Centrally located on the N1 and N6, the Free State town of Bethulie in the Xhariep Region is often described as “halfway to everywhere”. In recent times, it received a boost from one of its most famous sons, actor Patrick Mynhardt, who titled his autobiographical play Boy from Bethulie. Mynhardt died in London while performing a season of this play in 2007.
Venturing much further back to the town’s inception in 1829, Bethulie was founded as a mission station by the London Missionary Society, which eyed the San as the target of its missionary zeal.
Previously known by the somewhat macabre Groot Moordenaarspoort (Great Murderer’s Pass) following a nasty battle with heavy casualties between the Basotho, the Griqua and San, the missionaries changed the settlement’s name to Bethulie, meaning ”chosen by God”.
Name changes were something Bethulie had to get used to, as the town was renamed a total of eight times (Caledon, Verheullpolis, Bethulia and Heidelberg were some of its other monikers), before it was decided to revert to Bethulie.
When the second Anglo-Boer War broke out, the town became the site of one of the largest concentrations camps in the country. Decades later, when the Gariep Dam was built, fears that the concentration camp and graveyard sites would be flooded resulted in the exhumation and reburial of more than 1 700 bodies at a new graveyard.
The town’s proximity to the Gariep Dam adds to its many outdoor attractions. All types of watersports are on offer on the dam, as well as at the local Bethulie Dam.
Three game reserves on Bethulie’s doorstep – Tussen die Riviere, Oviston Reserve and the Gariep Dam Nature Reserve – make game- and bird-viewing opportunities easily accessible. There are also hiking, mountain-bike and 4x4 trails in the vicinity.
Look out for
Be sure to view the D H Steyn Bridge connecting the Free State to the Eastern Cape. Crafted from sandstone, it is the country’s longest rail-and-road bridge combination.
Within 20 kilometres of Bethulie are San rock art sites. The town is also within easy reach of fossil finds located in the Karoo basin.
The Pellissier House Museum is the former home of Jean Pellissier, a French missionary from the Paris Missionary Society, who replaced the London missionaries. Missionary history, the Anglo-Boer wars, fossils and the San are some of the subjects the museum features in its exhibits.
Outside this museum sits the Ox-Wagon Monument, commemorating the Great Trek.
The role of the horse in South Africa’s past is memorialised at the western entrance to Bethulie in a sculpture called the Horse Monument, which was unveiled in 1962.
At the meeting point of the Caledon and Orange Rivers sits Tussen-die-Riviere Nature Reserve. A wide variety of antelope on the grass plains, striking rock formations and scenic river gorges make it a worthwhile visit.
The impressive Gariep Dam on the Orange River is about 50 kilometres from Bethulie and is bordered by the Gariep Dam Nature Reserve with its Karoo landscapes. The reserve is known for its herds of Cape Mountain Zebra and Black Wildebeest.
Photography: Chris Marais/Mainline Media