The Dirsuwei family – mom Sarah, dad Ralph and their three sons – Jacob (17), Luke (15) and Cian (11), is a Port Elizabeth family is on a mission to explore the world together, spreading positivity about South Africa through their travel blog, Chasing the Rainbow. This week they head to the Karoo for a visit to the quaint village of Nieu Bethesda – and two readers can win a stay there also!
So Much More than Owls
As we rounded the bend and drove down the steep mountain pass into the small Karoo town of Nieu-Bethesda, I was amazed how green and lush it was. I have long dreamt of visiting Helen Martins’ famous Owl House and in my mind, I had imagined it surrounded by a flat and dusty town, not this leafy oasis tucked in-between farmlands in a fertile mountain valley.
We had opted to stay in town, rather than on one of the surrounding guest farms, and headed straight for the Karoo Lamb restaurant to fetch the keys for Quince & Cottage, our home for the next two days. We loved that we were able to rent a house in the village – it gave us a very real experience of small town life. There are houses dotted throughout town which are available for rent through the tourism authority.
We were given a charming little sketch map of the village, and easily found our way to a cute white cottage with green shutters nestled beneath a towering weeping willow tree. As we walked into the creaking floor of the old home, it felt like we were stepping back in time and we were delighted with all the mod-cons straight from our grandparents’ era, all perfectly preserved and in full working order.
The red sun fired the sky in the west and a bright full moon took over in the east as we headed straight out to explore our surroundings. One of the first things we noticed were the water furrows running along the dust roads – little metal gates on the furrows at each property allow the precious spring water to be channelled into their gardens.
We also noticed a massive church turret towering into the sky next to a windmill. We were totally taken by the juxtaposition of this huge, oversized building in contrast with its humble surroundings.
We strolled back home past beautiful porches with rounded tin roofs and colour coded shutters, trendy cafes lined with art and streets framed with tall leafy trees, and were already in love with this quaint place.
First up on our list of things to do in Nieu-Bethesda was the Owl House. Before heading into the mad beauty of the camel yard, we watched a short introductory video on the story of Helen Martins, “Miss Helen” – a troubled and unique individual who poured her emotions into concrete and sculpted them into shapes, forms and figures, expressing her feelings through the transparent expressions of her creations and playing with light by using glass and reflective surfaces.
Although the kids found it a bit creepy, Ralph and I were mesmerised by the haunting magic of Miss Helen’s lifelong work. The Owl House and Camel Yard are on a tiny piece of land, but the sheer scale, creativity and talent of this strange woman’s obsession and lifelong work makes it feel enormous.
We examined and enjoyed each sculpture until the kids dragged us out of there, the ache of teenage hunger dictating that it was time to move on. The Owl House surpassed our every expectation – it was an absolute privilege to enter that bizarre world of sculpture and we left feeling thoroughly enriched.
Parked outside the Owl House was a pair of happy and healthy looking donkeys, harnessed to a cute cart – “Jakob se donkiekar tours”. A resounding “yes please” from the kids, so we hopped up onto the colourful cart while Jakob introduced himself and his fine steeds Fellies and Karolus.
While we trotted around the roads, Jakob gave us the run-down of how he got into the donkey cart business, explained the village dynamics, introduced us to the local residents and told us the best places to visit. The combination of unique wheels and a local’s in-depth knowledge of his lovely home town made this an absolute highlight of our trip.
Next up, we were off to Ganora Guest Farm a few kilometres outside town to visit a private fossil museum and check out some San rock art.
Ganora is a really popular guest farm and we could see why – the location is divine, the working farm is the neatest we have ever seen and owners Hester and JP are hands-on involved with their guests, making sure that everyone has a good time. JP’s fossil collection and knowledge and passion of the pre-dinosaur creatures that roamed here over 200 million years ago are incredible to behold.
We ended off our weekend visit to Nieu-Bethesda with a drink in the historic local pub, a stroll around the outskirts of town and a promise to return to enjoy more of this picture perfect village in the heart of the Karoo.
WIN TWO NIGHTS NEAR NIEU BETHESDA
One reader of Weekend Post can win a two-night stay at Outsiders B&B in Nieu Bethesda, plus entrance to the Kitching Fossil Exploration Centre (valued at R1 500).
One reader of Weekend Post can win a mid-week two-night stay at Ganora Guest Farm, including a fossil tour and breakfast (valued at R2 470).
HOW TO ENTER: There are two competitions, depending on which prize you would like to win. Send the word OUTSIDERS or GANORA and your name to the number: 41893.
SMSes should be kept to a maximum of 320 characters at a charge of R1.50 per 160 characters. Free minutes do not apply and errors are billed.The cut-off for entries is noon on Monday, May 21, and the winners of each will be notified thereafter.
- See more from the Dirsuweis at chasingtherainbow.net