OF DESOLATION
The Valley of Desolation is situated in Camdeboo National Park and attracts an estimated 60-100 000 people each year. This National Heritage Site`s awe-inspiring beauty and energy has called us back many a time, each a humbling experience.
The viewpoints at the valley itself provide a breathtaking view of piled dolerites columns against the backdrop of the plain of the Great Karoo and a timeless sense of wonder at a landscape said to be the product of the erosive and volcanic forces of nature over a period of 200 million years. Presently, approximately 19 km of gravel roadways provide visitors with the opportunity to view the entire range of indigenous species in their preferred habitats; and for birding enthusiasts, at least 225 bird species have been recorded in the Park. More information here.
HIKE UP COMPASSBERG
Compassberg (Afrikaans: Kompasberg), is the highest peak in the Sneeuberg range and second highest in the Eastern Cape, located 55 km North of Graaff-Reinet. At 2502 metres, it is the highest peak in South Africa outside the Stormberg-Drakensberg massif.
The base of the mountain is a 45 min drive from Nieu-Bethesda and takes 4-5 hours to climb to the top and descend again. The mountain offers different degrees of difficulty, depending on your route; and on a clear day, you can see up to 20 km from the coast! Compassberg is extremely exposed to the cold Karoo winds, so remember to always take water and more clothes than you think you need. You will need permission from a landowner to climb Compassberg. Enquire at the Owlhouse backpackers for more information.
ENJOY A DONKEY-CART TOUR
Jakob van Staden has been a resident of Nieu-Bethesda all his life and has extensive knowledge of the area. He offers 20 minute guided donkey cart tours during which he shares his personal knowledge of the town`s history and will tell you all about his days as a student and how he started his business.
TAKE A GUIDED MEDICINAL PLANT WALK AT GANORA FARM
Learn more about herbal remedies whilst taking a guided medicinal plant walk with Henry, better known as Punky, the local guide who enjoys taking people on walks through the farm. Taught by his grandfather, a Bushman descendant, you will learn about medicinal plants and their uses as well as interesting information about the farm and how things are managed. You can also enjoy longer guided hikes through the canyon where he points out birds, reptiles and insects of interest. View more about the workshops, school / educational groups.