Walk the Cape West Coast Biosphere Trail

The Cape West Coast Biosphere Trails

Say the word Biosphere and my mind conjures up images of science nerds, serious folks in lab coats carrying clipboards, and fervent chaps in conservation khaki tying themselves to trees to save the lesser spotted puddle newt.

The Cape West Coast Biosphere is a little different, and while serious work is being done by them, they have found a way to make Biospheres an everyday, normal word by embracing the tourism industry. Book Cape West Coast Biosphere Trails of your choice and see the West Coast like never before!

 

bundu bashing Di Brown Darling stagger

What is a Biosphere?

Biosphere reserves are areas of natural beauty rich in fauna and flora. They aim to find a balance between development in the area and the preservation of the cultural diversity and indigenous treasures. Biospheres seek ways to grow sustainably, create employment and work within a dynamic framework that ensures better lifestyles in an earth friendly manner.

Where exactly is the Cape West Coast Biosphere?

It starts in greater Cape Town a mere 14km from the city centre at the Diep River in Milnerton and extends 140km north to the Berg River at Laaiplek. It encompasses numerous small towns and coastal villages as well as vast areas of Renosterveld, Sandveld and coastal dunes and beaches. The West Coast National Park is the heart of the Biosphere Reserve, and attractions like the West Coast Fossil Park and quirky town of Darling are in the buffer zones.

There are 598 biospheres is the world, 74 of them in Africa and 6 in South Africa.

Q: What can I do for fun in this Biosphere? A: Go on the Cape West Coast Biosphere Trails!

Di Brown Darling Stagger. over the hill

You can start with any or all of the five trails that have been created by the Biosphere. The Cape West Coast Biosphere Trails cater for walkers, hikers, cyclists, paddlers and anyone in need of a break from the city.

These trails are a little different to most. While slack packing is nothing new, wine and olive tasting on a walk is certainly unusual, as are breaks for huge West Coast meals, mid walk swims or being halted by the guide to allow a tortoise to cross the path.

The Cape West Coast has always known how to live slowly. Life is to be enjoyed and savoured at a comfortable pace, not rushed through with our eyes fixed firmly on the future, rendering us incapable of enjoying the moment we are in. This is the ethos of the trails. Designed for fun, relaxation and perhaps a little education if you so desire. You will eat well, drink well and be transported to comfortable or luxury accommodation.

Even better is the flexibility allowed. You can book a standard trail or you can mix it up, add activities, skip others or custom design your personal dream West Coast experience.

The standard Cape West Coast Biosphere Trails are as follows:

EVE’S TRAIL is a 2 day, 30km wilderness hike in the West Coast National Park. Little creatures and sandy beaches, wild flowers and ancient memories, this walk is about getting back to the basics of life and finding harmony with the earth. Pure soul food.

THE 5 BAY TRAIL is a scenic, 2 day, 38km coast hugging hike between the coastal villages of Paternoster and Jacobsbaai. There is always time to stop for a swim, paddle or bodysurf on this route.

THE WHEELS OF TIME TRAIL

This ride is about 100km over two days and is aimed at recreational cyclists and those who enjoy the back roads and byways rather than super smooth tar and high speeds. No need for those odd lycra outfits here.

As it is all about the enjoyment, a support vehicle offers not only food and drink, but also a break should you decide to rest in the car for a couple of k’s.

THE DARLING STAGGER

Here is a little taste of my experience.

We had a leisurely breakfast at The Granary in Darling before being transported to !KhwaTtu to start our adventure.

breakfast at the Granary Di Brown

Walking in single file on the hard shoulder of the R27, a major road linking Cape Town and St Helena Bay, drew a few hoots and a couple of curious looks from passing motorists and a noisy tractor. We soon moved off the road and bundu bashed for about a kilometre until we reached a rich red gravel road. It was perfect walking weather, fresh, cloudy, but not actually raining yet.

We covered about ten km on this gravel road, pausing to inspect unusual fynbos plants, spider’s nests and a killing field full of dead tortoises. A variety of antelope made brief appearances in the distance and our guide told us of the leopards that live here but are rarely seen. We might have quickened our pace a little at this point.

