Price range, per nightmin R max R
*All distances listed are as the crow flies, and not actual travel distances.
But for the Owl House, Nieu-Bethesda would be just another one-horse town passed over by motorists travelling across the Karoo desert in the Eastern Cape Province. It is also thanks to local playwright Athol Fugard that the Owl House has received such wide appeal amongst tourists. His play titled ‘The road to Mecca’ tells the true story of Helen Martins, an elderly artist who, after a divorce and left alone following the death of her parents, she refused to enter a nursing home and instead began to create her own piece of paradise in Nieu-Bethesda which she named the Owl House. She was mostly shunned by the villagers but this didn’t deter her from decorating the interior of her inherited home in spectacular glass and mirror work with interesting lighting. Her back yard holds over 300 sculptures which she constructed with the help of a man named Koos Malgas.
Parts of the house are truly bizarre; Helen’s father was abusive and when he died, she bricked up his outside room, painted it black and labelled it The Lion’s Den.
Helen Martins took her inspiration from the Bible and other literary greats. Her favoured materials to work with were ground glass, lights, mirrors and cement, and it was the glass that caused her eventual blindness. In 1976 she attempted suicide, was rushed to hospital and died 2 days later.
Today, the Owl House is a provisional national monument, an indication of the importance of her work. Walk through art galleries in major cities in South Africa and you are likely to find artwork that look suspiciously similar to Helen Martins’ unique sculptures.
The town has flourished following the recognition of the Owl House and there are now a number of interesting places to visit in Nieu-Bethesda but it’s the Owl House that brings in the crowds.