Friday, March 24, 2017

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. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

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.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Karoo farm scene

I took this picture on a recent visit to Lowlands Country House in the Karoo Heartland outside Cradock.  The scene just grabbed me and if I was a painter then I would have loved to paint it.  It really shows the importance of water in this arid environment and how it can change things from brown to green.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The welcome sight of a campsite rainbow

At the end of each thunderstorm in the Drakensberg there is a rainbow.  Something campers look forward to when the first drops come down.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Sunday Falls Trail - Royal Natal National Park

How can one visit the Drakesnberg and not do some of the amazing hiking trails the Berg has to offer to take in the magnificent mountain views, streams and waterfalls around?  Over the ten days we spent camping at Mahai in the Royal Natal National Park in the Northern Drakensberg we split our time between doing some of the day walks around the park and just chilling in the campsite.  Over the first few days we took the walk up to the Cascades a couple of times and did the Tiger Falls hike, but with Christmas the next day we decided to do the Sunday Falls hike on Christmas eve.  The hike is a nice and easy, mostly flat, 6km hike out to the Sunday Falls (3km) and straight back to camp or via a slightly longer detour through Fairy Glen.  The nice bit of this hike is that the trail cross over a couple of streams along the way and take in some stunning views of the surrounding mountains and is quite doable if you have kids.  Even if they are as big as mine already.  

The trail takes you to the top of the Sunday Falls from where you make your way down into the little valley the waterfall flows into

Relaxing below the falls (while I was searching for the Geocache located there)

Some of the little gems I noticed on our way

The Drakensberg Amphitheatre is set as backdrop for the hike

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Hiking to Tiger Falls - Royal Natal National Park

The Drakensberg is famous for the trails that crisscross her spine, meanders across her back, explore her valleys, marvel at her fabulous buttresses, enter her wooded vales, wade through her streams and end up at waterfalls flowing over her.  It's enough to want to throw your head back and shout in ecstasy.  Yes I know what that all sounded like, but heck, that mountain truly is sexy.  For our ten days of camping at Mahai in the Royal Natal National Park in the Northern Drakensberg we planned to split our time there between relaxing at the campsite, swimming at Cascades and doing three or four short morning or day hikes.  The first one we did was the Tiger Falls Trail.  The trail is an easy 6 km circular hike that starts right outside the campsite and heads uphill and on towards the mountain.  Along the way you get a great view of the Amphitheatre and Dooley mountain, stop for a break at Tiger Falls and enjoy the view from Lookout Rock before descending back into the Mahai Valley and back to the campsite via the Cascades. 

The view of Mahai campsite from the Tiger Falls Trail

Flowering Proteas along the trail 

The Damselfly approaching Tiger Falls

Tiger Falls is a great spot to take a break along the trail, fill your water bottle and kick off your shoes to cool down your feet.  Its even possible to climb up and in behind the waterfall, something the KidZ just loved doing.

The view down the Mahai Valley from Lookout Rock.  The campsite is in the centre of the picture

Heading down the path back into the valley and ready to go and take a swim at Cascades on our way back to camp

Monday, February 27, 2017

Swimming at Cascades - Royal Natal National Park

When you arrive at Mahai campsite in the Royal Natal National Park in the Drakensberg, one of the first things you notice is that there is no swimming pool.  "What! No swimming pool? How is one supposed to cool down on those hot barmy summers days while camping?" you ask.  Mahai doesn't have a swimming pool for a purpose.  The campsite sits on the banks of the Mahai River and 15 minutes upstream along the Queen's Causeway is where you head to the Cascades if you want to cool down.  The Cascades is a series of cascading waterfalls and shallow areas offering bathers a safe spot to enjoy the crisp clean mountain water that flows out of the Berg.  You may not be able to dive into deep pools or swim lengths but I didn't hear one person complain during the ten days we were there.  How often do us city folk get to swim in a mountain stream? 

The little bridge at the end of the Queen's Causeway.  The Queen's Causeway was built to allow the Royal family to comfortably walk up along the Mahai River during their visit in 1947.  The visit is also the reason why the park is allowed to be called the Royal Natal National Park.

The last stretch to the Cascades 

Campers and day visitors enjoying the Cascades

Yours truly playing ball with Miggie in the bottom pool

The Cascading waterfalls above the swimming area

Miggie having a waterfall shower

Chaos Boy warming up after a swim in the fresh mountain water

Miggie enjoying the view of the Cascades looking downstream