Di Brown. Our guides on the Darling Stagger

Finally the path brought us to the sand dunes and the beach. Walking in soft sand is heavy going. A gale force wind had us bent double and covering all but our eyes with scarves to avoid being sand blasted beyond recognition.

The sea was the most peculiar soupy green, and the waves left vivid patterns of lime coloured foam on the beach. This was apparently a phenomenon known as an algal bloom.

The crazy green, the wild wind and the remoteness of this beach made me a little mad and I decided to take off my shoes and paddle a little for a close up photo of this peculiar sea.

Di Brown Darling stagger Yzerfontein beach, the green is called an Algal Bloom

Top tip.

Never turn your back on a wave.

Of course I got drenched and obviously it started raining.

But guess what? I was having a great time.

We were collected a few kilometres on and driven back to Darling where we feasted at The Flying Pig before going back to our hotel to thaw out and change and off for another feast at Bistro 7.

The following morning we really did stagger around the interesting town of Darling, taking in the museum, the Darling Sweet, Evita se Perron and other quirky shops before heading to Darling Brew for some serious beer tasting, food feasting and a brewery tour. A return visit is on the cards as Darling alone is worth staggering about in for a whole weekend. There are great wineries to be discovered and tasted and of course there is the beer.

Darling is just one of the towns on these trails, so if you love to relax, eat, drink, cycle, walk, explore and throw in a bit of nature, go to Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve and start browsing, planning and booking your next country break.

First glimpse of the sea, and glorious details in the vegetation Di Brown

Fast Facts about the Biosphere.

  • It is the only biosphere that has a nuclear power station, an oil refinery and a toxic dump site.
  • It is the only biosphere that encompasses a city boundary.
  • It is an excellent venue for shore-based whale watching, and is not overcrowded like most other spots.
  • It includes a RAMSAR site (Langebaanlagoon) with a deep-sea harbour to accommodate ore carriers.
  • It includes Dassen Island, one of only two breeding sites in the country for Pelicans, as well as the largest penguin colony.
  • It has the largest colony of gannets, based at Lamberts Bay.
  • It has a Fossil park: West Coast Fossil Park, a National Heritage Site.
  • Groote Post vineyard produces Chardonnay of choice for SAA business class and has won many awards.
  • Darling Cellars, the largest local producer of a fine selection of wines is based in the Biosphere.
  • Most large industries in the area are currently BEE compliant.
  • The Swartland wheat fields described as the “Breadbasket of South Africa” are part of the Biosphere.
  • Langebaanhosts the largest hobie cat sailing regatta in the country every Easter weekend.
  • The World championship sailboard competition is annually held at Big Bay.
  • Blouberg is one of the top five kite surfing venues in the world.
  • The Berg River estuary is one of the largest salt producers in country (Cerebos).
  • It is the home of the dried fish industry (Bokkems).
  • It has an excellent climate, lower rainfall and warmer winters than Cape Town; and cooler summers owing to the cold Atlantic
  • It still has large open spaces and a BIG blue unpolluted sky.

For more information or to book visit: www.capebiosphere.co.za/trails

Contact them on trails@capebiosphere.co.za or 0861 872 457

Follow them on Facebook Cape West Coast Biosphere Trails and Twitter: @CWCBioRes

candelabra brightens up the renosterveld Di Brown

For more information on West Coast Way Routes and the list of 101+ Things To See And Do in the Cape West Coast, visit their events page. Choose to go on a self-guided adventure drive by following the routes, or book an air-conditioned trip to top West Coast attractions in South Africa.

 

 

Twitter Tips for newbies

Twitter is all about getting to know new people and creating a community of friends with similar interests.

In the last few months I have noticed that a lot of my recent followers are new to Twitter.

Many are “eggs” with no profile picture or bio and they have not put out one Tweet. Many had no followers but were following between 50 -80 people.

I then cast my mind back to a few years ago when I was brand new to Twitter and how confusing and overwhelming it could be, and the fear I had of putting out a Tweet.  I remember following numerous accounts and being on Twitter involved just reading, and sometimes bravely liking a Tweet.

