Thesen Islands The Best Of The Best8th Feb 2017
While the forests, the beaches and the fascinating little towns all contribute to making the Garden Route a pretty special place, it’s the lagoons and coastal lakes that really set it apart. For a long time estuaries and wetlands were considered “waste” land: wetlands were “swamps”, and the best way to deal with them was to drain them, fill them in and build over them – and estuaries were mostly seen as convenient harbours if they were considered at all.
But that’s all changed. Society has come to realise that wetlands are essential elements in maintaining water catchments and preventing soil erosion, and that estuaries are invaluable breeding grounds for ecologically (and commercially) important fish species.
So it was hardly surprising that, when the Thesen Islands development was first planned, the preservation – even improvement – of the estuarine ecosystem was given priority. Long before building began, a team of divers carefully caught seahorses and gently relocated them to other parts of the lagoon, and immense resources were dedicated to ensuring that the size, shape and relative placement of the channels allowed a constant flow, so there would be no nasty little stagnant backwaters, nor a flow too fast for aquatic life to survive. In fact, it’s a matter of pride to Thesen Islands residents and developers alike that there has been an increase in both the biomass and biodiversity within the development. The placid and iconic Knysna seahorses sway in the gentle current, sea hares roam the gabions quietly grazing on a generous carpet of marine algae, and a range of fish species swim through the canals.
But getting to this point was not easy. The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism imposed more than a hundred conditions on the developers, who had to ensure cultural, environmental, historical and aesthetic integrity. And the systems set up during planning, dredging and construction continue to contribute to the preservation of, and knowledge about, the Knysna Lagoon and other coastal lakes, estuaries and wetlands.
While this is all very good, what’s really exciting is that it makes Thesen Islands such a great place to live. The water quality ensures that all manner of water sports can be indulged in safely, and the health of the ecosystem makes for rewarding snorkelling, birdwatching & general enjoyment of the scenery.
And, of course, Thesen Islands, while being a neatly enclosed world unto itself, is also part of the larger Knysna community. The development is built on what was once a rather degraded island with a sawmill and other hard-core industrial elements, many of which have been preserved and converted into stylish industrial-chic premises for anything from restaurants and shops to hotels.
The Turbine Hotel and Spa is possibly one of the best examples in South Africa of an industrial space being converted into a hospitality property. The hotel and the many fashionable food and retail outlets in the Thesen Harbour Town are open to the general public, but the residential section is accessed via continuously monitored bridges. The vehicle bridge is staffed 24/7 by dedicated security personnel, and access to the pedestrian bridges is by electronic tag.
It’s the combination of location and security that makes Thesen Islands a very desirable place to live, a sentiment that is underlined by the increase in capital gains that homeowners have experienced year on year. New homes that come onto the market are snapped up very quickly, with about 40% of the homes used as primary residences and the rest as secondary homes or investment properties. Anyone who has been fortunate enough to spend a few days on Thesen Islands finds it very difficult to leave.
The enviable Thesen Islands lifestyle is complemented by the many positive features and facilities of the town itself, the lagoon and, just beyond the Knysna Heads, the ocean. Residents can enjoy a game of golf, world-class mountain bike and hiking trails, and a range of fabulous food outlets nearby. The lagoon is great for paddling, snorkelling, swimming, sailing, boardsailing and even – for experienced divers only, and only at slack tide! – scuba diving at the Heads. And, if you’re brave enough and skilled enough to take a boat out through the Heads, you can watch whales and dolphins, and get to a whole lot more diving sites.
One thing you can be sure of – you will never be bored in Knysna, and living at Thesen Islands gives you the best of the best.