Article & pictures by Jared Ruttenberg
With unparalleled natural beauty and a myriad of enticing activities to match, Knysna will forever be a firm favourite for both South Africans and foreign visitors alike. This scenic coastal town on South Africa’s famed Garden Route encompasses a waterfront, lush forests, a nature reserve, large lagoon, and two inhabited islands – something for the whole family to enjoy.
If you’ve ever wondered where the town gets its name from, Knysna stems from the Khoikhoi word “naizna” or “xthys xna”, which either means place of ferns or place of wood. If you’ve spent any time in the forests surrounding the town, you’ll know that both of these are plentiful.
Knysna began as agricultural lands, but with the addition of a port was declared a village in 1825. Ever since, Knysna has been a popular stop on the Garden Route.
In 2017 a devastating fire swept through the region, wreaking much damage, and as the town began to recover, so the disastrous effects of the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, nearly crippling the local tourism industry. In true South African fashion however, the townsfolk are exercising resilience and perseverance and are enjoying seeing guests return to their slice of paradise.
Here are some suggestions on what to do, where to dine, and where to lay your head for that next Garden Route vacation.
How to keep busy
To get your adrenaline pumping, look no further than the exhilaration of hurtling across the dramatic local landscapes with Knysna Ziplines. Four zip lines crisscross the valley at heights of up to 200m. Lucas, our guide, kept us both safe and entertained along the trip. The activity is run in the Harkerville forest, 8 Km outside Knysna on the N2. It currently costs R600pp for the 2-hour activity. You’ll need to pay the R40 park fee, which also gives you access to the Garden of Eden (below). knysnaziplines.co.za
Take a Hike
It isn’t called the Garden Route for nothing – this green corridor is a walker and hiker’s dream, and trail options abound. The Perdekop Hiking Trail is a local favourite. This 9.5km circular route takes in pristine forest and a waterfall. Access is from the Harkerville Forestry Station, and the permit costs R40. Using the same permit, you can access ‘The Garden of Eden’: two boardwalk loops of about 500m or one big loop of 1km, accessible directly from the N2. Forest and loads of fresh air ready to help combat those post-pandemic blues. knysnaziplines.co.za
Hit the Water
Ocean Odyssey offers a 90-minute Marine Eco Tour that takes in the fascinating setting of panoramic coves, caves, and nearby bays – hopefully, to spot some of the resident wildlife, including dolphins, seals, penguins, and seasonal whales. For a more leisurely cruise a bit closer to home, the Turbine Water Club offers boat cruises around the harbour and lagoon. Their two-hour sunset cruise is a worthwhile way to finish a day in this water-paradise. oceanodyssey.co.za & waterclubthesen.co.za
Food & Drink
Bridge Brewery Co.
Red Bridge Brewing Co. is the town’s proud supplier of craft beer. With the recent prohibitions hitting hard, the team came up with SA’s first non-alcoholic Golden Ale. Good news for the sober curious and many others – including myself – who are looking for a healthier lifestyle that may include less alcohol, but with no compromise to taste. In a similar vein, the nearby Knysna Gin team has produced a non-alcoholic gin. My verdict? Definitely worth graving your drinks trolley!
The brewery is located in The Courtyard – a cosy collection of local artisans. It’s definitely worth staying longer to browse. From the gorgeous furniture at Design Wise, leather craftmanship at Bark and Mill to cake and cappuccino at the coffee shop. Tastings are available Mon-Fri, 10h00 to 16h00. redbridgebrewing.co.za
East Head Café
With unmatched views of The Heads (the two peninsulas that guard the lagoon’s exit to the ocean) this iconic Knysna eatery is the place to be. Be sure to try their famous fish and chips, gourmet burgers and the chocolate-mousse cake is to die for. The café is open Tues – Sun for breakfast and lunch, 08h00 – 15h00. Finish off your meal with a walk up to the viewpoint for a snap or two. eastheadcafe.co.za
On Thesen Island, the magnificently restored Turbine Hotel offers meals in the Island Café. The existing power station has been converted into an elegant yet quirky five-star hotel, and the views from the café out over the canals are spellbinding. turbinehotel.co.za
Where to Stay
Since the Knysna Lagoon is such a key feature of the town, I wanted to stay as near to the water as possible. With all the choices available, I wondered how often in South Africa do we get the chance to stay on an island? Not often enough, so I opted for Amanzi Island Lodge, occupying a prime waterfront location on Leisure Isle.
For four days I lapped up all the leisure that Amanzi had to offer. There are 15 beautifully appointed luxury suites – all different and supremely spacious. The elegant blue and white seaside theme has a calming Zen-like presence, helping guests forget about the helter-skelter of life back home.
The Kingfisher Suite is the flagship room, sporting a private pool that seamlessly blends into the lagoon below. If you have the privilege of staying in the suite, you’ll likely never want to leave. I was glued to the veranda, relishing the never-ending views. The surrounding lagoon is tidal, rising and falling daily up to 1.8m; a relaxing rhythm that provides everchanging scenery.
The property is sprawling, with plenty of space for everyone: inside there are two lounges, a restaurant, bar, and a fully stocked kitchen for guests choosing a self-catering stay, and outside the beautifully manicured gardens give a variety of spaces for relaxation, including loungers straddling the large communal pool.
If it’s fresh air you’re after, most of the rooms feature private balconies or verandas where you can dine al fresco or make use of the deck and garden. When you have such spectacular views over such a pristine landscape – of course, I chose to dine al fresco. Thomas and Tiny are the two chefs who serve up sublime meals – most of which I ate on my private veranda or the lodge deck.
When you’re ready to explore the island, one of the best ways to do so is by bike – and the lodge has several on offer for guests to freely use. It’s around 5.5kms around Leisure Island – so an easy ride where you’re constantly rewarded with incredible views of Knysna. The delightful Steenbok Nature Park has a track through it, with plenty of benches to stop for a few photos.
Back at Amanzi it’s time for a cold drink and a dip in the pool, full of gratitude for the chance to visit one of South Africa’s most beautiful natural spaces. amanzilodge.co.za
For a full variety of activities in and around Knysna be sure to check out www.visitknysna.co.za.
Jared Ruttenberg travel-blogs under the name @JAREDINCPT – you can read more of his articles at www.jaredincpt.com.