As my confidence grew I started tentatively retweeting and after many months plucked up the courage to Tweet to some of the people I followed.Here are a few things I have learned along the way, hopefully they will be helpful in growing your Twitter community.

TWITTER TIPS to get you started.

Twitter is all about engagement, and getting to know people, so make it easy for people to know you.

How do you do this?

  1. Add a picture to your Twitter profile. If you are shy and do not want to add a picture of yourself, then add a picture of something you love, think is beautiful or represents an interest of yours.
  2. Add a bio. Tell potential followers something about yourself. Where you live, what you do and what your interests are. If you are not sure what to write, look at the biographies of the accounts you follow to get the idea.
  3. Be brave and Tweet. Even if it is a Tweet to me  @DiBrown5 to say                              “look, I added a profile pic and a bio,” this is exactly how we start a conversation.
  4. Spend a little time with Twitter finding and following accounts that represent your interests. If they are big accounts like a national newspaper, don’t be concerned if they do not follow back or engage. You can still follow them and share what they Tweet with your Twitter followers.
  5.  If you can, when you Tweet, add a photo or a link to something that interests you, you will get more engagement that way. That is what Twitter is all about, getting to know new people and creating a community of friends with similar interests.
  6. Make sure your Twitter timeline is not all about you. As a general rule, for every Tweet about yourself, share at least 3 Tweets from other accounts you follow.
  7. When you read a Tweet you like, share it by using the “quote” option and add a comment of your own before Tweeting it.
  8. Twitter is generally a polite and friendly place so be nice, thank people when they share your Tweets, but please don’t do it via an automated app as this is just annoying.

By the way, my Twitter is my happy place so I tend to not engage much with negative folks and moaners.

Happy Tweeting.

 

 

48 hours in Cape Town in winter

Well hello  Cape Town.

NAC HELICOPTERS CAPE TOWN TABLE MOUNTAIN Di Brown

There is a fairly good chance that your 48 hours in Cape Town in winter will be on the cold side and could include a fair amount of rain. Pack a fold up umbrella and some colourful wellies, a warm jacket and something waterproof. Layered outfits work here in winter as we are known for having four seasons in one day. During June, July and August the average temperature is 18 degrees C and 12 to 14 days of each month will have some rain.

The best way to see a city is to walk it. Walking is also a good way to warm up, so dress up and get moving and take to the streets.  Voice Map audio tours are self guided tours that are location specific. Simply download the app onto your smart phone or tablet, and select the tour you want. A map displays your route and the audio gives directions and tells the story at the relevant landmark. Text can be viewed as well.

The Bo-Kaap is the most popular tour, so why not absorb a little history, lots of stories and take some colourful pics. The walk will warm you and unless we are have one of our Cape of Storms moments, an umbrella will protect you from a little rain. The duration of this walk is 20 minutes and the distance covered is 1.3 km. Voice Map offer a wide variety of tours including Woodstock Street Art, eating and entertainment in Kloof Street, Secret Tunnels in Cape Town, a Newlands Brewery tour and the Seapoint Promenade. Click  here for all the options. Each tour displays the duration and number of km at the top making it easy to choose a tour that fits in with the time you have available.

The Cape Wheel  is a fun way to orientate yourself to the Waterfront and parts of the city. At the top you are 40 meters above the ground and the sights you miss on the first revolution you will see on one of the next three turns. The ride takes around 20 minutes and the Wheel still operates when it is raining but shuts down if the wind is too strong.

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If the Cape Wheel is not high enough for you then take to the skies in a helicopter with NAC Helicopters Cape Town. The staff will advise you regarding the weather conditions as safety is paramount, but your enjoyment is also important to them so do ask them for advice if it looks overcast or is very cloudy. Allow an hour for the 15 minute flight. You need to be there half an hour in advance to enjoy a coffee on the deck next to the water, get weighed and listen to the safety briefing.

I needed a little extra time after we landed to gaze at the views and to allow myself time to mentally come back down to earth.

