A moderate climate and a fine selection of accommodation, restaurants and enjoyable activities make Knysna the perfect holiday destination. With its Waterfront restaurants and shops, the chic Thiesen Island, championship golf courses, and Lagoon boat trips, it’s a great place for short and longer breaks.
Geography and Wildlife
Knysna nestles on the banks of an 18 km² estuary where the Knysna River meets the tides of the Indian Ocean.The lagoon is home to the unique Knysna seahorse, the exquisite Pansy shell and at least 200 species of fish. Humpback and Southern Right whales frolic along these coastal waters from May to September, whilst dolphins are year-round residents. The indigenous forests form the largest closed canopy forest in Southern Africa and are home to the colourful Knysna loerie and narina trogon. Knysna is also home to the only forest elephant in South Africa. Fynbos vegetation contributes 8,000 plant species to the Cape floral kingdom.
The town of Knysna, in the heart of the Garden Route, is surrounded by a natural paradise of lush indigenous forests, mountains and fynbos, tranquil lakes and golden beaches.
Tourism and Industry
Tourism and the timber industry form the cornerstones of Knysna’s economy. The town and its surrounds boast a large variety of hotels, guests houses, bed & breakfasts, restaurants, arts & crafts retailers, adventure and eco-adventure operators. Timber is harvested from pine and gum plantations and, in controlled amounts, from indigenous forests in the area. This is used to manufacture cable drums, plyboard and other building timbers. Wooden houses are exported to the Indian Ocean Islands, Singapore and Australia. The furniture industry uses indigenous timbers such as stinkwood and yellowwood, while modern furniture lines are increasingly being exported.
Khoisan people inhabited the Garden Route from the Stone Age onwards, feeding on the riches of land and sea. They were displaced only after the first Dutch settlers arrived in the area during the seventeenth century.
Knysna’s recent history began in 1804, when the farm Melkhoutkraal was purchased by George Rex, a timber merchant. He owned virtually all the land surrounding the lagoon. Knysna became a port with naval and commercial ships bringing in supplies and taking timber out from the settlements of Melville and Newhaven, which eventually united to form the town of Knysna. In 1869, a Norwegian sea-faring family, the Thesens, settled in Knysna. They set up business and became important timber merchants and shipbuilders. In the 1880s gold was discovered in the forest and the mining village of Millwood sprang up. This was short-lived, however, as the gold yields were small and soon ran out.
The harbour no longer functions as a port, but The Heads still guard the restless passage through which many a trading vessel sailed to the wide ocean beyond. The tides rise and fall an average 1,7m, flooding the lagoon through a turbulent channel between “The Heads”, which are two great sandstone cliffs. Many a vessel came to grief trying to cross the bar here during the years when Knysna was used as a harbour.
The lagoon is permanently open to the sea, although the volume of influent fresh water is relatively small. This stable, saline environment accounts for the remarkable diversity of species recorded here, the highest in any South African estuary. Swampy areas, salt marshes and eelgrass areas of the estuary, exposed at low tide, produce almost all the food used by other organisms in the estuary, as well as reducing water velocities during floods, and trapping sediment.
Forests and Flora
The magnificent Southern Cape forests are one of South Africa’s greatest natural heritages, owing their existence to the regular, orographic rainfall in the region. For many years the forests were mercilessly robbed of their rich resources, supplying timber to the furniture, construction and mining industries. Today, however, the forests are managed according to strict conservation principles.
Outeniqua yellowwood trees draped with Old Mana’s Beard lichen present an imposing sight. A particularly big, old specimen can be seen at Diepwalle forest station: the King Edward VIIâ tree, named in 1924 on a visit by the Empire Parliamentary Association, is estimated to be 600 years old; its total height is 39 m, the base circumference is 6 m. Other common and well-known species in the Knysna forest include Stinkwood; Real Yellowwood; Blackwood; White alder; Ironwood and Hard Pear.
The Tree fern, Cyathea capensis, is a protected species and grows in groups along banks of forest streams and under the canopy of moist forests. The ferns in the wet, high forests of Diepwalle have grown in abundance, to heights of 6 m.
The Valley of Ferns is situated on the road between Knysna and Uniondale, approximately 10 km after the Diepwalle forest station. It offers a pleasant, tranquil picnic site and a short walk through the grove of ferns. Stinkwood trees, Ironwood, Red Alder and the Forest Elder may also be seen here.
Fynbos (fine bush) is an evergreen heath-shrubland contributing a staggering 8000 species to the Fynbos floral kingdom. This Fynbos is unique to the southwestern areas of South Africa. Three plant families characterise this abundance: Proteas, including the famous King Protea, which can grow up to 20cm in diameter; Ericas (heather); and Restios, which are reed-like grasses.