Nieu-Bethesda accommodation at Outsiders B&B

The last couple of times I’ve been in Nieu-Bethesda I stayed with Ian and Katrien Allemann at Outsiders B&B every time. Outsiders is conveniently situated on the main road as you come into town and just about next door to the entrance of the Owl House. Everything is literally walking distance away and you can leave your car here and just explore on foot.

I stayed in the front room which is comfortable and spacious. Best is the fact that the door opens onto the front stoep and you can sit and watch the day go by with a hot coffee in winter, a cold drink in summer or a glass of wine at any time.

Breakfast in the dining room included stone ground bread from flour ground at the local historic watermill and bacon and eggs made to order by Ian. Local honey and jam, fresh fruit and a lekker cup of boeretroos (coffee) rounded it out.

Time to grab my coffee and go and sit out on the stoep to enjoy the morning sun. Hoping that it won’t be too long before I get the opportunity again.

Inspirational food in Nieu-Bethesda

One of the things you can always be sure of while traveling through the Karoo Heartland of the Eastern Cape is that you will get good food, fantastic hospitality and a full tummy. Visiting Nieu-Bethesda one would expect your meal to be lamp chops, a hearty stew or something straight from granny’s kitchen. So finding a place with inspirational fusion foods straight out of something you’ll expect on a Master Chef cooking competition was totally unexpected. Enters Barbara and Johan Weitz of The Ibis. Their little restaurant is called Stirlings and all their meals incorporate indigenous medicinal herbs and plants harvested from the veld and their own vegetable garden as well as locally sourced meat and produce.

I was in Nieu-Bethesda for a tourism meeting at The Ibis and afterwards Barbara gave us a taste of what they have on their menu in the form of several mouthwatering snacks and titbits that had us begging for more. Not just was the plates put in front of us, but Barbara also explained what each item was and where the ingredients come from.

The lunch included the following items and is expanded on with a full 6 course meal available from the menu. Starting with the cup and going around clockwise:

ūüĆĪRoasted butternut soup with Wilde Als,

ūüĆĪ Babotie Tartlet with spekboom chutney,

ūüĆĪ Veldtroos, a digestive tea served with Wildmint, wildeals, Veldtee & lemon verbena,

ūüĆĪ Grilled Zuchini Parcel with Handmade Turmeric pasta, oyster mushrooms and a roasted red pepper & Nasturtium sauce,

ūüĆĪ Locally sourced cold meat,

ūüĆĪ Stoneground wheat seed bread with Karoo bossie Charcuterie, labne with Camdeboo Zataar spice. The flower for the bread is stone ground at the historic watermill in Nieu-Bethesda.

I could have had a plate of any of those items, but my item of choice was definitely the Bobotie.

The biggest surprise of the day came with the dessert

ūüĆĪ Roasted garlic ice cream with a veldtee shortbread, and

ūüĆĪ Wildmint infused Pannacotta tart with a bloubos coulis.

Yes, you read right. Roasted garlic ice cream. And before you say “Yuck!” That was my first thought, but it turned out to be anything but. It was the best home made ice cream with a sweet taste of roasted garlic hitting you in the back of your mouth just ever so slightly.

Next visit to Nieu-Bethesda Stirlings at The Ibis is definitely going to be on my list of things to do and then I’m having the full meal and an extra scoop of roasted garlic ice cream.

Nieu-Bethesda’s historic Dutch Reformed Church

The historic Dutch Reformed Church is probably the biggest landmark in Nieu-Bethesda. It’s perhaps not as famous as the Owl House or interesting as the Kitching Fossil Centre, but if it comes to landmarks, it stands out in town. I’m always in awe of the fact that such a magnificent building was constructed in such a small place and like to pop around when visiting the village.

The village of Nieu Bethesda was established in 1875 on the farm Uitkijk which belonged to Barend Jacobus Pienaar. The early inhabitants of the farm were always on the lookout for wild animals and raiding Bushmen, hence the name Uitkijk, loosely translated as Lookout. The farm was located in the well-watered valley of the Gat River within the Sneeuberge.

Although Nieu Bethesda is relatively close to Graaff-Reinet, the mountainous terrain and the treacherous weather conditions with summer temperatures in the 40C and heavy snow in winter, made it difficult for the farming community in the area to travel the 8-hour journey to the mother church in Graaff-Reinet. The land was purchased from Pienaar on behalf of the Dutch Reformed Church council for the price of £4000 on 8 February 1875.

