You’d be forgiven for thinking that our beloved coastal towns are only for end of year downtime. However, the devastating fires that ripped through the lagoon town of Knysna in June of last year reminded me that these unique destinations are called home by residents who live there and make a living in these spectacular locations all year round.
As I headed into Knysna through Sedgefield, the evidence of the damage inflicted by the fires was evident even a year later. The charred and blackened foundations of where once stood homes, hotels, and bed and breakfasts were testament to the indelible mark left by the wildfires that raged through Knysna itself in addition to surrounding areas, causing losses to property and life estimated at about R496-million.
However, as Almay Bouwer, chairperson of Knysna Tourism, later pointed out, nothing demonstrates how much a community can bind together in times of adversity than disaster. I was spending time in Knysna to visit the Turbine Boutique Hotel and Spa on Thesen Island, and there not only witness for myself the remarkable spirit of the locals, but also to partake in some of the delights of the town available to visitors during the autumn and winter months.
The Turbine Boutique Hotel stands as the perfect example of what international cities have learned to master: the careful restoration of a piece of a community’s history. The hotel is a renovated power station, built in 1939, that used to provide power to Thesen Island as recently as the 1970s and was bought and upgraded by Geoff Engel and Dandre Lerm. The interiors are dotted throughout with original machinery that used to play a part in the daily operation of the power station. You can even have dinner on the catwalks suspended above the old electrical turbines.
General manager Chris Schutte pointed out to us that the renovation project was careful to match the paint colours on the steam and water pipes to the original tones used when the power station was in operation, and it’s this attention to detail that makes the hotel unique. I was treated to a stay in the signature honeymoon suite, which comes highly recommended for loved-up couples who are craving privacy, and offers views of the waterways of the lagoon and the Knysna Heads from a private balcony.
Breakfasts are best enjoyed in the sunny lobby overlooking the water, or in summer out on the terrace, where the gently lapping waves and the cry of seagulls are the perfect accompaniments to the mouth-watering croissants and rich coffee. The eggs benedict, my true test of the quality of a hotel in any country, was to die for.
Pop down to the spa near the reception area to make a booking with one of the hotel’s very capable therapists, if the magic of Knysna hasn’t yet worked its way into your muscles and mind. I highly recommend the full-body massage to ease away the aches and pains of big-city life.
If you’re like me, and there eventually comes a point when you crave some physical exertion to work off the dietary excesses of your holiday, take in the beauty of the lagoon and the town from the seat of a bike. If you’re feeling particularly energetic, cycle out to the Knysna Heads and eat ice cream whilst watching the waves break. Don’t forget to stop in for a refreshing smoothie at Nadine’s Corner on Leisure Island.
Love the water? Then paddle around the Thesen Island waterways. There’s no better way to hunt for your next seaside holiday home than taking in the competition from the comfort of your canoe. Alternatively, step out for an invigorating walk through the ancient Knysna forest, setting of the much-beloved Dalene Matthee classic Fiela se Kind. Be sure to stop in at one of the roadside stalls on the way back to boost your sugar levels with good old-fashioned South African peppermint-crisp tart and a mug of hot boeretroos coffee. The Turbine Water Club and Adventure Centre can organise any of these activities for you and is situated conveniently right across the road from the entrance to the hotel.