Knysna holds a very special place in my heart: I spent many family holidays here, lived here for two years, and finally re-relocated to the area in 2016.
Getting there: Knysna is 500km up the N2 from Cape Town.
GPS Coordinates: -34.03555, 23.04922
Funnily enough, Knysna was for many years just another town passed through on the way to family holidays in Plettenberg Bay: Plett had beaches, and only when the weather was less than perfect would we be dragged by parents to Knysna so that could slowly torture us to death (they called it shopping). Later holidays were spent at Waterways in Knysna, and only as we came of drinking age and could jump off the jetty fully clothed into the lagoon after too many beers at Tapas (now the site of the SANParks Head Office), did Knysna finally become bearable.
Now, Knysna is to me the very heart of the Garden Route. The area consists of rugged, forested mountains on a beautiful coastline with a pristine estuary.
Over the last 10 years, the small town has seen some dramatic development, with the new waterfront being built, as well as the Thesen Island Marina. It has all the modern trappings including shopping malls with big name chain stores, but you are still able to enjoy some of the original charm of the town.
The Knysna Lagoon is in fact an estuary, with its entrance to the ocean through the dramatic, iconic Knysna Heads.
This is Dalene Matthee country: if you have not yet read her books, get you hands on a copy of Kringe in ‘n Bos (translated into English: “Circles in a Forest”), Fiela se Kind (translated into English: “Fiela’s Child”) or Moerbeibos (translated into English: “The Mulberry Forest”). I read both as Afrikaans set-work books at school, and have since re-read and enjoyed them immensely.
The Garden Route is successfully establishing itself as the adventure sport mecca of South Africa, and there are many fabulous sporting events held each year in Knysna, such as the Featherbed Trail Run, the Knysna Forest Marathon and X Lakes Summer.
There is also the famous Knysna Oyster Festival in July each year which is always well supported (see a selection of related posts).
The area has a rich and colourful history, still reflected in modern times in the names like Thesen Island, named after the Norwegian family who established a thriving business, Rex Drive, named after George Rex, founder of Knysna, and the John Ben Ferry, named after the famed harbour pilot.
Unfortunately as is too often the case, much of this history reflects the greed of man, and Knysna has suffered over the years: the forest is a shadow of its original splendour, the Knysna elephants are all but hunted to extinction as is the Blue duiker, and the over-developed area is (despite its all-year-round green appearance) water-stressed.
Where to stay
Knysna is a holiday town through-and-through, and boasts a large and varied range of accommodation.
Where to eat
- East Head Café (The Heads) for the best breakfasts and unbeatable views of The Heads
- île de païn (Thesen Island) for light lunch and artisanal bread
- Café Throbb (Gray Street) for coffee and light meals (and the fastest free WiFi in town!)
- Cruise Café for breakfast with lagoon views
What to do
- Hike along the coast at Kranshoek, or deep in the forest at the Diepwalle Elephant Walk
- Mountain bike the famous Harkerville Red Route
- Walk the walkways and viewing decks on the East Head
- Take a ride out to the Heads on one of the ferries
- Visit the Featherbed Nature Reserve
- Visit the fairy-tale castles at Noetzie
- Visit the Millwood gold-fields and the Dalene Matthee Memorial
- Visit the grave of George Rex, Esquire
- Eat fresh oysters overlooking the lagoon
- Enjoy a pint of Red Bridge beer or Mitchell’s, two of the local craft breweries
- Run the Knysna Forest Marathon or Half-marathon
- Join parkrun Knysna on a Saturday morning
- Rent a SUP and cruise the Thesen Island marina