Nieu Bethesda, Eastern Cape, South Africa




This really is a tiny little country town, way off the beaten track and it is only through an absolute quirk of fate that it ever became known at all. For it was here that the late Helen Martins, undoubtedly South Africa's most celebrated outsider artist, lived, practised and left her legacy.

The home in which she lived is now a museum called the Owl House. The Owl House was created by the reclusive Helen Martins and her employee Koos Malgas in the 1940s and is now regarded as a masterpiece of visionary art.

Martins and Malgas created hundreds of sculptures and figures in the 'Camel Yard' and the Owl House. There are predominantly owls and camels, Martins' favourite animals, but other amazing creations can also be found. One of these is the procession of shepherds and wise men leading an almost life-size camel train toward an 'East' as designated by Martins.

Today, Nieu-Bethesda is something of an artists haven and eccentricity is only to be expected. The local art and craft gallery, run by artist/filmmakers, doubles up as a Bed & Breakfast. Other accommodation is equally eclectic and ranges from Karoo farmhouses and a morning dip in the dam to Victorian guesthouses complete with snooker table.

Nieu Bethesda has some of the best mountain scenery in the Karoo. The Compassberg has the highest peak in the Eastern Cape. Guests can enjoy the art route, art galleries and restaurants of Nieu Bethesda. Visitors can can also visit the San Rock Art sites and fossil beds.

Nieu Bethesda is about 50km from Graaff-Reinet, which is situated on the N9, which links the Garden Route town of George with the N1 at Colesberg, and is around 800km from Johannesburg. Nieu Bethesda is about 30km from the N9 on an unpaved road.