In 1878 Rev. Charles Murray from Graaff-Reinet made a few suggestions regarding a name for the village and at the founders meeting said: ‚ÄúLaten sy dese plaats nu Bethesda noemen.‚ÄĚ These words are reported to have been minuted incorrectly as ‚ÄúLaten wij het Nieuw Bethesda noemen.‚ÄĚ In fact, during the prolonged negotiations, the name Nieu Bethesda had been used frequently ‚Äď probably because of the strong fountain and its biblical reference. (John 5: 2-4.)

The imposing church building, with seating for up to 700 souls, was consecrated in 1905 at a cost of £7000. Stones for building the church, some almost 2,5m long, were obtained from the town commonage and the problem of transporting the long beams by ox wagon was solved by placing bales of straw on the wagon so that the beams protruded over the hind oxen. The magnificent church organ was commissioned for the first time in June 1914 and built by Price and Sons in Cape Town. It consists of 16 registers and more than 624 pipes. The church is still lit by gas powered chandeliers that pre-date the arrival of electricity in the village.

As I stayed less than a block away on my last visit, I took a stroll to the church after dinner to grab a picture or two. The church is lit up by spotlights which makes it look quite haunting especially seeing that the village doesn’t have any streetlights lighting up the dark surroundings.

Even though the church hasn’t had a permanent minister since the 1960’s, regular services are done by ministers from Graaff-Reinet and visitors can see the inside of the church by prior arrangement.

The roads of Nieu-Bethesda

The village of Nieu-Bethesda is located about 30 minutes north of Graaff-Reinet and literally feels like another world. It is so different from most small rural towns as there is very little development around which makes the place feel sleepy and peaceful. The road to about 4km from the outskirts of the village was tarred a couple of years ago which makes getting to it a little easier, but town itself has no tar roads, no street lights, no petrol station or ATM, only really one little supermarket and barely two hands full of houses in the town itself.

This is the main road into the village and peak hour traffic means a car has to stop for a couple of horses, goats or geese to cross the road.

One or two of the roads still have wagon stones on the corners. These were put up to stop turning ox wagons to bump into the buildings. Not that there are any ox wagons around anymore. Only a donkey cart or three.

The old Dutch Reformed Church in town was consecrated in 1905 and stands out among the surrounding buildings.

One of the main intersections in town. Dead quiet on the busiest of times.

The road in front of the Nieu Karoo Country Restaurant was pretty busy as we walked past to the river bed on our fossil tour. Found out a little later that there was live music by a fairly well-known band on.

The main road through Nieu-Bethesda. Before crossing you look left, look right, look left again, stop in the middle to take a photo, walk back to get another angle, then across to where you are going and when you come back a little later perhaps one car would have come past.

Not really much use for cars in town…

Nieu-Bethesda and its roads are best explored on foot

The road out of town past the Tot Hier Toe Padstal.

Pizza, World Famous in Nieu-Bethesda

The Karoo Heartland village of¬†Nieu-Bethesda¬†is weird and quirky, but in a nice way. ¬†It has a lot of interesting nooks and crannies which include a couple of fascinating attractions, authentic Nieu-Bethesdian accommodation and slightly off the regular type of mainstream restaurants and eateries. ¬†When you pass a little restaurant with a sign saying¬†Bruno’s Alfresco Pizzeria with the added tagline of “World Famous in Nieu-Bethesda… then you know you want to check it out. ¬†It also helps that I really love pizza.

 

So the quirkiness of Bruno’s start with the fact that they are only open on a Friday evening. ¬†At first I was surprised but then I understood why. ¬†Nieu-Bethesda isn’t the busiest of villages and there are a number of spots to eat at so they avoid being empty most nights and became the Friday night hangout. ¬†Bruno’s really is as authentic Southern Italian as you will get and with the eccentric Italian Swiss chef and owner Brunno at the wheel you, you are assured of the best thin based pizza in town. ¬†World Famous, in Nieu-Bethesda.
As we were a decent sized group in town for a meeting the Monday morning, a special request to open on the Sunday night for us was granted and I was glad it was. ¬†Not a lot of pizza places around where you can stand at the kitchen chatting to the cooks preparing the pizza or where you can peek into the pizza oven just before sticking your camera halfway in just to be shoo’d away because it’s time to take the pizzas out. ¬†No well drilled conveyor¬†belt from a fast food pizza joint in the city. ¬†No, local ladies making the pizza just the way they were trained by Bruno. ¬†Mine was delectable. ¬†Their special for the night, Kudu Salami Pizza. ¬†Highly recommendable if you are in town. ¬†
But, and this is a big but and I can’t deny, that wasn’t all. ¬†Bruno had a surprise up his sleeve. ¬†I heard rumours of a secret underground wine cellar. ¬†Just stories or the truth? ¬†I was told to ask Bruno himself, so I did. ¬†He chuckled and there was a glint in his eye. ¬†Yeah! Let’s go. ¬†The wine cellar isn’t just a regular spot to store wine. ¬†It literally is an underground space that feels like it’s straight from a movie set. ¬†Bruno had it built as a wine cellar but after a flood filled it up with water a few years ago he hasn’t really kept wine down there. ¬†He did show us a little something standing around the one corner and we got to taste the fruits of this little something afterwards. ¬†Or rather what came from the fruits that went in there. ¬†I can understand why he doesn’t sell it. ¬†It’s a special little something for special visitors and we were special. ¬†We got to see his wine cellar on a personal tour after all. ¬†¬†