NAC HELICOPTERS CAPE TOWN Di Brown

Our helicopter was a Robinson 44, just big for 3 passengers and the pilot. From the moment we hovered a centimetre off the ground until a few hours after we landed, I had a stupid grin plastered all over my face. Nothing beats flying in a helicopter, and doing it over a city as spectacular as Cape Town is mind-blowing.

 NAC HELICOPTERS CAPE TOWN LIONS HEAD SIGNAL HILL Di Brown

Take to the waves without getting wet on the Mirage 760, a 76 foot luxury catamaran docked at the V& A Waterfront. Rain does not stop this baby as the lower level is fully enclosed on three sides and you can sit on soft white couches sipping a cocktail or stand up top with the spray in your face and the best views in the world. Marvel as you look back at Table Mountain and forward towards Robben Island or Clifton Beach, this really is the life.

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The Mirage 760 is like a floating dream world, complete with grills for making snacks, a full kitchen and a bar. Regardless of the weather, you will be comfortable. Big enough to accommodate 120 people the Mirage is available for day or sunset cruises from 2 hours or longer. Click here for all the options and details and please note that you must book in advance. It is certainly worth it.

Grand Constance Di Brown

Raise your glass as you can’t visit Cape Town without experiencing a wine farm and the closest one to the city is the oldest and most historic, Groot Constantia. Just 18 km from the city centre, Groot Constantia offers a museum, wine tasting, great food at Jonkershuis or Simon’s , walks under the oaks and views to die for from the slopes of Table Mountain. The newly opened info centre on the premises can give you information on the other wine estates that make up the Constantia Wine Route.

I highly recommend  Jonkershuis for lunch or an early supper, it closes at 9pm on weekends, and 7pm during the week. You can’t leave without sampling the award-winning Grand Constance, favourite tipple of Napoleon Bonaparte. I am not much of a wine drinker but I finished off a bottle of this in a week. Smooth, golden, slightly spicy and ideal to take the chill out of a winter’s day. Well, that was my excuse.

I travel

If the rain looks like it’s here to stay then get to the Grandwest Casino and Entertainment Centre. You don’t have to enjoy gambling to have fun at GrandWest, it has so much to offer under one roof.

Snow World, now on until the 31st July at GrandWest. Find your inner child and just laugh and scream a bit for an hour or so. The Ice Box is a chilly – 3 degrees so dress warmly. This is where you will race down the ice slides in a round tube and learn to snow board under the expert guidance of Mark. Booking online for the snow boarding is recommended as this is a very popular activity, and not as easy as it looks.

After snow boarding and an ice slide or two, you need to pop off for a Jaegermeister in the Ice Bar before heading back into the normal temperatures of the rest of the area.

Walk past the Woolley mammoths, dinosaurs and other ice age animals, climb to the top of the large ice slide and hurtle down in a blow up boat, or just make a snowman with the little people in the snow pit.

Go ice skating, or bowling, if you can bear the noise of shrieking kids and a million electronic games beeping and exploding,  or check in advance for the live shows and book your tickets to The Manhattans, Disney on Ice, or even Dora the Explorer if that’s your thing. All show details are available here.

Make a night of it at GrandWest . After dining at one of the 12 restaurants, (I love Bukhara and the Cape Town Fish Market) head over to Hanover Street for live music or to the Jackson Hall if you are a Blues and Jazz fan. All are located in the city street themed area called The District in the GrandWest complex.

 

We have culture and it’s easy to find and a great way to get out of the rain and cold weather.  Musical extravaganzas, ballet, opera, theatre and comedy, you can find it all right here in the city. After all we don’t want you driving in our crazy traffic in the rain.  Dress up or go comfortable to the wonderful  Artscape, I have my ticket to My Fair Lady and I can’t wait.

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If an intimate setting for theatre is more your style the Fugard has a great line up over the next few months including “The Voice I cannot Silence” and “Clybourne Park”.

The Labia Theatre is the oldest Indie theatre in South Africa and screens art, classic and independent movies. With four theatres each showing 4 to 5 movies a day you are sure to find something you just have to see.

Top Tips.

If it’s not raining, it is often cloudy and this means great sunrises and sunsets.

