Follow the Owl Route

The Owl Route is a 50km U-shaped dirt road in the Eastern Cape province, which is best explored by bicycle. The route leads explorers to the well-known Owl House, a museum in the town of Nieu Bethesda that features the art work of Helen Martins and Koos Malgas.

If the idea of combining mountain biking, art and history appeals to you, then the Owl Route in the hot Great Karoo region - including a stop at the famous Owl House museum - is a trip well worth taking.

The route, in the Sneeuberg Mountains, is reasonably flat and the journey is more about the scenery and serenity than the physical challenge.

Nieu Bethesda, a small rural town 305km north of Port Elizabeth, was established in the 1870s by a group of innovative farmers, lead by BJ Pienaar, who established the farm Uitkyk ("lookout"). Many of his descendents are still prominent in the area today and will greet you with a wave as you cycle by.

The town has retained its historic charm and has shunned modern technology and systems. The town does not even have a bank, let alone credit card facilities or petrol station.

Arid, unspoiled grassland surrounds the town which features some beautiful old buildings, such as the white Dutch Reformed Church building that was inaugurated in 1905.

The Owl House museum is Nieu Bethesda’s best-known attraction, with its garden full of statues (the Camel Yard) that were created by Helen Martins, the lady who inspired Athol Fugard’s play, The Road to Mecca.

Historians refer to Martins as a reclusive, yet immensely talented and passionate person who devoted the majority of her latter years to her sculptures of cement, glass and wire. owls and camels were among her favourite subjects.

The Owl House was declared a national monument in 1991.

Travel tips & Planning info

How to get here

The nearest airport to Nieu Bethesda is Port Elizabeth, a four-hour drive away. To reach Nieu Bethesda, explorers should follow the signs from the N9 between Aberdeen and Middelberg.

Best time to visit

The Owl House is open every day of the year except December 25.

Length of stay

You can easily complete the Owl Route in one day, but stay at least one night to get a feel for the area.

What to pack

There are no banks or cash machines in Nieu Bethesda, so take enough money with you. There is also no petrol station in the town, so fill up before arriving.

Where to stay

There are self-cater accommodations in Nieu Bethesda - see listed website for details.

What to eat

True hearty Karoo food at the Karoo Lamb, and a good ploughman's lunch at the Two Goats Deli.

What's happening

Nieu Bethesda has an annual Arts Festival and regular farmers' markets - see the listed website for details.

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