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The Wildebeest's guide to South Africa

Nieu Bethesda

Afrikaans name: Nieu Bethesda

Nieu Bethesda

Nieu Bethesda

Photo © Johan van Zyl

Eastern Cape

Founded in 1875, the quaint town of Nieu-Bethesda, Eastern Cape, is home to around 1 500 people. Although this town may appear quiet, it has made its mark in the art and entertainment sphere thanks to local artist, Helen Martins and writer Don McLennan.

One of the most prominent figures of Nieu-Bethesda is Helen Martins. Martins was a sculptor who is mainly known for creating 'The Owl House' which has become an integral part of this town and its community. Martins led a troubled life and mainly featured scenes and elements from mythology and religion in her artworks and in particular, owls. It is said that she used her personal turmoil as well as her fear of the dark to create art that plays with light and reflections, this is why most of her work comprises of mirrors and glass. During her life, Martins employed many other artists and people to help her complete her visions. Don McLellan wrote a short story entitled; "The Road to Mecca" which is about Martins' life. Later, Athol Fugard wrote a play of the same name that popularized the story. The play was later transformed into a film starring Fugard, Yvonne Bryceland and Kathy Bates which escalated the town's popularity amongst the artist community.

Neiu-Bethesda is the home of the artists and it is clearly evident to those visiting the town. Andrew Ruiters is the son-in-law of acclaimed artist, Koos Malgas who assisted Martins in sculpting the Owl House. Ruiters continues to create sculptors in the same style as his father-in-law and his creations can be seen throughout the town. Other local artists and crafters have run with Martin's owl theme by reimagining her sculptures and creating them from different materials such as tin and cloth.

The Karoo has an extensive range of dinosaur fossils and the sheer quantity of fossils cannot be compared to anywhere to else. Ganora Guest Farm has a small museum dedicated to the dinosaur fossils that have been found in the area. In the surrounding hills of Nieu-Bethesda, multiple stone hills and rock art can be found. These paintings are unusual because they feature human and animal hybrids; they are also not painted in the same fashion as other rock art. But unfortunately, no one really knows the truth about why these paintings are the way they are so we can only speculate.

The Blue Cupboard Honesty Shop is a really unique place to visit. This shop stocks books, soap, plants and a variety of other items but it has a bit of a twist: the shop is unstaffed. Customers can browse through the shop and choose what they would like to purchase, then they leave the money behind.

The town has a unique tradition of celebrating Pump-Palooza every year in April. This festival is dedicated to celebrating everything pumpkin-related.

Due to its seclusion, Nieu-Bethesda has become a popular Buddhist retreat.

Art and gift shops

Above - Art and gift shops in Nieu Bethesda

Photo © Johan van Zyl

Nieu Bethesda restaurant

Above - A restaurant and other buildings

Photo © Johan van Zyl

Dutch Reformed Church

Above - Dutch Reformed Church (1905)

Photo © Johan van Zyl


References and further reading

Caravan & Outdoor Life - Issue 609 - Author: - Year Published: 2012 - Page: 62

Caravan & Outdoor Life - Issue 631 - Author: - Year Published: 2014 - Page: 18

Conolly's Guide to Southern Africa - Author: Denis Conolly - Year Published: 1982 - Page: 129

Country Life - Issue 182 - Author: - Year Published: 2011 - Page: 28

Country Life - Issue 209 - Author: - Year Published: 2013 - Page: 16

Country Life - Issue 244 - Author: - Year Published: 2016 - Page: 24

Country Life - Issue 251 - Author: - Year Published: 2017 - Page: 34

Getaway - Vol 27 No 01 - Author: - Year Published: 2015 - Page: 89

Hit the Road - 2nd Edition - Author: MapStudio - Year Published: 2018 - Page: 90

Mooiloop! The Book - Author: SABC 2 - Year Published: 2016 - Page: 110

Of Hominins, Hunter-Gatherers and Heroes - Author: David Bristow - Year Published: 2019 - Page: 165

On Route - A region by region guide to South Africa - Author: B.P.J. Erasmus - Year Published: 1995 - Page: 299

Places to Visit in Southern Africa - Author: AA RSA - Year Published: 1995 - Page: 310

Road Tripping South Africa - Author: MapStudio - Year Published: 2014 - Page: 16

Southern Africa from the Highway - Author: AA RSA - Year Published: 1991 - Page: 136

Southern Africa from the Highway - Author: AA RSA - Year Published: 1991 - Page: 288

The Pictorial Motoring Atlas of South Africa - Author: Maxwell Leigh - Year Published: 1987 - Page: 60

Things to do in Moer & Gone Places - Author: Jacques Marais - Year Published: 2015 - Page: 118

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