KAROO DIARY: Owl House Eye Candy @ Nieu-Bethesda

For many decades, the little village of Nieu-Bethesda in the Sneeuberg Mountains of the Eastern Cape Karoo was a dead-quiet place where very little happened.

Nieu-Bethesda

The spring-fed water furrows (leiwater) gurgled through Nieu-Bethesda, there were lots of donkey carts and survival was hard for most of the villagers.

Nieu-Bethesda


Then playwright Athol Fugard wrote The Road to Mecca and Nieu-Bethesda hit the national scene. Fugard’s play swung a spotlight on the life of one Helen Martins and the Owlhouse she lived in.

In the years that followed, the Owl House became a strong Karoo icon. You ventured down these valleys to the village, took a walk around the Owl House and the Camel Yard, heard about Auntie Helen and spent the rest of the time savouring the fresh air and delicious water.

Nieu-Bethesda

The Owlhouse is still a strong attraction. But, added to that, is the Outsiders backpackers and self-cater group of typical Karoo houses, a great cheese & brewery venue, a township eatery and a restaurant that often presents live music.

Big-name singers and players from all over South Africa love to perform in Nieu-Bethesda, even though the audience seldom numbers more than 50 souls.

Nieu-BethesdaOut at Ganora Farm, the Steynberg family run a guest house, a farm museum and a meerkat rehab centre as well as doing normal farm work. JP Steynberg takes you out on fossil tours and then, when you visit the Kitching Centre in Nieu-Bethesda, the ‘stone bones’ make complete sense to you.

Over the Christmas to New Year period, Nieu-Bethesda is the place to be. On New Year’s Eve they stage their annual Festival of Lights, during which hundreds of children and vistors walk in procession through Nieu-Bethesda, up to Pienaarsig and back, bearing paper lanterns.

It will fill you with great optimism about the year to come. Just remember to spend some of it in the Karoo…

Nieu-Bethesda

Text & Photo Essay by Chris Marais