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Sunrise is at a reasonable hour of around 7:30 to 8am at the moment and sunset happens between 5:30 and 6pm. It is worth getting up early for sunrise, and definitely consider a City Sightseeing Sunset drive to the top of Signal Hill, the views are spectacular.  The bus departs from the Waterfront.

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If you are dead set on seeing the Cape Town Icons, check out Cape Town Big 7 and good luck. I really don’t think you can do them all properly in 48 hours but if you do want to try then definitely check the Table Mountain Cable Aerial Cable Way for weather updates and queuing times.

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Cape Town traffic is horrible so plan to always be going against the traffic during the week. If you need to come in to the city do it before 7am or after 9:30 am and don’t even think of trying to leave the city between 4 and 6pm.

Come and say #HelloCapeTown

 

Disclaimer. This post is part of the Blogathon  Cape Town 2016 Campaign with Travel Concept Solution, Cape Town Tourism and the Hello Weekend initiative and CheapFlights.

For more information about the Blogathon please contact Travel Concept Solution

 

Hermanus Fynarts Festival.

I like art, although I am not a frequent visitor of galleries, nor do I have a cheque book that can cope with the price tags attached to what I like. That said, art can be enjoyed and appreciated just by looking and I have just spent two days doing exactly that at the Hermanus Fynarts Festival.

Now in its fourth year, this festival is really coming into its own and getting bigger and better all the time. This year the festival theme is A French Connection, and considering South Africa’s passion and excellence in all things related to food, wine and the performing arts, coupled with our French Hugenot heritage, it’s a very good connection all round.

During his performance at “Last night at the Proms” our very own maestro Richard Cock dismissed politicians, statesmen and business leaders and boldly stated…

“ We ,the creatives are the future of this country, because creatives talk to our souls.”

I tend to agree with him. I have spent two days viewing beautiful and thought provoking art, listened to exquisite music, eaten food made with passion and flair and spent time on the beach with my camera. My world is in perfect harmony. I have been rejuvenated.

Richard also noted that the arts had a very difficult job as the natural beauty of the area is a tough competitor. I say that while nature and art might have been competing, they complimented and inspired one another, and they both won. After all, we are in South Africa, the most talented and beautiful country in the world.

So whatever talks to your soul, inspires and delights you, you will find it in Hermanus this week until the final day of the festival on Sunday 19th June.

Spread out over Hermanus and the surrounding area the festival is a celebration of sculpture, paintings, food, wine, music and poetry. You can wander around and look, you can taste, listen and learn. There are talks, workshops, cooking demos and wine tastings with lots of mixing and matching at a variety of venues. Visit wine estates, hotels, galleries, churches and municipal halls, just look for the Hermanus Fynarts posters and signs that are dotted all around.

To view the complete program of events, talks and workshops click here to view and book if necessary.

 

All the galleries and venues displaying artworks are free and a handy map showing the location is readily available as Hermanus now boasts a First Fridays Artwalk through the village.

As I am neither a foodie nor a wine lover, I focussed on the art and this is what I found and loved. It represents a tiny fraction of what is on display.

My photographs do not do justice to the artwork, they serve only to give an idea of the feast that awaits your eyes.

The featured artist of the festival is Louis Jansen van Vuuren, a home grown talent who now spends his time in France and South Africa. His exhibition titled “Heaven and Earth” can be seen at the Rossouw Modern SPACE Gallery.

 

I met Terry Kobus  of Originals Art Gallery and was very moved by his works inspired by the child refugees of Syria.

 

I also loved his African scenes.

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Terry Kobus

I was intrigued by the sculptures by Jaco Sieberhagen, all the ones on display at the Rossouw Modern as well as the large piece on the cliffs at Gearing’s Point. Jaco depicts individuals and the components that make us who we are.

 

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Jaco Sieberhagen’s beautiful installation overlooking Walker Bay in Hermanus

At the entrance the the Rossouw Modern the Wild Dogs by Frans Mulder seem to run of of the painting at you. I spent ages at this painting.

