Knysna, together with neighbouring Plettenberg Bay, makes up the tourist heart of the Garden Route. The town is synonymous with its iconic lagoon, which opens to the sea between two steep headlands – commonly referred to as the Knysna Heads.
The lagoon is home to the neighbourhoods of Leisure Isle and Thesen’s Island, the nature reserve at Featherbed Bay, and the shopping precinct of The Knysna Quays. Beneath the water, bright fish, seaweed and corals thrive. It is also home to one of the rarest creatures on the planet, the endangered Knysna sea horse.
The town’s streets somehow manage to retain a sense of quaintness against the increasing encroachment of modernity. The atmosphere is finely balanced between small town laid-back and popular-seaside-destination bustle. Inland, the landscape rises to mountain slopes and cloud-flecked peaks.
Here lies the realm of Knysna’s other icon, the afromontane forests, where cool streams babble beneath frilly tree ferns and mystical elephants roam. The natural beauty surrounding Knysna has led to it becoming a sought after holiday destination. Today it offers visitors everything from art to zoology, water sports to shopping, adrenalin activities to world-class restaurants, and a wide range of accommodation.
Knysna’s appeal is not restricted to its immediate surroundings and there’s a lot to do nearby. West of town lie the beaches of Brenton-on-Sea, favourites for beach walks and fishing. Buffalo Bay is the main swimming beach in the area.
To the north the Goudveld, Gouna and Diepwalle forest sections offer plenty of hiking, walking and picnic opportunities beneath their verdant canopies.
East lies Harkerville and the easily accessible Garden of Eden, which encapsulates a section of indigenous forest alongside the N2. Here too is the Knysna Elephant Park. Golf enthusiasts are well catered for, from the long-standing Knysna Golf Club, to the Pezula Championship Course, and the Simola Country and Golf Estate.
No matter what your persuasion, Knysna will enthral you, so make sure to allocate enough time to fully enjoy the area.
Look out for
The Heads - one of the Knysna icons is a pair of cliffs known as the Knysna Heads. They’re probably the most arresting geological feature along the coastline of the Garden Route. From the top of the eastern head there’s a viewpoint that offers fabulous views down onto the rocks below, and across the lagoon to Leisure Isle and the town.
The Knysna Lagoon - life on and around this glorious body of water is in itself sufficient to entice you to visit. If you don’t have your own boat and want to explore the lagoon a little, there are several companies offering boat, yacht and catamaran trips. Another fabulous way to enjoy the Knysna estuary is to spend time on a houseboat.
Featherbed Nature Reserve – a privately-owned and registered reserve, and a South African Heritage site. It can only be reached by ferry, for which there are several options. One includes a 4-hour eco-experience that offers some spectacular viewpoints. Another offers a 4-star dining experience on a paddle cruiser - the country’s only paddle-driven vessel. Bookings are essential.
Beaches - the closest beach to town is Bollard Bay on Leisure Isle, which has a glorious view over the water to The Heads. Its shallow waters are perfect for kids to paddle in. Buffalo Bay is 22km from Knysna and is said to be the only beach safe for unsupervised swimming. It runs for 7km in a gentle curve around to Brenton on Sea.
Forests - around Knysna, there are 3 main forest areas. Goudveld lies north-west of town and is accessed via the rural area of Rheenendal. Gouna is north of town and links up with Diepwalle, which lies to the east via the Kom-se-pad road.
Garden of Eden – this is probably the best-known piece of forest, and the most easily accessed along the N2. There’s not much parking on busy days, but plenty in quiet times. The trails going into the forest are wheelchair-friendly.
Golf - Knysna has 3 golf courses; the oldest one being Knysna Golf Club. Simola Golf & Country Estate has spectacular views over the lagoon and down onto the Knysna River. Pezula Championship Course is on the eastern Head and has panoramic views over the ocean and coastline. It is rated among the best and most scenic golf courses in the world.
Knysna Elephant Park - here there are jumbos big and small to feed and stroke or just take a stroll with. Herd numbers are small, averaging around a dozen individuals and they seem happy with their 60 hectares of relative freedom. Tours to where the elephants are grazing leave the reception area every half-hour from 08h30-16h30 daily. The sunrise and sunset outings are very special. There’s a restaurant serving breakfast and lunch.The park is in Harkerville, 9km from Plettenberg Bay.