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History, heritage and culture


  • Paleontology sites in Karoo Basin – Fossil finds
  • San Rock Art [<20km]
  • Concentration camp site
  • Places related to wars (many memorabilia of the Anglo-Boer War)

Rock art in the district, less than 20km from Bethulie, gives evidence of the early San in the area, while the movements of the Voortrekkers, and the strife of numerous wars can be seen all over area. Exploring Bethulie and surrounds, the area has some interesting tales to tell about its origin, with evidence to substantiate the story. Bethulie dates back to before 1829, when the San knew it as T’Kout’Koo.  


Because the sequences of the fossils embedded in its rock has been found to be of the most complete, some paleontologists regard the Karoo as the eighth natural wonder of the world. Thousands of fossils and early San utensils were found in the valleys that are now covered by the waters of Lake Gariep. Some of these can now be seen in the museum in Bethulie.

Beginnings and Name changes

Bethulie has the distinction of being the only town in SA whose name has changed no less than eight times in total.   Groot Moordenaarspoort  (1829)   The town was founded in 1829 as a  mission station by the London Missionary Society at Groot Moordenaarspoort (great murderers' defile) to work among the San. The name was derived from an earlier battle in which the Basotho killed a large number of Griqua and San. [Tswana Chief Lephoi was the leader of a group of BaTlaping refugees who settled at Bethulie in 1832.  Chief Lephoi’s agent at Bethulie, a Motswana and interpreter by the name of Richard Miles, apparently became embroiled in land speculation, involving one George Donovan, leading to the loss of the land by Lephoi and the missionaries, and the beginnings of the white town of Bethulie. [ref. Richard Miles: Motswana preacher "to the native tribes beyond the border" by David Morris http://www.elsmere.itgo.com/catalog.html  Apparently Chief Lephoi, with about three thousand people and lots of livestock, found refuge with Adam Kok and the Griqua tribe after war broke out in the then Bechuanaland (close to Zeerust in the North Western Province)]

  • Caledon:  In 1833 the station was transferred to and taken over by the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society who called it Caledon, probably after the Caledon River nearby.  This caused confusion as there was already a town by this name in the Cape Colony.
  • Verhuellpolis :  In 1835 the Rev Jean Pierre Pellissier changed the name to Verhuellpolis, in honour of Admiral CH Verheull, a Dutchman who became first president of the Paris Missionary society.
  • Bethulia: The directors of the society then decided that a biblical name would be more fitting and once again the name was changed, this time to Bethulia which later became Bethulie (Bethulia meaning: "chosen by God"; From the town Bethulia mentioned in the Apocryphical book Judith) .
  • Heidelberg:  In 1862 the Dutch Reformed Church applied for permission to establish a town near the mission. It was approved, and on 4 March 1863 the town was proclaimed as Heidelberg.  This again caused major confusion as two towns, one in the Cape and the other in Transvaal, already carried the same name
  • Bethulie April 1872:  Because there were already towns named Heidelberg in the Cape and the Transvaal, it was decided to revert to Bethulie.

Concentration camps

Bethulie and Norvalspont has the distinction of being the first places where British concentration camps were erected and used during the Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902).  Other well-known sites followed later.


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