Karoo enchantment: things to do in Nieu-Bethesda

Posted on 16 May 2023 By David Henning

How do you capture the Karoo? Well, Nieu-Bethesda has seemingly done so with all the quirks that we love.

From people riding through town showing off on horses, leaving them “parked outside” the local taverns, to browsing the local bookshop’s shelves and making apricot jam over a fire, this little dorpie, much like its famous river, flows toward its effervescent present while taking you back in time.

Picture: Jared Ruttenberg / @Jaredincpt

Due South of Compassberg Peak in the towering Sneeuberg Mountains and a 45-minute drive from Graaff-Reniet, Nieu-Bethesda has been a growing hub for eclectic artists but also for those seeking to escape to the nine-to-five and settle in a small town with the community at its heart, welcoming guests with open arms.

Here are a few things to do in Nieu-Bethesda to get you acquainted.

Boetie’s Pub

The best place to start when you arrive is its local watering hole. It’s also the last place you’ll go at the end of the day and, strangely enough, the place where you go to buy garlic.

Pub owner, Boetie, a former Springbok truck driver (it’s legit), settled in town, opened a pub and planted a bit of garlic (Nieu-Bethesda also plays host to a garlic festival in November).

On the last Friday of every month, Boetie’s Pub hosts a pub quiz, offering a prize for the best dressed.

The Brewery and Two Goats Deli

The place for dog lovers and beer lovers alike, the local craft brewery is essentially a one-man show, from the brewing process to the cheese made and coffee roasted on site.

Picture: Jared Ruttenberg/ @Jaredincpt

The homemade charcuterie board. Picture: Jared Ruttenberg / @Jaredincpt

A selection of beers is available, and a cider, which you can enjoy with an artisan homemade cheese and charcuterie board. You’ll likely be greeted upon your arrival and leave with a homebrewed coffee or a jar of preserve made from produce grown on-site.

Stonefolk of Ongeluksloot

Created by artist Ryno Greef who sourced rocks from the area, the Stonefolk are life-sized rock sculptures that scatter the landscape on Ongeluksloot outside of town as if they’ve sprung from the earth.

These stone figures were inspired by the stone figures placed in Kaokoland in Namibia and “The Dance” by Marcella de Boom outside Loxton. They are a permanent outdoor exhibition just a short drive outside town.

There is an easy 1km circular route on the farm, where you enter the gate signposted “Ongeluksloot” next to the gravel road, where you drive until the end of the track and continue on foot. Follow the footpath past the first stone man, who you must remember to greet, and continue to look out for the rest in the small kloof.

Hike up Compassberg

Picture: Alamy

Compassberg is the highest peak in the Sneeuberg range at 2 502 m – the second highest in the Eastern Cape – it’s not for the faint-hearted. The full-day eight-hour hike is poorly sign-posted, and the last hour involves a rock scramble up to the peak.

It’s worth it, though, with 360° views of the Karoo from the summit, and the mountain is home to diverse endemic species, including the rare Compassberg skolly butterfly (Thestor compassbergae) found only on the slopes of this mountain.

Permission is needed from the landowners, and you can get information from The Karoo Lamb restaurant in town.

Dustcovers Bookshop

Picture: Jared Ruttenberg / @Jaredincpt

Dustcovers is a coveted Nieu-Bethesda treasure. Home to over 10 000 titles (new and secondhand), it’s a time warp that sucks you in and spews you out back onto the dusty streets carrying a stack of books like you would a pile of wood.

With book genres ranging from Africana to cooking, philosophy and fiction, a five-minute stop quickly turns into an hour.

Dine at Bruno’s at The Bethesda

The Bethesda

Established by the late pink-speedo-wearing Italian, Bruno Reolon, this pizzeria reflects his eccentric touch. Bruno Pizzeria (and the adjacent The Bethesda guesthouse) is now run by Carla and Ludolf Smit who moved to the Platteland for Karoo bliss.

The daily blackboard menu includes vegan options (a rare occurrence in the Karoo) and wood-fired pizzas made with local produce and garnished with greens grown in the garden.

Although Bruno may not be taking his morning swims in the dam outside, his spirit lives on through Carla and Ludolf’s warm hospitality and their resident dog Bruno’s.

Visit Mariette see Bankie

Picture: Jared Ruttenberg / @Jaredincpt

Before you leave town and race through the country roads, it would be a pity to not stop at the best viewing point in town.

It was erected by Yvonne van Niekerk in memory of her 46-year-long friendship with Marette Wolfaardt in town. From here, you have a view of the town and the towering Compassberg in the background; a postcard image and a perfect farewell to the town.

Other things to see and do

Picture: David Henning

This is not all there is to do in town. While you are there, meander around town and walk across the Sir Frederic Suspension Bridge across the Gats River. A visit to Nieu-Bethesda would not be complete without stopping at the Owl House, a whimsical home of concrete and ground glass sculptures by the late Helen Martins.

It’s also worthwhile to pop into the nearby Kitching Fossil Exploration Centre and learn how the surrounding geology tells the story about life in Nieu-Bethesda 255 million years ago and about the legendary palaeontologist James Kitching, drifting continents and how fossils are formed.

Outside town, there is the private fossil museum on Ganora farm and a guided fossil walk on the property. To clear your head and for a bit of tranquillity, take a walk through the poplar forest and around the old water furrow. Stop at Tot Hier Toe Farmstall for their delectable preserves. From preserved agave to homemade apricot jam made over a fire, it just tastes different.

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ALSO READ: Freedom Express: Horseback riding through Namibia’s badlands




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