It’s a village that forms part of numerous South African songs’ lyrics. It’s a place where the people are human and the pace is slow. Here, the air smells different; the sounds are different; the tastes are different. The village has a way of highlighting the meaningful things in life: Community. Humanity. Nieu-Bethesda stands for less is more.
We were welcomed by blossoming pear trees and dirt roads. It was like driving into a new world and somehow, the town had such a calming effect on the kids that we even considered staying another day or two. It had that same calming effect on us as parents too. Our visit was short, as we stopped over on our way back home from George, but it was so worth it and might just become our regular stopover.
Things to know
** Remember that there are no ATMs or petrol stations in Nieu-Bethesda. So, be sure to fill up your empty tanks and wallets before you arrive.
Nieu-Bethesda is a Karoo village just off the N9, nestled between the Sneeuberge (Snow Mountains). It is about 50km from Graaff-Reinet and although the road from the N9 to Nieu-Bethesda is a slow drive, it is beautiful and gives your brain time to slow down and adjust to the small town bliss you’re about to experience.
Nieu-Bethesda is known for its snowy weather in wintertime, so if you’re a snow seeker, this is a great destination to put on your list. It is one of the few South African towns that has kept its authenticity intact – one of the many reasons why it has become a destination town, rather than a layover town.
In this village, you’re bound to bump into a couple of local pets. Some pets are known by name all over town. Nieu-Bethesda is clearly just as much theirs as their owners’ and somehow nothing would be the same without a pooch on the porch when you drive through town.
We walked almost everywhere. The dirt road under our feet, old pine trees beside the road and starry skies you could only find in the Karoo were just some of the moments I tried to capture and keep. That, and the sound of horse hooves clattering past at half past ten in the evening. Just a local on horseback, riding back home. Imagine.
Where to sleep
We stayed at The Bethesda Guesthouse, a lovely, old-worldly house that has been carefully renovated and beautifully decorated. It comes with an on-site Pizzeria called Bruno’s (keep in mind that the pizzeria is only open on weekends and public holidays), furrow water, Karoo sunsets on the veranda and more. Carla and her husband, Ludolf have made this a place of pure bliss, with the finest quality of everything – from the bedding to the in-room amenities, and delicate pear blossoms as a special touch.
The guesthouse is just opposite Nieu-Bethesda’s tennis courts, for which they have rackets and they even serve refreshments if you’d like to try your (back)hand at game or two. They also have fitness equipment available and offer private stretch sessions on request. If you’re a keen explorer, enquire about their mountain bikes and explore the village from the saddle.
Wine and Dine
We’ve been told that Bruno’s is certainly one of the places where you’ll find some of the best pizza. We missed out on this one as we stayed over during the week.
Nieu Karoo Country Restaurant
We had breakfast at Nieu Karoo Country Restaurant, a restaurant that was recently awarded the Tripadvisor Traveller’s Choice Award. Here you’ll find what they say is the best pizza in the Karoo. They also supply pre-made pizzas to shops in Graaff-Reinet. Nieu Karoo Country Restaurant is situated just up the road from the Owl House. It has the most beautiful wooden floors, outdoor seating under a lovely pergola (where pets are also welcome) and an enormous pizza oven.
For a very special experience, Die Waenhuis is a must. It’s just down the road from The Bethesda Guesthouse (we walked there with the kids on our hips) and they operate from Thursdays to Sundays, except when they are closed for a function. Chef Chris Lloyd will definitely give you a sensory experience to remember with true Karoo cuisine. I had the Tomato Bredie and Wikus ordered Bobotie. The portions are probably too generous, and the flavours are fantastic! Not to mention the vibe. The restaurant has an arty, vintage flair with impressive chandeliers, wildflowers on the tables and lovely artwork everywhere. From there, you walk out onto a huge porch and beautiful courtyard and when the weather is as lovely as we had it, dinner on the ‘stoep’ is the best way to do it. Die Waenhuis also offers accommodation in the form of a rustic, yet romantic cottage.
The Brewery and Two Goats Deli
If you’re just around for the day, be sure to pop in at The Brewery and Two Goats Deli. Here you’ll be able to taste some locally crafted beers, as well as hand roasted Sneeuberg Coffee. We got ourselves the Karoo Blend and can’t get enough of it.
Things to do
Seems that Nieu-Bethesda is not as quiet as you might think. This village’s locals are always on the move and recently hosted a market day that boasted a variety of local items. From homemade rusks, kudu salami, deli delights and chocolate indulgence to Auntie Evelin se Eetplek’s home-baked bread, beautiful art, soft toys by Karoo Crafters and more. Be sure to keep events like this in mind when you plan to visit.
The Owl House & Helen Martins Museum
The Owl House is of course something you can’t miss out on when you’re in Nieu-Bethesda. My suggestion is, though that you don’t visit the Owl House when you’ve got two tired kids with you. We had to rush through our visit there and really hope to return soon, as I feel we did not have the experience we should have had here. The Helen Martins Museum (on the same property) is packed with history and you really need time to stroll through Helen Martins’ life and what she left behind. Even though we were rushed, Catha still enjoyed parts of the visit and we at least got to take a few photos. Be sure to pop in at the shop too. They’ve got all sorts of interesting souvenirs to buy.
Stroll the streets
Take time and stroll through the streets. You’d be surprised at what you see, who you meet and how you experience the village. While you’re at it, note the water furrows that still provide water to the village. There are not many towns in South Africa that still use these.
Visit the hanging bridge on the way to The Brewery and be sure to take a photo on my behalf. We couldn’t, because the kids were being impossible.
Kitching Fossil Exploration Centre
Pay a visit to the Kitching Fossil Exploration Centre. Like Helen Martins, James Kitching (a renowned professor in palaeontology) grew up in Nieu-Bethesda and he later became famous for his fossil discoveries.
If you’re a book lover, don’t forget to stop at Dustcovers. This is a quaint little bookshop on a quiet street and here you’ll be able to find some really good reads.
Drive by the village’s church that dates back to 1905.
There is a whole lot more to this gem of a town. As our time here was limited, we really only saw the tip of the iceberg. We’ll be returning soon!
Photo credits: Renate Engelbrecht