Going digital at the Owl House

The last time I was at the Owl House in Nieu-Bethesda¬†I got a nice picture of a gent standing in contemplation between the cement figures. ¬†On this visit to the village I was at the Owl House with two friends and colleagues and I really thought there would be a good chance to catch one of them in deep contemplation at some stage. ¬†Curse the digital age… Bwhahahahahaha…. The best I got was while one was taking a picture to post to Instagram and the other was taking a selfie. I love it!!!! They’ll probably put out a hit on me when they see this post.

Why have you never visited Nieu-Bethesda?

It feels like most people I speak to about travelling in the Karoo Heartland of the Eastern Cape have been to Graaff-Reinet, yet many didn’t venture much further to also visit Nieu-Bethesda. ¬†Nieu-Bethesda truly is a very special village located barely 30 minutes from Graaff-Reinet and have a truly off the beaten track feeling to it. ¬†I say off the beaten track because that is literally what it is. ¬†No tar roads in the village, no street lights, no ATM, no petrol station and no night life other than crickets in the dark and the cow you have to swerve out for when it suddenly appears in your headlights. ¬†What the village does have are tons of character (the good kind), history, interesting nooks and crannies, even more interesting people, good food and nostalgia that will stick to you like blackjacks to wool socks long after you have left.
I was going to do a long and detailed post about Nieu-Bethesda but decided that my pictures could easily do most of the talking.  For the rest you will have to visit the village yourself to discover.
Nieu-Bethesda, a town of Karoo landscapes, history, owls, dirt roads and (rusting in) piece

Not a tarred road or street light in sight where a traffic jam means two cars reaching an intersection at the same time perhaps twice a day
Nieu-Bethesda is one of the few places that still have leivore (farrows) with water flowing in them
The Owl House is what put Nieu-Bethesda on the map and well worth a visit
The late Helen Martins spent most of her life in the town and the latter part of it transforming her ordinary Karoo home into a place of colour and light.  Over the years she and her assistant Koos Malgas, used concrete and glass to create a multi-coloured house and fantasy garden.  In the Camel Yard visitors will find statues of owls, camels, wise men and much more and one can literally get lost In your own thoughts trying to take all of this in.  Shortly before her 79th birthday, Helen Martins committed suicide by drinking caustic soda.  It is said that at the time her eyesight was failing because of damage from ground glass and that depression was getting the better of her.  
Doesn’t matter how many times I visit the Owl House, there is always something different to discover or some new angle to photograph¬†
One can’t simply visit Nieu-Bethesda and not buy one of the hand made cement owls being sold outside the Owl House. ¬†I still have the owl I bought on my first visit to the village in my garden.
The Nieu-Bethesda cemetery has graves dating back to the early days of the village with the one of Helen Martins with its cement owl headstone standing out 
The Karoo is famous for the fossils found there and Nieu-Bethesda seems to be right in the thick of things when it comes to fossil records.  The Kitching Fossil Centre in the village is well worth a visit.  The guide shows visitors how they clean the rock off the fossils and do a walking tour to the river bed to show you fossils in the rocks.
If you really want to learn more about fossils, Khoi San artifacts and rock paintings then you have to visit Ganora Guest Farm a little outside the village.  Ganora has one of the biggest private fossil collections in the country in their fossil museum and if they ever established a Jurassic Park in the Karoo then I would want to be with owner JP Steynberg as he knows everything there is to know about the prehistoric animals found in that area. 

