Nieu Bethesda: A place to get lost.
If you glance at South Africa on Google Maps the major cities in all the corners grab your attention. You zoom in and more cities appear. You zoom some more; small towns begin to show their face and another big city falls off the grid. You zoom into the heart of the map – no major roads are showing on your screen, no towns; only white empty spaces. And then you see it: a tiny spot, a few lines mimicking streets – a forgotten place in the heart of South Africa, a forgotten place in the heart of the Karoo, a forgotten Nieu Bethesda.
“It is not down on any map; true places never are.”
Here in the tiny village of Nieu Bethesda, with a population of just over 1000, you zoom out of society and into a place left in time. It’s a place forcing you to detox from the modern bits and pieces of your life, a place forcing you to stand still and listen to the intoxicating sound of the rain, the now and the picturesque nothingness.
Here, you won’t find any credit card facilities, banks or fuel stations, but you find people and you find stories.
Things to do & see in Nieu Bethesda
Stories from the past: Owl House
The Owl House in Nieu Bethesda is a masterpiece of sculptures set in stone (concrete) and a deliberate play of natural elements in conjunction with human emotions crafted by the hands of South Africa’s foremost “Outsider Artisit”, Helen Martins.
The Owl House is an expression of an artist’s deepest desires. The house and yard – like a map – display the impulse Martins had to bring light and colour into her life.
The story of Helen Martins is chilling – her life, her suicide, her relationship with her father – it’s even more chilling when you walk through her house, now known as The Owl House.
Stories from The Brewery
The Brewery and Two Goats Deli is a family run business “serving an addictive selection of artisan beers, cheeses, salami, coffee and bread”.
Whether you need something refreshing because of the relentless Karoo sun, or if you need to warm up or fill up, The Brewery and Two Goats Deli is the place to be. The variety of beers/ales, coffee and cheese are locally produced and these products are best enjoyed on the lawn under a willow tree.
Remember to try the Karoo Ale; you are after all in the Karoo.
Stories from the Nature & Landscapes
Here, at the foot of the Sneeuberg Mountains the rest of the world disappears. Under the squeaking of an old windmill pump blue skies and starry starry nights fill the cosmos. It’s a dream studio for any photographer, a canvas for any artist and a blank page for any writer. If you want to delve into nature of 253 million years ago, go on a fossil safari. If you want to travel back in time, discover the rock art from the Khoi and San shelters of 10 000 years ago. But if you want to enjoy nature in the here and now, take a walk along the water furrows to Diepkloof valley, explore the Gats River Canyon on horseback and enjoy 360° views from Sneeuberg’s highest peak, Compassberg.
Stories through Art
Art in Nieu Bethesda is no longer just synonymous with the art of Helen Martins’ Owl House. A handful of artists have found this little Karoo village a muse to their medium and with good reason. Nieu Bethesda does something to your soul – it quiets you from the outside to the inside. From paintings to ceramics to sculpture; here in the quiet streets of a quaint Karoo village renowned artists are creating their next masterpiece.
Stories through the Architecture
Architecture in the towns of the Karoo still has a strong 19th century feel to it and through years of isolation Nieu Bethesda is no different. The village was originally established as a mission station in 1875 and throughout the years it has “retained a rare historical and architectural integrity”. A strong European influence is visible throughout the Karoo (especially in Graaff-Reinet) and every house (or building) has its own character with a façade, a veranda, oregon pine flooring and shuttered box-windows.
Stories from the Plate
Nieu Bethesda is far from supermarkets with prepacked meals and far from fast food restaurants with tasteless meals. Here you’ll find recipes passed on from generation to generation, you’ll find something from the garden, something from the farm. Here you’ll find a taste of home.
Imagine this: Goat feta cheese, biltong, freshly baked bread, homemade jams, more cheese, locally brewed beer and roasted coffee, carpaccio, olives, another type of cheese, salami, home-cooked lamb and venison meals with greens from the garden…
Nieu Bethesda is a place where you can feed your appetite, tease your taste buds and balance your palate. Indulge in a gastronomical feast from the kitchens of the Karoo at restaurants such as Karoo Lamb, The Village Inn, The Brewery and Two Goats Deli and Auntie Evelyn se Plek.
Stories from the Road
There are no tar roads in Nieu Bethesda and the best way to explore the gravel roads of town is by foot, horse or bicycle. Nothing too fast. The slower you go the more you’ll get to know. Stop and talk to a local artist, listen to the hallelujahs when a drop of rain hits a dried up river, stop at the water furrows, walk around the old cemetery, get lost in the yesterdays and get lost in the Karoo’s brutal honesty and humbleness.
Going Somewhere Slowly’s Tips:
- You can get into Nieu Bethesda from the N9. There are two roads, one is a fully tarred road 27 km north of Graaff-Reinet at Wellwood Farm and the other is a good gravel road 60 km south of Middleburg, at Bethesda Road railway siding.
- There are no petrol stations, bank or credit card facilities – make sure you’re fill up in Graaff-Reinet.
- There is one shop in Nieu Bethesda where you can find the basic necessities.
- Accommodation in Nieu Bethesda range from backpacker style lodging, to camping to something more intimate.
- Take your time and go slow – a place like Nieu Bethesda should not be rushed.