09 February 2023

Return to Plettenberg Bay

23 December 2022 - Midrand to Nieu-Bethesda; Day 1

Finally our summer holiday was upon us and this time we decided to break both the down and return trip with overnight stays. We were packed the night before, so it was just bags to be put into the Hilux before our early morning start. We headed toward Colesburg for our first stop, leg stretch and coffee before continuing to the Ibis Lounge in Nieu-Bethesda in the Eastern Cape.

Nieu-Bethesda village is a 25km detour off the main road and situated at the foot of the Sneeuberge and overlooked by the Compassberg and is 50km from Graaf Reinet. It has been a place that has intrigued us on previous trips to Plett as we drove past the detour and finally for this trip we decided to stay over. 

The village was founded in 1875 as a church town and attained municipal status in 1886. The towns name is of biblical origin, meaning 'place of flowing water' and an eternal spring bubbles on the plateau above the town to flow downhill through the village's network of furrows. Of course the streets are untarred to add to the charm of the village. The village is home to a growing number of artists and many decades ago was the inspirational home of Athol Fugard and where he wrote many of his world famous plays.

The distinctive Nieu-Bethesda Church

However, it was Helen Martins who immortalised the village with creation of the mystical and unforgettable Owl House which is now run as a museum. The Owls themselves are to be found all over town. 

The Owls of Nieu-Bethesda

I can highly recommend a visit to this quaint village, but in keeping with its distinctive pace of life, remember there are no banks, ATM's or even a petrol station.

We arrived late afternoon, checked in to our quaint accommodation and then took a stroll around town visiting the various attractions. Dinner was distinctly Karoo style and most enjoyable.

After a good sleep, I was up early for a birding walk around town - during the night the clouds had rolled in and there was a brisk wind, but I did manage to pick up some of the local residents, although I was disappointed at the diversity of the Karoo specials. As with many similar areas, birds mostly use the urban perches, so you have to accept fences and fence poles with your subjects. 

I caught up with a family of Familiar Chats

Familiar Chat (Oenanthe familiaris)

And later a feisty Karoo Prinia

Karoo Prinia (Prinia maculosa)

Whilst being entertained by the Prinia, a Karoo Robin put in a brief appearance

Karoo Scrub Robin (Cercotrichas coryphaeus)

Around the Church, I eked out a Malachite Sunbird

Female Malachite Sunbird (Nectarinia famosa)

A single White-throated Canary that came to drink from the Church fountain

White-throated Canary (Crithagra albogularis)

and numbers of Pied Starling

Pied Starling (Lamprotornis bicolor)

Whilst across from the Church, a lone Pale Chanting Goshawk perched like a sentinel in a big dead tree

Pale Chanting Goshawk (Melierax canorus)

Greater-Striped Swallows were quite active, drinking from puddles and also seen perched together as a family

Greater-Striped Swallow (Cecropis cucullata)

On the pavements, there were a number of Black-throated Canary

Black-throated Canary (Crithagra atrogularis)

Whilst down near the river, Cape Canaries were plundering the fruits of the Prickly Pear

Cape Weaver (Ploceus capensis)

I was hoping to see Pale-winged Starling, no luck, only Red-winged

Red-winged Starling (Onychognathus morio)

After my short walk, it was time for a hearty Karoo breakfast with some proper filter coffee, before loading up the Hilux and continuing on the way to Plett. We opted to drive via Prince Alfred Pass (R339) which was built by Thomas Bain's in the 1860's and is considered his greatest work.

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