A certain travel brochure puts it thus: "Every visit to Knysna is an adventure." And so it is, especially in peak season when bumper-to-bumper Gauteng traffic and shuffling crowds can trigger an adrenaline rush second to none. First things first, then: Knysna (495km from Cape Town) is no longer the drowsy village it used to be, a refuge for rat-race escapees, tie-dye T-shirt makers and aspiring artists – the Garden Route's tourist boom has put an end to that illusion. Although there's no immediate beach to call its own, Knysna reigns as the undisputed capital of the Garden Route. What the town lacks in sea frontage it makes up with an ethereal lagoon and ancient forests, and a Georgian and Victorian atmosphere you won't find in other Garden Route towns. Although the town has outgrown itself, the surrounding area still offers tranquillity. If this is what you're looking for, the best self-catering beds can be found away from the centre, either along or above the lagoon, or buried deep under the forest canopy.
Things To Do
- Ease into Knysna by paying a visit to the tourist office on Main Street and collecting your free Information Guide, a useful and detailed brochure containing a map, town background info, as well as restaurant and activity listings.
- Don't come to Knysna for a languid beach holiday: the closest waves are at Brenton-on-Sea, 20km away. However, for families with young children, the wave-free Knysna Lagoon is perfect. Leisure Island in particular has excellent swimming and a glimpse of ocean through the Knysna Heads. For a closer view, there's a dramatic little beach at Coney Glenn on the eastern Head, popular for picnics and fishing. Work your way up to the top of the Head and you'll be rewarded with a fantastic view out to sea and across the lagoon.
- Knysna is synonymous with indigenous forests and the reason to prolong your stay. Although only a splinter (65 000ha) of their former glory (200 000ha) and no longer home to Khoi clans and a vast array of wildlife (including elephant herds), the forests remain unique and are best experienced on foot along a number of marked walks. And yes, while you have more chance of winning the Lotto than spotting a famed Knysna Nellie, you could well see vervet monkeys, bushbuck, blue duiker and the Knysna lourie.
- Thanks to the devastating success of 19th century timber merchants, the forest reserves are some distance from town. About 30km away, the Goudveld Forest harbors the deserted mining town of Millwood (with its old mine shafts and rusty equipment), several hikes (Jubilee Creek is the most satisfying) and the 19km Homtini mountain bike trail. Diepwalle State Forest lies closer to Knysna (20km) and has an impressive number of huge trees, especially yellowwoods, which you can view close up on the circular Elephant Walk.
- Despite its interesting past as a timber town, Knysna falls a little short on the museum front. The Millwood House Museum has a display of old photographs; originally built for convicts, the Old Goal Complex houses an art gallery and a Maritime Museum; Belvidere’s Holy Trinity Church (circa 1855) is a fine example of 12th century Norman architecture, while St George's Church (1855) features broad yellowwood floorboards and other attractive timber touches.
- With close to 100 restaurants and coffee shops (we're thumbsucking here but you get the point), Knysna has something for every taste bud. Oysters are an obvious choice, with the Knysna Oyster Company holding marketshare, but trading more on name than quality and service, which we found shoddy to be quite honest. Most eateries are concentrated in the centre of town, or around the Knysna Quays Waterfront - head to the latter for that elusive holiday-by-the-sea vibe.
- Knysna offers a variety of outdoor pursuits, from the tame to the terrifying. Again, your best bet is a stroll to the local tourist office and grab a fistful of brochures.
- Join the icecream-lickers from Gauteng and trawl the craft and woodwork shops lining Knysna's main drag (Main Street). The Waterfront at Knysna Quays is slightly more relaxed, with a pleasant outlook and several decent restaurants.
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Where You'll Also Find Us
Arniston (Waenhuiskrans) • Barrydale • Baviaanskloof • Betty's Bay • Bonnievale • Bredasdorp • Caledon • Calitzdorp • Cape Agulhas & Struisbaai • Cape Peninsula & Surrounds • Ceres • Citrusdal • Clanwilliam & Cederberg • Darling • De Rust • Elands Bay • Gansbaai • George • Grabouw & Elgin Valley • Greyton • Hermanus • Hogsback • Knysna • Ladismith • Malgas • Matjiesfontein • McGregor • Montagu • Mossel Bay • Napier • Oudtshoorn • Paarl • Plettenberg Bay • Porterville • Pringle Bay, Betty's Bay and Kleinmond • Riebeek West & Riebeek-Kasteel • Robertson • St Helena Bay • Stanford • Stilbaai • Sutherland • Swellendam • Tulbagh • Velddrif • Vermaaklikheid • Wellington • Wilderness • Worcester & Hex Valley • Yzerfontein