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Wild Dogs by Frans Mulder

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Frans Mulder, up close of wild dog

 

I was lucky enough to find Malcolm of Malcolm Bowling Art Gallery at work. His love and understanding of animals is reflected in all his paintings and drawings.

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Malcolm Bowling, a masterpiece in my eyes. 

 

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Malcolm bowling drawing

 

The natural beauty that is in your face as you walk between galleries is art in itself. Sunrise and sunset in the Overberg can be spectacular, so do remember to keep an eye on the sky.

 

At Birkenhead House in Voelklip, a suburb of Hermanus, the abstract sculpture panels by Dylan Lewis are very interesting.  Animal spoor in relief, moulded, and painted using the unique technique developed by him.

 

Sculptures on the Cliffs at Gearing’s Point. 

This year traditional artists were asked to nominate a sculptor to exhibit with them.  My favourites pieces were Stairway to Heaven by Strijdom van der Merwe, Love Alone by George Holloway, Traveller by Jaco Sieberhagen and Assemble by  Lionel Smit.

African stories are told on beautiful tapestries by the artists of The Keiskamma Art Project. 

 

 

I could go on and on with pictures and stories, there is so much talent in our creative country. Below are the last few artists I just have to mention. Go and feast on art in Hermanus, it is so inspiring.

Sculpture by Bruce Little and Etching by Titia Ballot

 

Oil paintings by Solly Smook

 

 

Arabian Heart Throb by Florian Junge seen at the Walker Bay Gallery.

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Arabian Heartthrob by Florian Junge

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Close up of Florian Junge’s Arabian Heart throb

Don’t miss the ceramic displays at the Windsor Hotel and the beautiful jewellery at the Marine Hotel.

Hermanus is a one and a half hour drive from Cape Town so a day trip visit to the festival is easy. There is so much to see and do that overnighting is recommended and there is plenty of accommodation available. With the public holiday on Thursday, why not take Friday off and head for Hermanus.

 

Thank you to the amazing Mary Faure and the organisers of the FynArts Festival for hosting me in Hermanus. To Auberge Burgundy for the comfortable accommodation right at the beach, Burgundy Restaurant for breakfasts to fuel me for the day and Frieda Lloyd for her time, coffee and passion for her area. All opinions are my own.

 

The Turbine Hotel and Spa. A visionary’s masterpiece

My article as published in African Travel Market Magazine.Turbine front entrance Di Brown

A visionary’s masterpiece is how the previous GM, Chris Schutte describes this hotel on Thesen Island in Knysna, one of the most popular tourist towns on the Garden Route.

In an industry where location is everything, the Turbine Hotel ticks all the boxes, and then some.

It is impossible to say no to a property anywhere in Knysna, but when I was introduced to a five star boutique hotel on a tiny island marina that is a Heritage site within a National Park, I knew this was going to be something special.

The Turbine Hotel & Spa comprises 24 bedrooms and suites. The Amani African Spa has a wide range of treatments for hotel guests and the Turbine Water club offers many options for water-based activities. Enjoy fine dining at the 90 seating Island Café at tables overlooking the canals, pool deck or nestled between the original refurbished turbines. The Turbine Tapas Bar offers a la carte menus and lagoon sunset views. A pool deck overlooks the quiet waters of the canals and a jetty provides easy access to the two motorized pontoons available for lagoon cruises. Each bedroom has been individually decorated, themed and named to reflect the rich cultural, historical and geographic diversity of Knysna. Fibre optic cables deliver high speed Wi-Fi, and all rooms have King size, extra length beds.

Turbine from water DiBrown

A TOWN OF MANY STORIES.

Knysna is a town with many stories. Its history is peppered with tales of adventurous men, the pioneers and mavericks of the dominant industries of timber and gold. It whispers of elusive elephants still wild in the dense and mystical forests, it enchants with tiny sea horses that live in the lagoon and are fiercely protected.

The story of how a power station became a luxury hotel starts way back in 1922 when Thesen Island was the hub of a thriving timber industry. In 1939 the Power Station was built and fuelled by the enormous amount of wood waste generated by the saw mills. It provided power to the towns of Knysna and Plettenberg Bay and to the ESKOM National Grid until it was decommissioned in 2001.

