The Turbine Hotel History

Knysna has a rich history spanning sailing ships, gold discovery and timber extraction to arguably become South Africa’s favourite holiday destination.

The Khoi-san people originally inhabited the area until Dutch Settlers arrived in the 17th century.  Knysna’s documented history began in 1804 with the arrival of George Rex, rumoured to be the illegitimate son of King George III who subsequently opened shops, established a port and a timber business that exported hardwoods around the world.

The Thesen family moved from Norway to Knysna in 1870 and founded numerous business entities in the town, and in 1904 Charles William Thesen bought Paarden Island (now named Thesen Islands) and began processing timber on the Islands in 1922.  Wood waste from the timber mill was subsequently used to start a power station which generated electricity from turbines and this eventually supplied the towns of Knysna and Plettenburg Bay with electricity until the mid 1970’s.  The various structures were relocated around the island, often without documented plans, and were part of the Eskom power grid for many years.  The current power station site, which now hosts the Turbine Hotel & Spa and Island Café, was built in 1939/1940. 

A large industrial conglomerate, Barlows, purchased the logging operations on the Island in 1974 but these were decommissioned in early 1980 due to the adverse environment impact they caused.  They subsequently sold on their site for re-development and CMAI  went on to develop the Islands into the internationally acclaimed marina development it is today, housing the Thesen Harbour Town with its shops, restaurants and hotels, together with 596 residential houses and apartments, 19 interlinked islands and numerous canals.

The last day of operation of the Power Station was 26 June 2001. A museum concept never materialized and the site was sold to the current Hotel owner and operators, Geoff Engel and Dandre Lerm, in September 2007.  Rezoning, approvals and building of the site took almost 3 years and the full operation commenced trading on 12 August 2010.

The Turbine Hotel & Spa comprises 24 bedrooms and suites, an Amani African Spa, the 90 seater Island Café, The Turbine Tapas Bar, together with Conference facilities, pool deck, jetty for motorized pontoon cruises and a host of modern facilities which tastefully complement the refurbished facilities and equipment which have been bought back to life around the property.  The original wood boiler, four electricity generators and much of the equipment have been fully restored and blend in with the hotel’s décor themes.  Each bedroom has been individually decorated and is themed and named to reflect the rich cultural, historical and geographic diversity of Knysna. 

The Hotel is a living testimony to the past of this unique operation and site.  Once again it resumes its place as part of the Thesen Islands and Knysna community, as a haven for both locals to drop in and for tourists passing through this wonderful destination.

The Turbine Hotel Before The Turbine Hotel After