The isolated little village of Nieu-Bethesda lies in a fertile valley of the Sneeuberg Mountains, at the foot of the 2 502-m-high Kompasberg. Modern life seems to have passed the town by and only in recent years was electricity introduced. The Rev Charles Murray deemed this spot the perfect site for a new Dutch Reformed rural community and promptly named it Bethesda. Today, the village is a popular retreat for artists who come from far to get inspiration from the Owl House and Miss Helen Martin’s extraordinary sculptures. The latter was made famous by the play “Road to Mecca” and the subsequent film about the artist’s life, written by Athol Fugard, the renowned South African author and playwright.
Adventure And Sport
Mountain Biking: The Kompasberg 1 000 mountain biking event that takes place here annually has become one of the ten “classic” events on the South African Mountain Bike Association’s calendar. The course of nearly 100 km passes 15 of the most beautiful farms in the Karoo and climbs to a height of 1 000 feet up the spectacular Kompasberg Mountain. Fun rides of 5 to 10 km are open to less serious bikers who enjoy sharing the course with the more experienced pros.
Road-running: The Owl’s Call race, a 42-km race for runners, takes place concurrently with the Kompasberg 1 000 mountain biking event.
Archaeology And Palaeontology
Aasvoelberg: Prime examples of San rock art can be seen at various sites in the Aasvoelberg (“Vulture”) Mountain Range.
History And Architecture
Dutch Reformed Church: Built in 1905, the gas-lit chandeliers, the only source of light in the church, bathe the intricate woodcarvings, the ancient organ and the stained-glass windows in soft, reverent light.
Owl House: The eccentric artist Helen Martin was born in Nieu-Bethesda in 1898 and lived the life of a recluse, especially after the death of her parents. She expressed her interest in Eastern philosophy and her constant search for “light and brightness” through her cement and glass statues and the interior and exterior decorations of her house. The latter makes the old house shimmer in the sun, the light reflecting off the ground glass that covers the walls. The backyard is a veritable wonderland with sculptures of animals and mythical creatures.