A Gem in the Karoo, Nieu Bethesda
Image Credit: Unsplash | Mzimasi Ndzombane
Nestled in an ancient rocky valley in the semi-desert Great Karoo near the slightly less off the beaten track Graaf Reinett, lies Nieu Bethesda. This is a really weird place — the first time I drove into Nieu Bethesda I felt like I had taken a strong psychedelic. The place is that trippy, unrealistic and awesome!
Nieu Bethesda is “well” known for the Owl House. This is the creation of Helen Martins who lived in the 1900’s. She had a boundary crossing father in the worst way, her childhood was clearly disturbed, and her love life was not healthy as a young woman. As she got older, things went a bit further down the rabbit hole and she painted her house with crushed glass, filled her garden with weird cement sculptures of religious figures, camels, owls and other scary strange things and eventually took her life surrounded by the artworks of a tortured mind. A visit to the Owl House is like touching Schiozophrenia — it really messes with your head and is a deeply personal experience for any person who goes in there. As you leave the Owl house, you can buy replicas of some of the artworks made by descendants, and pretend descendants of Koos Malgas, the sculptor who developed with Helen in the pursuit of the owl house adventure.
The Bethesda Arts Centre is a great place to visit and see the beautiful work of local artists. Each piece made differently and the artist will be there to explain to you the story of that piece. It is just a special experience. There are many other weird and wonderful things to see in Nieu Bethesda. The area around it is also equally amazing. This area is very safe and night strolls out into the Great Karroo to watch the stars is one of the best things to do at night. This is an ancient land scape and light pollution has not found its way here yet.
Sneeuberg Brewery and Two Goats Deli stand out as another interesting experience. This place serves some of the best beer I have had. The brewers use only malt, hops and naturals spring water to create three popular ales. The crispy and bitter Karoo Ale, the sweeter Honey Ale and the dark roasted Ale. The founder, Andre, is a local legend who will share the story of the brewery if you give him a chance to. The beer and deli products are special and unique, and well worth a taste and a visit. The honor to meet the creators of your products is satisfying. Meeting the people associated with the venture is also very memorable. With small towns, the people you meet are the story, the things they sell are the icing on the cake.
There are many other things to see and do in Nieu Bethesda — but a special mention goes to Tot Hier Toe Farm stall — the best braai meat you will find. This is well worth a visit, just to buy some braai supplies. If you are not into braai, well there are lots of other tasty traditional biscuits and snacks there too.
If you are someone who enjoys history, another interesting thing to do will be going through the cemetery. There are some old graves full of character (I did not come across a ghost). Going through these graves will unlock a door to various people who were buried in this small town during the Anglo Boer war. This is one special way of getting a glimpse into the past as some of the graves date back to 1786. Some of the graves have some indestructible tombstones made from rocks so I am sure by the time you go there, they will still be there.