Grand old forest lady now ready to receive well-earned heritage nod

FRIDAY May 13 marked an auspicious occasion when the Old Coach House at De Poort - adjacent to the Garden of Eden in Harkerville - saw the gathering of all those who played a part in her recent facelift.
Constructed in 1848, the building was used as travellers’ inn and built alongside the original ox-wagon route through the forest. In days gone by, it would have taken two days to travel by ox-wagon from Knysna to Plettenberg Bay, and the ‘Woodside Inn’ or ‘Wayside Inn’ served as welcome stopover.
Its fascinating history has been well researched by historian Margaret Parkes and Philip Caveney of Knysna Historical Society, and is associated with significant local personalities like Sarah Rex, R Holt, Johanna Thesen, Paul Emil Bertlesen, Henry Morgan, William Morrow, Ludwick Johnson and many more, having welcomed visitors over the past 145 years.
In 2000, the property and building was made available to Debbie Stanley of Eco-Ed for lease by Willoughby van Reenen, then owner of the property, to be used as environmental education centre.
Debbie and partner Hatti Thesen have been educating young people from all over SA on the fauna and flora of our forests for the past 16 years, and have even enjoyed a visit by a delegation from the American International School in Dubai.
The Coach House serves as an historical base from where the Eco-Ed programmes are conducted, and the highlight for all leaners participating in activities offered is the forest night walk, where they experience the mystery of the forest by night. Evenings end around the campfire, where stories of yesteryear are shared.
Hatti has created a Natural History Museum made up of the many bones and skulls of mammals like rodents and primates, collected by her father Hjalmar Thesen. These are used as tools to educate young visitors on the fauna of the forest past and present.
The property is now owned by PG Bison, and Eco-Ed continues to lease the property and offer educational activities from this special venue. The recent renovation and painting of the building was made possible by a donation from PG Bison, with Eco-Ed being the main funder.
Says Debbie: “It is important for us to contribute towards the preservation of this building identified as an important heritage site by KHS.
“We will soon receive our heritage plaque! We are grateful that PG Bison has recognised the need to protect heritage buildings on its property, and appreciative the assistance.
“It’s part of the company’s social responsibility mandate to protect heritage sites and promote education, so both of these objectives are being achieved at the Coach House.”
She thanks Davey Carelse and Heine Muller of PG Bison for their support, and Chris Manuel and his team from Harkerville who effected the pretty make-over in style.