What are those strange castles and quaint little houses on the beach at Noetzie, just east of Knysna?
If you’re lucky enough to sail past Noetzie with us, you’re definitely going to ask this question.
Actually, Noetzie is a beach, a lagoon, a suburb of Knysna, a Conservancy, and a holiday destination all rolled into one. Oh, and it borders the Sinclair Reserve section (the bit on the eastern side of the Noetzie river) of the Garden Route National Park. So it’s well worth visiting after you’re back on shore.
Everyone knows Noetzie for its castles – but (sorry!) there’s nothing particularly mysterious, pirate, or gangsta about them: they were all built as holiday houses, and although some of them are available to rent, they remain holiday houses to this day.
But why castles?
Well, apparently Herbert Stephen Henderson built the first one in the 1930s out of rock that he quarried locally. The stone walls of the house reminded one of the locals of the old castles of Europe, so he suggested “the addition of a few turrets” to make it look like a castle – and this set the trend for the others.
But the house we love the most at Noetzie is called North Cottage, and stands (appropriately, we think) to the south of all the rest.
If you’re on the boat with us, it’s easy to see: it’s the pale-blue-and-white Victorian cottage closest to the beach.
According to Marylou Botha – whose husband’s family have owned it since pa fell of the bus – it was erected in the early 1900s.
“We were always told that it originally came from the old mining village of Millwood, 20 km inland from Knysna, and that it was brought here in one piece on an ox wagon. It might also have been an old officers’ mess from the Anglo-Boer War – apparently the Brits shipped them in in kit form for the war effort, and the timing would be about right – but who knows?
“I couldn’t verify the house’s origins when I did some research on it for the Noetzie Conservancy’s book on the area,” she said. “But I did learn that it was brought to Noetzie in the early 1900s by Knysna’s first district surgeon, Dr. Walter Haw, whose daughter, Winifred Tapson, wrote a famous history book about the town called ‘Timber and Tides,’ which was published in 1961.
“Dr. Haw was one of the members of the syndicate of farmers and businesspeople that developed Noetzie in 1913. He sold the house to Victor Herbert North, Bruce’s great-grandfather, around 1920.
“Victor was a farmer from Oudtshoorn, and also the owner of the old Imperial Hotel in Oudtshoorn.
“The place was originally called ‘Helenside’ after his wife, Helena. They loved it for fishing holidays, and later his son, Herbie, Bruce’s grandfather, patched the rust of the corrugated iron walls using layers of paint and even bits of his old underwear.
“It’s still there today – the corrugated iron, I mean.”
Bruce and Marylou have restored North Cottage, but it retains all the charm of the olden days – and, like Noetzie itself, reminds us of Knysna’s long, colourful, and fascinating history as a holiday destination. (And it’s available on SAVenues, in case you’re looking for a rustic, authentic holiday destination second to none. But you’ll have to be nice to Marylou, and promise to be nice to the house, too.)