If you want to live off the beaten track without disappearing from the face of the earth entirely, then Nieu-Bethesda is a pretty good bet. During our most recent road-trip we spend some time in this charming little town.
With dusty streets – and only a couple of them at that – a beautiful church, a handful of restaurants and small tourist shops and, of course, the popular The Owl House, Nieu- Bethesda offers tranquil, smalltown Karoo living at its best.
The town is nestled in a valley at the foot of the Sneeuberge, not too far from Graaff-Reinet, with the Compassberg – the highest mountain in the Eastern Cape – towering over the small village.
Driving down the dry pass into the green valley, one enters the small town through the main road, which is also where you will find most of what you are looking for – unless that happens to be an ATM or petrol station, in which case you’d have to drive back to Graaff- Reinet to fill up and draw some cash.
The quiet streets, where tourists stroll and a handful of local children play, are lined with trees and water furrows with small home-style restaurants, cafes and art galleries popping up here and there.
Initially driven by agriculture, the town’s industry now centres on tourism and art.
In the mid-1900s local artist Helen Martins – inspired by biblical text, Omar Khayyam and William Blake – founded The Owl House, which is now Nieu-Bethesda’s most popular attraction.
The house and garden are filled with hundreds of Martins’s creations and the walls and ceiling colourfully decorated with fine, crushed glass.
Today, The Owl House seems to be the centre of town even though, like many other Karoo towns, it was originally established as a “church town”.
Essentially a one-horse, one-church, one-bar town, it is the kind of place where residents and visitors can watch the world go by from their Karoo-house stoeps as the day eases into night and the dusty streets are lit only by the starry Karoo sky.
*This article was originally published in Weekend Post.