One of the most historically poignant yet delightful towns in the Free State is the southern settlement of Bethulie, near the Gariep Dam.
This is where about 5 000 Boer women and children were interned during the Anglo-Boer War, in a camp where more than 20 souls lost their lives each day. The Bethulie Concentration Camp memorial site has a special alcove where the gravestones of many of the child-victims are mounted in concrete.
Bethulie, in particular the now-revamped Royal Hotel, is also where all sorts of famous historical figures once stayed over. The Pellissier House Museum in Voortrekker Street will give you an insight into Victorian-era lifestyles as they played out in this part of the Karoo.
The Royal Hotel has now also become South Africa’s only ‘book hotel’, with many thousands of books lining all the walls of the establishment. It’s a rare treat to spend the night enveloped in so many written words.
The nearby Bethulie Bridge is a great sundowner spot, from where you can admire the Orange River heading off towards the massive Gariep Dam – or Lake Gariep, as they prefer to call it around here.
There is a legend about the special trains that carried thousands of mineworkers travelling between Transkei and the Reef. Many of the miners believed that the river contained a monster snake. As the trains crossed the bridge they tossed coins from the carriages as a peace offering.
The young boys growing up in Bethulie were well aware this was happening. When the trains were due they hid under the bridge waiting to catch the falling coins, and maybe to dive for them.
There’s loads to do in and around Bethulie. A local concert pianist gives home-performances on request, the route around Lake Gariep is a perfect day-drive – and you can even go on a rather breathtaking glider flight above the Gariep area.
Find our newly-released e-Book, 101 Karoo Towns, HERE.