South Africa: Knysna

Nestling on the banks of a shimmering lagoon in the heart of the 'Garden Route' is the picturesque town of Knysna. A natural paradise of lush indigenous forests, tranquil lakes and golden beaches adorns South Africa's unspoilt southern coast, mountains and rivers provide endless opportunity for leisure and outdoor adventure.

The indigenous forests constitute the largest complex of closed-canopy forest in southern Africa, whilst the remarkable richness of the Fynbos vegetation contributes over 8000 plant species to the Cape floral kingdom. The area is a veritable Garden of Eden: home to the only forest elephant in South Africa, the unique Knysna seahorse and the Pansy shell, the brilliantly coloured Knysna Loerie, a plethora of waterfowl and forest birds, dolphins and visiting whales.

Within the town, craft shops, flea markets and cosy cafe's beckon with small-town charm and hospitality. Knysna is synonymous with fine indigenous timbers, and famed for the craftsmanship of its furniture and timber products and a fine selection of bars and restaurants.

Knysna's history weaves a colourful tapestry of woodcutters, seafarers, gold-diggers and timber merchants. Whilst the town's streets and quaint, old buildings echo with its commercial past, the rocky coast and deep, silent forests whisper of men with bows and arrows, ancient hunters, gatherers and nomads. 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. A woodcutters post was established at George in 1776.

Knysna's history took a turn in 1804, when George Rex purchased the farm Melkhoutkraal, took up residence with a large entourage and established himself as a timber merchant. Rumoured to be the illegitimate son of King George III, he proceeded to become the founding father of Knysna, owning virtually all the land surrounding the lagoon.

He was instrumental in establishing Knysna as a port - soon naval and commercial ships came and went, bringing supplies in and taking timber out from the burgeoning settlements of Melville and Newhaven, which eventually united to form the town of Knysna. In February 1869, a devastating fire laid waste thousands of acres of forest, veld and farmland. Portland Manor, the country home of the Hon. Henry Barrington, was burned to the ground. In December of that year a Norwegian sea-faring family, the Thesens, came to settle in Knysna. They set up a coastal shipping business and became timber merchants and shipbuilders, which became a big asset to the town.

In the 1880's, gold was discovered in the forest, and the mining village of Millwoood sprang up. This was short-lived, however, as the gold yields were small and soon ran out.

Only one elephant remains in the forests, and the harbour no longer functions as a port. But the town holds fond memories, and The Heads still guard the restless passage through which many a trading vessel sailed to the wide ocean beyond.

More places of interest in South Africa

Addo Elephant National Park | Blyde River Canyon | Cape Town | Hluhluwe & Umfolozi | Kruger National Park | Orange River | Oudtshoorn | Pilgrim's Rest | Pretoria | South Drakensberg | St Lucia | Tsitsikamma National Park | Zuurberg National Park