Turbine Hotel & Spa is in Knysna, the town on South Africa's Garden Route.
Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa: Our full report
The Turbine or, as it’s more formally known, ‘The Turbine Boutique Hotel and Spa’, is located on Thesen Islands, beside the town of Knysna, on South Africa’s Garden Route. Converted from an old power station, and beside one of this small island’s waterways, The Turbine is particularly interesting for its history and for the original machinery, which has been incorporated into its modern design.
To get a feel for what The Turbine is, you need to first understand a little of its history – and particularly the history of its location. The Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa stands on one of the Thesen Islands – a series of flat, reclaimed islands in the middle of Knysna’s tidal lagoon.
In the 1920s a sawmill was built here, and later a power station fuelled by its sawdust and offcuts (see: Thesen Island’s history for the full story). Many years later, in more environmentally-aware times between about 1998 and 2008, a complex was built here which covers 19 mostly man-made islands, linked by 21 bridges, and includes extensive marinas, over 500 homes, a sprinkling of shops and restaurants, and a couple of hotels.
Visiting today, it’s clear that everything on the islands has been designed well, and that great care has been taken to try to vary the details of the individual properties. Albeit, for some, including ourselves, the similarities of everything simply reminds us that our preference is for natural, organically-grown towns.
Note that there’s just one causeway linking the Thesen Islands to mainland Knysna, which makes these islands particularly good for those with worries about personal security – be they nervous casual visitors, or South Africans with often-vacant holidays homes. However, its attraction for holiday homes means that outside ‘the season’ (which runs about November and February), many of the islands’ houses and apartments are vacant, some of the shops seem to be open only part-time, and generally the islands seem a little quiet.
Having said all this, The Turbine is probably the only building on these islands, which isn’t completely new – and it has bags of character! Walk into the foyer and a glass section of the floor reveals the island’s original level – several metres below.
The 24 bedrooms at the Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa all have wood-effect laminate flooring, a mostly white colour scheme and generally high-quality ironmongery, fittings and furniture. Plus at least one piece of the station’s original machinery, often painted brightly – even if it’s only a small section of pipe built into the wall!
These rooms at the Turbine Hotel include:
- 17 standard suites, which all vary slightly in layout, fittings, furnishings and size – as you’d expect in an old building. All have dark laminate flooring, double or twin beds with quality linen, reading lights, and a small dressing table where there’s a music system with an iPhone dock.
There’s also built-in, but individually-controlled, air-conditioning; a flat-screen TV; a direct-dial phone and a digital electronic safe, which is big enough for a small laptop. The minuscule ‘kitchenette’ consists of a small sink beside a kettle and tea/coffee station, a well-stocked minibar/fridge, and a few basic elements of crockery and cutlery. Many, but not all, of the rooms have balconies – those on the third floor often have great views and are worth requesting.
The en-suite bathrooms has a bath and a separate, tile-and-glass shower, a heater towel rail, very well-lit mirrors, double washbasins and sometimes a louvered opening which allows you to open one side of the bath to a view into the room.
- The six luxury suites are similar to the standard suites in their fittings, but slightly bigger, and each has a sleeper couch.
- The Turbine’s only honeymoon suite is bigger again and includes a lounge. The kitchenette area also has a microwave, a small ice machine and bar stools in the kitchen area, whilst its en suite bathroom has a double shower.
There’s a large outside deck where a good-sized infinity swimming pool with loungers and umbrellas for shade which overlooks one of the canals through the islands.
Inside, beside this, is the Turbine’s main restaurant, the Island Café, which serves an à la carte breakfast, lunch and dinner menu. Note that somewhat hidden away it has a couple of very secluded tables inside, situated on a raised (steel) mezzanine floor between two huge, old steam condensers – near the hotel’s small glass-sided wine cellar.
As an alternative venue for eating, this boutique hotel also has a small ‘tapas and cocktails’ bar with lots of character. The high ceilings here are crossed by a huge huge steel beam, which spills out onto an umbrella-shaded terrace at the front of the hotel.
For greater relaxation, the small Amani Spa offers a variety of treatments from massages and facials, to manicures, pedicures and hydrotherapy treatments.
Guests at the Turbine Hotel can use one of the two internet-linked computers, which set amongst huge turbines. There’s also a curio shop here, and activities can be booked from the friendly staff at reception.
Our viewWith slight echoes of the set on ‘The Truman Show’, a location on Thesen Islands won’t be to everyone’s taste. However, the Turbine’s sensitive, modern design with chunks of its industrial past give it a character that transcends its immediate neighbourhood. Come for a safe and comfortable base for a few days, to explore the Knysna Lagoon and the wider Knysna area.
Ideal length of stay: 2 – 3 nights
Accessible by: Self-drive
Owner: Privately owned by Geoff Engel and Dandre Lerm.
Food & drink
Usual board basis: B&B
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Drinks included: No
Further dining info: No
Attitude towards children: Families with children are welcome at The Turbine.
Property’s age restrictions: None
Generally recommended for children: The ambience of the hotel is very grown up and families with younger children might find it too formal.
Power supply: Mains Electricity
Communications: Each room has internet facilities and a telephone. The area also has cell phone reception.
TV & radio: There are flat screen TV's in each room with local satellite channels.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: No
Medical care: There is a hospital and doctors in Knysna.
Dangerous animals: Low Risk
Security measures: None
Fire safety: Each room has a fire extinguisher.
Disabled access: In Place
Laundry facilities: A laundry service is available at an extra charge.
Money: Each room has an electronic safe and a currency exchange is not possible.
Accepted payment on location: All major credit cards are accepted as well as cash payments in South African Rand.