I’ve always had a soft spot for Knysna… because what’s not to love? It’s beyond beautiful and I’ve always been amazed at just how many incredible things there are for tourists to do in the little town. When visiting a small town, I usually find that a weekend is more than enough time to explore and get a feel for the place, but in Knysna, a weekend is just not enough to fit it all in – from Thesen Island and the Knysna Heads to the Elephant Park, Knysna Forest, and an almost endless list of fantastic restaurants, you need a good week in this small town to really see it all! Even after the recent, devastating fires, Knysna is still a tourist hub of note and if there’s one place you should stay when visiting this buzzing little town it’s the oh-so-unique Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a tourist destination in itself and is hands down one of the most unique hotels I have ever stayed at!
If you think the fires in June this year have got the Knysna tourism sector beat, then think again, because the town is welcoming tourists now more than ever. Speaking to IOL, Knysna Tourism board chairperson Elmay Bouwer said all the iconic Knysna waterfront establishments and the popular animal sanctuaries were fully operational. “Knysna is recovering from the devastation of the fires but for local businesses to survive, tourism must play a vital part. We need to get the message out there that we are open for business and the Knysna visitor experience will be as good as ever,” said Bouwer. Heading through to Knysna, I wasn’t quite sure which parts of the town would be affected and while it is sad to see the once green peaks now charcoal and brown, there is still plenty of beauty to marvel at when you’re in the town and yes, most of the tourist spots remain unaffected and open for business.
Thesen Island – a hive of activity!
I’ve stayed in Knysna many times before this trip but this was my first visit where I got to stay on Thesen Island, and boy what a difference it makes. Staying at the Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa on the Island is a truly magical experience and when it comes to socialising and nightlife, the island is definitely the place to be. The boyfriend and I loved being within walking distance to some of Knysna’s best eateries and watering holes and, of course, being surrounded by water and breathtaking views wherever we went. We spent the weekend having lunch at quaint spots like the famous Ile de Païn bakery, exploring the Motorcycle Room motorbike museum, taking leisurely walks along the dock, and enjoying sundowners at vibey spots like Tapas & Oysters. There is so much to do on the Islands alone that we almost forgot to leave and explore the rest of Knysna!
But, even with the hive of activity just outside our door, I must admit, the temptation to stay in our hotel was strong. Filled with almost too many interesting nooks and crannies to explore, the 5-star Turbine Hotel is housed in a beautifully transformed old power station and offers something new to discover around every corner. One of the coolest things about the hotel is that all the old machinery which was used in the power station has been lovingly restored and now forms an integral part of the hotel’s decor. We spent ages walking around the hotel marvelling at how the hotel’s interior designers managed to bring the unique aesthetic together – you might not think the words, luxury, industrial, and homey fit together but somehow The Turbine manages to marry all three rather seamlessly to create a space that begs you to stay a while.
A hotel that begs you to stay!
We enjoyed dinner at the hotel’s divine Island Café restaurant on our first night – the restaurant overlooks the stunning canal, and serves up extraordinary dishes from a diverse a la carte menu. Inside the restaurant, tables are nestled between the original turbines, which have been lovingly restored and combined with brightly painted antique furniture to create a retro feel. For dinner, I enjoyed a mains of Grilled Queen Prawns (Tiger prawns flash fried in garlic and chilli butter with jasmine rice – R180) followed by a moreish Dutch Apple Bake (served with vanilla ice cream and almond butterscotch baby apples – R55). The food was simply divine and the service was quick and super friendly! We also ate breakfast at the Island Café in the morning and were treated to a rather impressive spread of cereals, fruit, yoghurt, fruit juices, and baked treats before ordering from the hot dessert menu – the Island Café Eggs Benedict is a must try on the menu!
As for our room, at the risk of sounding cliché, the suite we stayed in was a real “home away from home” experience. But really, with a large bathroom (complete with a separate shower and bathtub), a king-sized bed, and our own little veranda overlooking the water, the boyfriend and I even discussed the fact that if our room had a full-sized kitchen we could happily have lived there forever. The rooms at The Turbine are cosy, luxurious, and oh-so-generous! Just a stone’s throw from our room was the beautiful pool deck overlooking the Thesen Island canals. The private pool deck is the perfect place to cool off with a dip in the large swimming pool or grab a book and relax on a sun lounger. Of course, if you really want to relax then I would also suggest a trip to the hotel’s in-house spa. We popped into the intimate spa for a 60-minute couple’s Swedish Massage (R720 per person) and left feeling rejuvenated and incredibly relaxed.
Out and about – exploring Knysna
As tempting as it was to stay and enjoy the fabulous hospitality at The Turbine all weekend long, we did eventually leave the island and our hotel! We hooked up with the Turbine Water Club, which offers guests a wide variety of activities around Knysna, for a sunset cruise to the Knysna Heads. These giant rocks guard the lagoon where it joins the Atlantic, and despite the deceptively calm appearance, the narrow channel, the tidal pull, and those unmovable rocks make the Heads channel the second most dangerous shipping channel in the world – second only to Christchurch in New Zealand. The hotel has two motorised pontoon barges for guests to use, each seating up to 10 people, and you’ll be even be given the opportunity to purchase some drinks to enjoy on the cruise while you soak up the beautiful sunset.
On our second night in town, we decided to head to the Knysna Waterfront in search of a restaurant with a little bit of a vibe. As we walked around the somewhat quiet Waterfront (it was the middle of winter, not Knysna’s busiest time for visitors), we were struck by the fact that the whole town seemed to be gathered at a little Italian restaurant overlooking the water. It might look unassuming from the outside, but little did we know, Caffe Mario serves up the best Italian grub in Knysna. As it turns out, even on a quiet night in Knysna, the well-loved café is packed to the brim. We waited for a table and they finally found a spot for us in the corner where we could watch the endless amount of takeaway customers come and go. We ordered a bottle of wine and two incredibly delicious pizzas and returned to our hotel room with full tummies and happy hearts!
Yes, folks – there’s no doubt that Knysna is still well worth the drive. If you’re looking for a spot to get away from it all this spring and haven’t been to Knysna yet, then now is as good a time as any to experience this magical little town. And, if you’re already a fan of Knysna, then maybe it’s time you visit again, this time spoiling yourself with a night or two at the truly special Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa. The hotel has some fabulous specials running until the end of September including the Romantic Thesen Island Getaway from R1,275 per person sharing per night, with breakfast, bubbly on arrival, a romantic bath, and a 2-course dinner at Island Café (valid until 30 September 2017).