Galleries and Museums
Once upon a time in the tiny Karoo dorp of Nieu Bethesda... Helen Martins lay ill in bed, with the moon shining in through the window, and considered how dull and grey her life had become. She resolved, there and then, that she would strive to bring light and colour into her life. That simple decision, to embellish her environment, was to grow into an obsessive urge to express her deepest feelings, her dreams and her desires. And so the the Owl House began.Starting with the interior of her house, she used the emblems of sun-faces, owls and other images. This is all set against a luminous backdrop of walls and ceilings coated with elaborate patterns of crushed glass imbedded in bands of brightly coloured paint.Over twelve years, she and her assistant, Koos Malgas, created fthe hundreds of sculptures and relief figures that crowd the 'Camel Yard' and cover the walls of the house. Her favourite animals, owls and camels, predominate, but all manner of real and fantastical beings are to be found. A procession of shepherds and wise men lead a vast, almost life-size camel train toward an 'East' as designated by Helen Martins, and integrates Christianity with her fascination for the Orient.A stoic double-faced owl watches over the arched entranceway from the street, significantly barricaded by a tall mesh fence and a stand of tall Queen-of-the-Night cacti. Like the elaborately bottle-skirted hostesses within the yard, this arch must have been intended to welcome the visitor into her 'world', but the fence speaks plainly of an increasingly troubled relationship between Helen Martins and the outside world.
Galleries and Museums
You ate dust on the winding Karoo roads getting to the beautiful dorp of Nieu Bethesda? You visited Miss Helen's Owl House? Now just around the corner from the Owl House is a fascinating stop - the Bethesda Arts Centre. Here you will receive a warm welcome and a full tour. Catch a rehearsal or a starlit performance in the open air theatre.The Courtyard Theatre began its life in 2002 with a play from a visiting company about domestic abuse. The play, Behind Closed Doors, was followed by an animated discussion. The theatre was officially opened in January 2003 with a live reading of new work by Athol Fugard.After two successful productions – The Rainbull and The Conference of Birds – playing to packed houses in the Centre’s own Courtyard Theatre, the Bethesda Theatre Company was established. They have performed at the Grahamstown Festival as well as at various schools and nearby theatres. Members of the Company are encouraged to learn all facets of theatre, including writing, directing, theatre design and stage management.The Gallery A conversation between Kudus, San dancers around the fire, the extraordinary mass of rock that forms the gateway to Nieu Bethesda – the artists from the Bethesda Arts Centre are as varied and individual in subject matter as they are in style.From Hartlief’s striking animal prints to Booysen’s linear, timeless landscapes or Swiers’s spirited snapshots of daily life, each of these artists has captured something of the parched land and dusty Karoo town of Nieu Bethesda.In all of these upcoming artists, despite their varying age and experience, is a feeling of Africa, in all its richness and variety, and a sense of their place within it.Centre artists can exhibit and sell their work in the Centre’s own gallery. Income from sale of art goes directly to the artists, in many cases making it possible for them to support their families. Where can I stay? Dive under the quilts in the magical Bethesda Tower Accommodation.
Things to do near
*Distances are shown as the crow flies and not necessarily the actual travelling
Aberdeen (38 km from Nieu Bethesda)
Nqweba Dam is situated in the Camdeboo National Park. The dam was constructed between 1921 and 1925 and covers 1000 ha approximately.
The dam is excellent for bird watching and fishing. There is a large variety of water bird species and fish such as moggel, common carp, mullet, round herring and river goby.
The game viewing area on the north side of the dam has an abundance of wildlife, including buffalo, kudu, gemsbok, springbok and black wildebeest. The dam is also great for water sport activities such as canoeing, windsurfing and fishing.
Once a year a festival is held at the dam with live music, water contests and great beer.
Graaff-Reinet (39.9 km from Nieu Bethesda)
Almost entirely surrounding the lovely town of Graaff-Reinet, Camdeboo National Park offers an incredibly scenic escape in the Karoo.
Dating back hundreds of millions of years ago, the Karoo remains one of the great natural wonders of the world. The 19 405-hectare park provides the visitor with insights into this unique landscape and ecosystem of the Karoo.
