Eastern Cape DestinationsNieu-Bethesda, Karoo Heartland
Some 60 km from Graaff-Reinet, Nieu-Bethesda is in essence completely isolated, with only two roads in and out of the village. Established in 1875 and named by the preacher Andrew Murray, Nieu-Bethesda was eclipsed by larger towns during the 1930s and ‘40s and became quite impoverished. It lies in a narrow valley, has no street lights and is only about one mile wide and two miles long - home to less than a thousand people.
Nieu-Bethesda, New Bethesda or ‘Betesda’ to the locals in the Eastern Cape, has been set very firmly on the map in recent years, largely due to the Owl House and Helen Martin’s very special and unique art work. Her intriguing sculpture in concrete and glass - assisted by Koos Malgas who became her hands in later years - the mythical and fantastic figurines and use of bright paint and multi-coloured panes of glass, fascinate visitors from all over the world and have been responsible for converting the sleepy hollow of Nieu-Bethesda into a tourist attraction. It was only after her death that the full implication of what ‘Miss Helen’ had been doing in her childhood home during the 1940s was discovered. Largely a recluse, she was regarded as an eccentric by the village and the true value of her contribution was misunderstood.
Today Nieu Bethesda is a retreat for artists, crafters and other creative spirits who have been attracted by its slow, offbeat character. Its rustic charm is also what attracts tourists to the town and because of its isolation it has retained a lot of its original historical integrity. Nieu Bethesda has only a couple of main streets, a few guest houses, restaurants, a pub and a couple of art galleries. Locals still watch the world go by in much the same way as they did before, from their front porches over a cup of coffee.