Nieu Bethesda, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Donkey carts in Nieu Bethesda.

Nieu Bethesda is a really tiny little town, situated way off the beaten track, and is only through a twist of fate that it became known at all. It was here that the late, great Helen Martins, South Africa's most celebrated outsider artist, practiced and left her legacy.

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

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

Today Nieu Bethesda is something of an artist's haven, and eccentricity is only to be expected. A local art and crafts gallery doubles as a B&B, and is run by artists and filmmakers. Other eclectic accommodation includes Karoo farmhouses and Victorian guest houses, 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. At Nieu Bethesda guests can enjoy the art route, as well as the many art galleries and restaurants. You can also visit the San Rock Art sites and fossil beds in the area.

Nieu Bethesda is situated just 50 kilometres from the town of Graaff-Reniet, situated in the N9 and linking the Garden Route town of George with the N1 at Colesberg. it is situated about 800 kilometres from Johannesburg and about 30 kilometres from the N9 on an unpaved road.

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