Thesen Island could have become a sad industrial waste-land; instead it has been converted into an award winning marina boasting the triple bottom line of social, economic and ecological integration and sustainability. Lovely as this marina is, for me the biggest success story is the conversion of the Power Station into the Turbine Hotel.

 

By 2007 the island and many of its dilapidated buildings had been declared Heritage sites, and the Power station building was purchased by hoteliers Geoff Engel and Dandre Lerm Engel.  In 2010 the result of three years of work and outstanding creative genius was unveiled to the world.

 

The exterior of the hotel is relatively unchanged with three long halls side by side showing off the original 1930’s brickwork, whitewashed to the second floor, and exposed red brick extending to the three individual tin roofs. Three steel chimneys still soar skywards completing the industrial edginess of the building and giving the first hint of the heritage preserved inside this hotel that is a monument to the past.

 

The front door is flanked by brightly painted machinery and the entrance hall sports a section of glass floor affording views the inner workings of a power plant. At the reception area the original control box displays a complicated array of dials, switches and meters, while the opposite wall is papered with the blueprint plan and framed by pipes and ducts.

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Architects, engineers, designers and anyone with a little bit of creativity will delight in this hotel. I was fascinated by the whole concept of creating pleasing public spaces around massive pieces of machinery.

 

After returning home I was thrilled to find and chat to Mike Louw, the Hotel Architect for CMAI responsible for the Turbine Hotel project, and now a lecturer at UCT.

Mike tells me that the original power station was built by factory workers so there were very few square corners and that the levels varied considerably. He says this was a natural generator for creativity.

The machinery was the primary aspect of the heritage site resulting in a limited building footprint as the requirements of the hotel had to be fitted around the large machinery which included an old boiler manufactured in 1909, three STAL turbines from 1940, and a GEC/David Brown generator from 1930.

FORM AND FUNCTION.

I asked Mike about some of the challenges involved, his answers merely added to my amazement at what has been achieved.

He tells me about cutting the old boiler in half. This required the combined expertise of Mechanical and Electrical engineers with Heritage experience, and an Industrial Archaeologist. The entire structure had to be suspended off a new steel framework, a process he describes as hair raising.

It seems as no detail was too small and no effort too great to achieve this dream of a perfect fusion of old industrial heritage with new luxury accommodation.

The piping connecting all the machinery was retained, enabling visitors to follow the electricity generating process through the building.  The woodchips were brought via conveyor belt and burned in the boilers. The steam propelled the turbines which in turn generated the electricity. The pipes were meticulously scraped down to reveal the original colours. These colours were then matched and the pipes repainted according to their use. Blue pipes carried condensate, orange pipes were used for oil and green pipes transported sea water coolant.

Where new floors were put in, the original walls were not strong enough to cope with the additional weight. This resulted in the building of a new structure within the original walls, with concrete being cast through small openings in the roof and through the existing windows.

The public areas of the hotel are on various levels accessed by metal stairs in keeping with the industrial theme. Although all the large machinery remained in situ, the smaller pieces were removed, cleaned and repainted and now can be found dotted all over the hotel.

From reception a metal staircase leads to the Tapas Bar, but before you enter and are confronted by a gigantic hook hanging from a thick chain suspended from the ceiling, pause a while on the platforms around the massive boiler.

Thesen Island old map Di Brown

These walls are adorned with a fascinating collection of memorabilia. Newspapers dating back to the 1950’s report of snow on Table Mountain and test cricket matches. Old maps of the area and historical photographs take you back to a different era. Take time to read the old newspaper cuttings, marvel at the price of lodgings and the fact that people advertise the fact that they would like to purchase artificial teeth.

CUISINE BEYOND COMPARE

Eating at the Island Café is an event to be savoured. It starts with choosing where to sit.

Brightly coloured chairs and tables are spread out on two levels. For larger groups the conservatory styled add on looks onto the water and is lovely on warm evenings, doors can be opened up and tables are available outside. For a quiet meal, find one of the more intimate tables tucked in between the machines, then get comfortable and prepare for a feast.

