January 4

The Turbine Hotel & Spa – An Achievement of Antiquity

January 4, 2022

I have always been fascinated with remnants of a time long forgotten. Stepping into an old building (or what’s left of it) I am invariably greeted by a wave of emotions. Excitement is ever-present for the thought of potential discoveries. Wonder is also a constant as I imagine wispy phantoms of the past going about what would have been their day-to-day phantom functions. A pang of sadness sometimes creeps in as I remember that things are often left when deemed no longer useful. The ruin then speaks: “Why build me to abandon me?” Staying at The Turbine Hotel & Spa in Knysna, I can happily say, that last feeling was undeniably absent. 

Here, not only are old memories merged with modernity but are also embraced, enhanced, and celebrated. How you may wonder? Well, to truly understand, I would highly recommend a stay at this unique Knysna hotel. However, I will do my best to paint a picture for you – bringing together past and present.

Original structure of the Turbine Hotel & Spa

Part of the original structure, Photo credit: Turbine Hotel & Spa

Where it all Started

Today, Knysna is renowned as one of the best holiday destinations along the Garden Route. If you are looking for a lazy or eventful summer seaside vacation – Knysna should be on top of your list! Perfect for families wanting to make memories, couples looking for romance, as well as adventurers seeking a thrill, this delightful coastal hamlet is the place to be. But before it was known as a popular holiday hot spot, Knysna had a dynamic history brimming with sailing ships, gold, and timber.

Exposed brick wall at the Turbine Hotel & Spa in Knysna

Remnants of the past, Photo credit: Michelle Welvering

Just as many families flock to Knysna to this present day, one could playfully muse that there was an original – the Thesen family. Sailing from Norway in 1870, the Thesen family took a liking to the little hamlet. So much so that they decided to stay. Over the years they contributed toward Knysna’s development in terms of business, timber cultivation and more. A long story short, the family eventually bought Knysna’s Paarden Island (now named Thesen Islands) and built a turbine power station. They were supplying electricity to the towns of Knysna and Plettenberg Bay until the mid 1970’s. As things evolved, including more efficient ways to generate power, the power station’s usefulness slowly dwindled, finally closing in June 2001. A museum concept never materialized, but something even better did.

Lovingly restored: The Turbine Hotel & Spa

Lovingly restored, Photo credit: Turbine Hotel & Spa

Interrior and First Impressions

Walking into the hotel I can’t help but be in awe of the interior. Original brick walls are painted crisp white accompanied by pale floors and ceilings to match – a perfect canvas to highlight everything else. Colourful pipes of different diameters and other fascinating mechanisms seem to twist and turn around each other as they snake their way throughout the building. Some larger components include the original wood boiler and electricity generators that blend in with the hotel’s décor. Will all this style be backed by substance? I am excited to find out!

So many things to catch your eye at the Turbine Hotel & Spa along the Garden Route

So many things to catch your eye, Photo credit: Michelle Welvering

Adding to the hotel’s creative industrial chic theme, the building features vibrant furniture and also acts as an informal art gallery. The hotel promotes Knysna’s local talent in its public spaces and some of the rooms.

An informal art gallery at the hotel

An informal art gallery, Photo credit: Michelle Welvering

The Rooms

Spread throughout six different wings and boasting their own personality (just like the building itself), all of the hotel’s 24 rooms are individually designed. I must admit, although remarkably spacious, the standard and luxury rooms as well as honeymoon, lagoon and canal suites are slightly ‘toned down’ in comparison to the kaleidoscope of colour that you find in the main areas of the hotel. With softer hues, the rooms certainly provide a calm and comfortable sanctuary to simply relax and reflect.

A softer reflection of the main areas at Turbine Hotel & Spa

A softer reflection of the main areas, Photo credit: Turbine Hotel & Spa

The bathroom of my standard room is also impressive when it comes to space. The large bath and double sinks are definitely a bonus! There is also a small balcony next to my bed that looks over the calm canals and attractive pool deck below.

Gorgeous views from the hotel's sun deck

Gorgeous views , Photo credit: Turbine Hotel & Spa


The surrounding area is quiet and comprises winding canals, the lagoon and Thesen Islands. The Island is connected by a causeway and bridge to Knysna’s mainland. Although it isn’t located on Knysna Waterfront, the hotel is still close enough to everything to feel relevant, including the yacht harbour and town centre.

Views of the waterways from the Turbine Hotel and Spa

Gorgeous views of the waterways

Amenities and Dining

Offering gorgeous views of the canal, the pool, along with its deck, is a great place to lounge about on a hot Summer’s day. The Island Café enjoys equally aesthetic views on its extensive terrace. Here you can savour a delightful menu of your breakfast staples, light lunches and delicious dinners.

Colourful dining experience on the terrace

Colourful dining experience on the terrace, Photo credit: Turbine Hotel & Spa

On a cloudy day, or if you would like to merge yourself more into the mesh of the hotel’s mechanisms, you can also dine amidst the original refurbished turbines. In addition, if you are looking for a gourmet pub experience; you’ll find delectable grub, craft beers, and an im impressive selection of South Africa’s world-class wines at the Gastro Pub – located in the unique interior of the hotel’s fifth turbine. 

Mesh yourselves amidst the mechanisms

Mesh yourselves amidst the mechanisms

And, of course, the hotel also features The Turbine Spa – a favorite amongst Knysna locals. Equipped with both single and double treatment rooms, the spa boasts an remarkable range of body, facial and beauty treatments for both him and her. If only I had time to sample the “Knysna Journey” (one of their signature treatments) – next time I suppose.

Enjoy an array of treatments at The Turbine Spa

Enjoy an array of treatments at The Turbine Spa, Photo credit: Turbine Hotel & Spa

Overall Impression

Having an affinity to anything unique – as well as a deep fascination of things abandoned with a story to tell – I truly treasured my stay at the Turbine Hotel & Spa. Not only did I appreciate all the staff who went above and beyond, but, most of all, the emphasis placed on both luxury and design while celebrating what the building once was. The Turbine Hotel & Spa is undoubtably an achievement of antiquity and arguably one of the best boutique hotels in Knysna.

The Turbine Hotel & Spa Highlights

  • Located in the upmarket island-style suburb of Thesen Islands
  • Views over the waterways and Knysna Heads make for a serene experience
  • Within easy walking distance of trendy shops and restaurants
  • On-site facilities include a pool and deck, Island Café, Gastro Pub, and spa
  • Unique history and décor of the building makes for an unforgettable stay
  • Many activities available at the Turbine Water Club just adjacent to the hotel

The Turbine Hotel & Spa is ideal for...

Couples looking for privacy will love the tranquility of the hotel facilities. Overall you get an exclusive feel being away from the busiest areas in Knysna (albeit close enough to take a leisurely stroll, bicycle ride or very short drive to the Waterfront). Individual travellers will also find it ideal with friendly staff making you feel part of the family. And lastly, history and art enthusiasts will absolutely love what the Turbine ultimately embraces; a funky industrial chic design, an eclectic range of artworks, and, last but not least, a story of a building never abandoned. 

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About the author 

Michelle Welvering

Growing up, Michelle always wanted to become a world-renowned artist, a kickboxing-champion and an eccentric explorer – aka a Kickboxing Exploring Artist! After pursuing an education in Fine Arts and opening her own Kickboxing gym in Pretoria, an unexpected twist led her to a six-year stint as a travel consultant in South African tourism. She believes that all things happen for a reason and, driven by adventure, she was eager to find a more “wild” and cultural space to call home. This led her to wander the Western Cape coastline, fall in love with the city of Cape Town and, of course, her workplace, Rhino Africa.

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