Where Turbines and Tourism Collide

By Renate Engelbrecht

Wednesday, Oct 21

I love red doors. There are many meanings behind a red door and various cultures attach different beliefs to it, but for me a red door is inviting and that is exactly how I felt when I walked through The Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa’s red door.

Knysna’s Tourism

It was my first time to visit Thesen Island in Knysna. Post-lockdown travelling has some strange emotions attached to it. You are so happy to get out and explore the country again, but at the same time you are saddened by the amount of tourism and hospitality establishments that have suffered immensely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, there are places that – among the strangeness of the new normal – make your travels special and memorable and I believe that if you’re fond of travelling, this is the time to do so! Not only does the tourism and hospitality industry need our support, it’s also quite liberating to be able to explore again! And, if there is one place that really needs a proper boost, it’s Knysna. As if its recent fires weren’t enough, the Coronavirus has also taken its toll on this beautiful part of our country.

The Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa

The Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa is literally an old heritage site gone modern. Nestled between the tranquil canals of Thesen Island, many of the structures from the power station that it previously was, have been uniquely incorporated into the hotel’s design. (The power station supplied electricity to both Knysna and Plettenberg Bay and formed an integral part of the community up until June 2001).

When entering the hotel, you are greeted by a mixture of nostalgia and modern art. The initial concept of turning the power station into a museum never materialised and the site was eventually sold to the current hotel owners and operators, Geoff Engel and Dandre Lerm. Much of the actual power station has been preserved and with careful design and bright colours the hotel now offers accommodation, dining and spa facilities as well as some insightful titbits of the history of the building and its surrounds. Whether you are heading to the pool deck, Island Café, the Gastro Pub, spa or your room, you’ll always find reason to pause. Be it the humongous piece of yellow wood just past reception that catches your attention or the art against the walls. It could also be the views across Thesen Island’s romantic canals and bridges or the bright splashes of colour that emphasises historic steel pillars and pipes that have been artfully restored.

Our luxury room had a lovely view over one of the canals of Thesen Island, as well as the infinity pool and it was named Seahorse – an ode to the endangered Knysna seahorse that is only found in the Knysna, Keurbooms and Swartvlei estuaries. According to our skipper, Schalk Hildebrand these little creatures can often be seen in the lagoon and the canals around the hotel and it is clear that the hotel and Thesen Island are committed to supporting the initiatives around protecting them.

My experience at any hotel is normally measured by the offerings and initiatives they have in place, but also the offerings of its surrounds and the ways in which you can become part of the community for a day or two. During Wikus and my stay at The Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa, these were some of the things we thought might be worth adding to your list for when you visit the area:

What to do:

  • Go on a sunset cruise, which can be booked through the Turbine Water Club. They do a decent platter with a bottle of wine and you can view the Knysna Heads from the Knysna Lagoon and see why it is the second most dangerous place to enter the ocean with a boat.
  • The Turbine Water Club also rents out bicycles – the ideal way for you to explore Thesen Island and beyond and simultaneously get in some exercise. We took the bikes and rode out to the Knysna Waterfront (which was really not far) where we tasted some fresh oysters – another must-do for your list!
  • Take the heritage walk on Thesen Island. We did not have enough time, but the island is filled with informative boards that share a whole lot of information on the history of the island and how everything came about.
  • Enjoy a drink at The Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa’s Gastro Pub and check out the old maps of Knysna that hang on the walls. They also serve some divine pub-style lunch and dinner options.
  • Have dinner at The Island Café (and ask for a table on the platform next to the turbines). Breakfast here is also special with large sliding doors opening up onto the pool deck to the one side and the canals and the lagoon to the other side. A brilliant spot for al fresco dining.
  • Explore the art of the hotel – there genuinely are some magnificent and interesting pieces.
  • If you’re a history fan, be sure to enquire more about the history of the power station. The hotel has a very informative pamphlet that elaborates on the history of the power station, the buying and development of the site, the creative ways in which the architects and developers had to preserve the heritage of the site and more.
  • The hotel certainly has a lot to offer, but if you’re keen to explore further afield, consider having breakfast at île de païn, a gorgeous breakfast spot under a huge coral tree with some of the best fresh bread in town. Also hop on over to French Kisses just across from the restaurant for unique women’s attire. (If you’re a fashion fan like I am, this is the spot where you’ll certainly be able to find some Knysna gems for your closet).
  • The Bell Tavern was another one of our memorable moments in Knysna. We had dinner here and it’s clearly a local gem. They serve true South African meals like Bobotie and chicken pie to die for and the atmosphere is cosy with simple, square wooden tables, a rustic bar and foreign paper money stuck to the ceiling.
  • Although we did not have time, the Knysna Forests are also a must when you are in the area. Add The Knysna Experience to your Sunset Cruise from the Turbine Water Club and kick off the experience with a 9km forest hike (which includes a swimming hole and a waterfall). During the tour, they also take you to a local restaurant for lunch (for your own account), a full town tour (including viewpoints like Margeret’s Viewpoint and Brenton-on-Sea) and then you also get to explore township suburbs like Concordia.
  • Take a free Knysna Seahorse Tour from the jetties on Thesen Island (only when there is a very low tide).
  • Hire a kayak or canoe and explore the canals surrounding the hotel. These can be pre-booked and hired at the Turbine Water Club.
  • Visit the Turbine Spa for some well-deserved pampering.

Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa: reservations@turbinehotel.co.za / 044 302 5746
Turbine Water Club: info@waterclubthesen.co.za / 072 259 7927


  1. Di

    Stunning, Renate! xx

    • Renate Engelbrecht

      Thanks, Di. What a lovely place. Loved every minute of it.


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