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All food is locally sourced wherever possible, and only fresh, seasonal produce is used.

Starters include homemade soups and tough choices between creamy parmesan and pesto white wine mussel pot or a smoked springbok and parmesan Carpaccio. Perhaps you would prefer the Tempura prawn, feta and poached saffron pear salad? Ordering takes me a while as I keep changing my mind. It’s best to go in a group and order a variety, then poach food from your friend’s plate.

The main course offered a grilled beef fillet béarnaise, Karoo lamb chops, slow aged beef sirloin, fresh line fish, glazed duck breast and a sundried tomato and cream cheese chicken dish.

Desserts are just as creative as the preceding courses however over a three night stay I never got further than the Fynbos Honey crème brulee.

Apart from the top notch food I really enjoyed the attitude of the staff. All are local folk, friendly, unpretentious and extremely proud of their establishment. I am told that some of the staff employed at the Turbine were originally employed at the power station. Unfortunately I never got an opportunity to meet and chat to any of them. Oh to hear their stories.

Turbine lounge Di Brown

On a final note about the building, not only is it an architectural marvel, it also has a conscience.

RESPONSIBLE TOURISM

I am always thrilled when developers truly embrace responsible and sustainable tourism and the Turbine Hotel have done just that. Starting with the design, they positioned the rooms and public spaces to maximise natural light and ventilation, and developed a run off and storage system for rainwater which is used for irrigation and back up water for the hotel. Further water savings were made by planting only indigenous plants, laying artificial lawn and fitting all bathrooms with water saving shower heads and dual flush toilets.

Solar panels and heat pumps provide all the hot water for the hotel, and light fittings are either LED or CFL. An automated system ensures that on exiting the rooms all electrical devices switch off.

The kitchen runs on gas and during winter heating in the public areas is by way of flueless gas fireplaces.

Paper, cardboard, glass and plastic waste is separated and collected for recycling purposes.

TRANQUIL SURROUNDS

The Thesen Island Harbour Town is a relaxing place and there is no need to leave the island, however if you feel the need for action the mainland is just three hundred meters away, accessed by the bridge.

The Heritage Walk on the Island can be done alone or with a guide. Information boards along the route show what the island was like and bring the story to life.

The perfect way to say goodbye to the day is on a sunset cruise around the lagoon and up to the Knysna Heads. The Heads are two cliffs that flank the narrow entrance to the lagoon, a dramatic sight from the water or from the viewing points at the top. The Turbine Hotel has two pontoons that cruise daily and I loved the bubbly that they serve on board.

Arrange a kayak with the hotel and get up at sunrise for an early morning paddle through the marina. The water is calm, paddling is easy and the birdlife is prolific. Once you are warmed up venture out into the lagoon, enjoy the sea breeze and watch the rest of the world waking up. I spent a very happy half hour watching a family of Pied Kingfishers diving for breakfast. Return in time for a stack of pancakes or a full English breakfast and excellent coffee at the hotel, an exhilarating way to start the day.

The Turbine is not just any hotel, it is an inspiring experience. When you embrace the past and weave it into the fabric of the future you create something that can speak to the heart of all generations.

Turbine bedroom Di Brown

http://www.turbinehotel.co.za        reservations: 044 – 302 5746    reservations@turbinehotel.co.za

Knysna is a 6-hour drive from Cape Town or as I recently discovered a 45 minute flight from Cape Town with Airlink – the Regional Feeder Airline, offers a wide network of regional and domestic flights within southern Africa and operates as a franchisee to SAA

Route Specific Information:  Direct scheduled flights between Cape Town and Durban to George.

Connectivity: Through our alliance with SAA travellers can connect conveniently with SAA, their Partner airlines and other carriers throughout Southern Africa and the world.

Frequent Flyer Programme: Airlink is a member of South African Airways (SAA) Loyalty programme -Voyager.

Website:  http://www.flyairlink.com

Flight Bookings:  online, booking agent or SAA Central Reservations +27 11 978 1111.

My stay at the Turbine Hotel was a hosted media trip. All opinions are my own.