Yes, that is the fossilised skull of a very small dinosaur

Don’t think that a tour through the Ganora Fossil Museum would be a boring affair

The Karoo Heartland is known for it’s amazing hospitality and farm stays are becoming more and more popular. ¬†At Ganora our little group were just in time to help bottle feed the hanslammers (hand reared lambs). ¬†Not the kind of experience that us city slickers are used to or get to do every day. ¬†
My visit to Nieu-Bethesda was way too short, taking up only a Sunday afternoon and Monday morning before the meeting I had to attend.  Way too little to explore and experience properly.  One needs at least a weekend, arriving on the Friday afternoon and leaving on Sunday after lunch, to have a chance to get to know the town properly and visit at least a few places.  If you do want to know more, do check out this very comprehensive list of things to do in Nieu-Bethesda on the ECTOUR website. 

When it rains in Nieu-Bethesda

A couple of weeks ago I headed up to Nieu-Bethesda in the Karoo Heartland with a colleague for a tourism meeting. ¬†En route we encountered the Fish River in full flow at Jansenville, puddles and pools next to the road approaching Graaff-Reinet and a very wet village at our destination. ¬†The word Karoo comes from the Khoi language and means Place of Thirst, very appropriate for this arid region. ¬†So it’s not often that you see puddles of water in the road throughout the village. ¬†Something I photographed with pleasure.
But puddles in the road wasn’t what drew the oohhhh’s and aaahhhh’s from us though. ¬†It was the Gats River that runs through the village. ¬†It wasn’t just running strong, it was running very high as well. ¬†So high in fact that it was over the low water bridge. ¬†Seeing all this water in this arid region totally made up for the fact that there wasn’t any sunshine and blue skies to take nice pictures, which was part of the mission for the two days we were in town for. ¬†Tourism meeting and nice pictures to use to promote Nieu-Bethesda and the Karoo Heartland. ¬†
My companion on the trip, who is also a part-time mermaid, just couldn’t get enough off all the water. ¬†Luckily she didn’t let her legs get wet, otherwise we could still be looking for her somewhere downstream.

Ganora Fossil Museum

When I grew up I wanted to be an archaeologist.¬† Somebody like Indiana Jones who discover lost cities and artifacts, dig up dinosaurs and made remarkable finds that would wow the world.¬† That dream kinda shattered when I found it it wasn’t all quite as adventurous and glamorous.¬† Instead I went into tourism although the interest for archaeology is still there.¬†¬†This interest truly got fed when I spent a night at Ganora Guestfarm out Nieu-Bethesda recently.¬†
 
In prehistoric times the Karoo was a huge inland swamp (and not a sea as some people claim) and 253 million years ago, during the Permian Period, the area around the present day Nieu-Bethesda was covered by big meandering rivers which flowed in a northerly direction.  The floodplains around these rivers teemed with prehistoric animals which died along the banks of the rivers, was covered with mud and got preserved as fossils.  This period was 50 million years before the first dinosaurs so the fossils in the Karoo pre-dates things like the famous T-Rex, Triceratops and Brachiosaurus.  One of the best places to go and see and learn about these fossils is Ganora Guestfarm and there is no better person to show you around than owner JP Steynberg.

When the Steybergs bought the farm in the 1990’s they had no idea it contained a treasure trove of fossils¬†and San (Bushmen) artifacts.¬† This they only discovered on a picnic in a riverbed on the farm a few months later.¬† That was the start of it and¬†the rest, as they say,¬†is history.¬† In 1998 they registered their private museum and today has one of the biggest private fossil and artifact collections in South Africa.¬† JP showed me around the museum and I literally didn’t know where to look.¬† The collection truly is magnificent.¬† The fossils in the exhibit¬†are on average about 280 million years old and comes from a time¬†when mammal-like-reptiles roamed the earth.¬† As I said, from a¬†pre-dinosaur time.¬† The collection also includes small¬†models to give an indication¬†of what these animals looked like,¬†fossilised leaves from the Glossopteris trees and¬†the Compasia dela Harpi fish fossil¬† of which they have the only complete example of in the world.¬† JP’s passion for and knowledge¬†of fossils comes through as soon as he starts talking and I was immediately sorry that I wouldn’t have time to go out onto the farm with him to see fossils in their “natural” environment.
 
Next JP took me into the next room where the Bushman artifacts are on display.¬† Like the fossil museum this part of the museum is a registered museum as well and they keep careful record of where the artifacts were found and have cataloged them according to the law.¬† JP pointed out tools to grind seed and grain, arrow heads used to hunt and sharpened rock used to cut.¬† Also of interest is the ostrich egg shell beads.¬† Most of these came from caves and areas used as “workshops” on the farm and surrounding areas.¬† Again I cursed the fact that I had no extra time to go on a tour of the farm as I would have loved to see some of the rock paintings and natural shelters the San would have lived in.
 
It does mean that I have an excuse to return to Ganora for a weekend and give myself enough time to see all of it for myself.  Something I will seriously make work of.