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Where elis still roam

Daytripping the Seven Passes between Knysna and George

Let's be honest, what with the tie-dye T-shirt and curio sellers, rash of gentrified real estate developments, and the clogged N2 bisecting the town, Knysna isn't quite what is used to be. To experience Old Knysna - a la Kringe in die Bos-slash-Deliverance, where gap-toothed forest folk filled their days fellling massive trees, strumming banjos and outrunning irate tuskers, you need to break out of the town and head into the forested mountains. 

Little beats the Old Passes Road for a firsthand glimpse into the natural beauty and history of this area - and while debate rages as to how many elis still roam the forests, there's an outside chance you may spot one en route. Stranger things have happened. 

Seven Passes is Bain’s original route between Knysna and George. It kicks off with the Phantom Pass winding its way up to Rheenendal. From here, it's past the Millwood Goldfields (plenty of history and forest trails here) and down the Homtini Pass to the charcoal black waters of the Homtini River - but not before you've pulled up at Totties Restaurant at the head of Rheenendal for their Sunday buffet. It's a must. 

Up and over Homtini Pass, you're now cruising through dairy farms. Green and lonely, the forest-covered Outeniqua Mountains break the horizon to the north. Onward to Karatara, a slightly surreal village where remnants of the original Knysna woodcutters and other quirky characters can be found. Karatara done, it's down again, into another dense river gorge.

At Hoekwil village, another coffee break and wedge of cheese cake is in order. Big tree walks, a generaous spread of farm accommodation and mountain bike trails will have you adding this one to your weekend bucket list. Back in the car, there's one more pass to go - this time carving deep into the belly of the Silver River gorge. Voila! that's seven under the belt: Phantom, Homtini, Swartrivier, Touw River, Karatara, Silver River, and Hoogekraal.

Forests, valleys, rivers and elephants, you’ve seen them all - ok, maybe not the elephants. 

 Stop in at Totties Restaurant in Rheenendal for Sunday lunch, a buffet meal like granma used to make. Also open throughout the week. 

 Take the detour to the Millwood Goldfields, an interesting insight to Knysna's short-lived foray into the gold rush.

Definitely take your MTB bike along for a jaunt around The Garden Route Trail Park near Karatara.

Don't expect consistent weather, you can get four seasons in one day here.

 Watch out for bush buck leaping across the road.

 Don't think you'll never see an elephant; there've been recent sightings in this area!



The Map
Where To Eat ...
VegTable, Rheenendal
074-833 9516
"Outstanding flavour combinations served in a very cosy setting"
"A special hideaway in the forest"
Tottie's Farm Kitchen, Rheenendal
044-389 0092
"Local history served artistically"
"The venue is amazing, and so kid friendly"
"Best scones ever - served with real farm butter"
Serendipity, Wilderness
044-877 0433
"Simply the best dining experience of my life"
"Service was exceptional, the combination of tastes...unforgettable!"
"A bit pricey, but well worth it"
Pomadoro, Wilderness
044-877 1403
“Italian surprise in Wilderness”
“Amazing pizza's”
“Be sure to open the door to Pomodoro"”
Hoekwil Country Cafe, Hoekwil
044-850 1037
"The cheesecake is great but the lemon meringue was better"
"Friendly service and country charm"
"Aidan's cheesecake is legenday along the Garden Route"
East Head Cafe, Knysna
044-384 0933
"Breakfast on the rocks"
"Great seafood lunch, bustling vibe"
"Lovely kids area, and a glass of wine with a view for the parents"
The Olive Tree, Knysna
044-382 5867
"Kingklip was grilled to perfection"
"The bobotie spring rolls are a must"
"If you want a special night out, then book early!"
Cafe Throbb, Knysna
044-382 0406
"Our breakfast was egg-cellent"
"Fantastic wood-fired pizza in a cozy atmosphere"
"Amazing coffee"
Things To Do ...
  • Situated along the Rheenendal road, Millwood was briefly a booming tiny gold mining village. It popped up in in a matter of weeks, and disappeared almost as quickly. Exploring the 5.6km circular walk will really give you an idea of life in this part of the world during the 1800's. A 100 years on and deserted, you can still feel the eerie echos.
  • The circular Woodville Forest Walk near Hoekwil brings you up and close with an 850-year-old Outeniqua Yellowwood tree, aptly named The Big Tree - a sight to behold. Crossing the little stream leads to a picnic spot where you can kick off your shoes and enjoy your sarmies.

  • Among the more exciting additions to this neck of the woods is the Garden Route Trail Park, AKA Singletrack Heaven. With over 20km of crafted singletrack, flowing forest trails with rock pools, lush grassy areas decked with picnic benches and a lekker little coffee shop, it's a spot for whole fandamily.

  • At the lower end of the Touw River and within the boundaries of the Wilderness National Park, you can enjoy a magificent hiking trail along the Touw River to a waterfall along the Half-Collared Kingfisher Trail.

  • Shortly after the Bibby's Hoek signpost on the Rheenendal Road is the Drupkelders Kloofing Trail - short and intense. Don't forget the Go Pro. 

  • This entire area is dotted with some great eateries. If world-class dining is your vibe, Serendipity in Wilderness won't dissapoint. Totties Farm Kitchen in Rheenendal is a historic must-visit spot with more than decent fare, while VegTable is an intimate spot in the forest rumoured to have converted a few meat-lovers into evangelical vegetarians.
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