A large portion of the park is situated on the foothills of the Sneeuberg range, with a small section of low lying-plains and the Nqweba Dam.
Amazing rock pillar features can be found in some places, particularly in the Valley of Desolation where dolerite pillars can reach heights of 120 metres.
Animals you are most likely to spot include steenbok, springbok, blesbok, black wildebeest kudu and grey duiker. Cape buffalo, red hartebeest and gemsbok are fairly frequently seen. Cape Mountain Zebra and klipspringer may be seen in the more mountainous areas of the reserve.
Galleries and Museums
Graaff-Reinet (42.4 km from Nieu Bethesda)
The Hester Rupert Art Museum was opened in July 1966 and declared a national monument in 1968. It holds a collection of over a hundred artworks donated by renowned South African artists.
The museum is the fifth oldest church building in South Africa. It was built in 1821 as a Dutch Reformed Church and was nearly demolished by a petroleum company in 1965. Dr Anton Rupert, son of Graaff-Reinet, entered into negotiations with the petroleum company and convinced them not to burn the building.
To show their gratitude, the Council named the museum in honour of Rupert's late mother.
Graaff-Reinet (44.5 km from Nieu Bethesda)
The Valley of Desolation – often called ‘The Cathedral of the Mountains’ – is a national monument and the premier tourist attraction in the Camdeboo National Park.Experience the breathtaking view of piled dolerite columns against the backdrop of the plains of the Great Karoo. Absorb yourself in the timeless sense of wonder at a landscape said to be the product of volcanic and erosive forces of nature over a period of 100 million years.Enjoy the unique view of the historic town of Graaff-Reinet, set like a jewel within a horseshoe bend of the Sundays River. Nature lovers will appreciate the Karoo mountain flora and fauna and the opportunity to view black eagles at close range.The Valley of Desolation rock formations consist of dolerites which have formed jointed pillars. Erosion of the softer sedimentary beds has left dolerite pillars which rise to heights of 90 to 120 metres.The Valley of Desolation was declared as a National Monument of geological and scenic significance in 1939. The original road to the Valley of Desolation was constructed by labourers using picks, shovels and barrows. The road to the top of the valley was tarred in 1978 and today provides tourists with easy access to the viewpoints with their panoramic views of the landscape. To the north, the highest peak in the Sneeuberg mountain range – Compassberg (2504m) – is prominent, while on a clear day, the southern horizon stretches as far as the distant Cockscomb Mountains. To the east lies the ‘Driekoppie’ (in the park) and the Nardausberg (beyond the park boundaries), both of which are often covered in snow during winter. The Plains of Camdeboo lie spread out south of the Sneeuberg from Pearston to Murraysburg. 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. The Crag Lizard Trail starts at the Valley parking area and extends for about one and a half kilometres via the Valley viewpoints. It is about a 45-minute walk and is well marked with the Crag Lizard logo.
Graaff-Reinet (47 km from Nieu Bethesda)
Graaff Reinet Golf Club is a lovely 9-hole grass course with views of the surrounding mountains.
Visitors are welcome, and carts as well as clubs are available for hire. A driving range will give you some space to practice your swing.
Richmond - Northern Cape (86 km from Nieu Bethesda)
A few years ago the little dorp of Richmond was established as the first Book Town in the country and on the continent. Today there are a dozen bookshops in the village.
The bookshops specialize in Africana with a focus on early travellers, explorers, hunters and missionaries, South African fauna and flora, fiction, bibliographies, history, the Anglo Boer war and Rhodesia.
These bookish attractions are established in six Karoo-style houses, six converted stables and other outbuildings – housing used books ranging from art to warfare, aviation to natural history, biographies and children’s literature.
Shops are open seven days a week, from 07:00 to 19:00 during peak season and from 09:00 to 17:00 during the rest of the year.
De Aar (90.7 km from Nieu Bethesda)
The first Dutch Reformed Church was built in 1859, but later replaced by a larger building in 1907.
Today, visitors may tour this historical church on arrangement.
Galleries and Museums
Hanover (92.2 km from Nieu Bethesda)
Housed in an original farmstead, the Hanover Museum exhibits the interesting history of the town. The museum is run on a volunteer basis by the community, and most artefacts have been donated by the townsfolk.