The Garden Route includes one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline, whose starting point is constantly contested as towns such as Witsand, Stilbaai and Albertinia join the route that winds its way for some 200 km via George, Wilderness, Sedgefield and Knysna on to Plettenberg Bay and culminating in the Tstisikamma Forest - a fairyland of giant trees, ferns and bird life.
Mountains crowd close to a shoreline dotted with beaches and bays, and vividly coloured wild flowers delight the eye. Between Heidelberg and Storms River, the Garden Route runs parallel to a coastline featuring lakes, mountains, tall indigenous forests, amber -coloured rivers and golden beaches. Meandering trails are followed by hikers, the forests invite long, leisurely drives, and the lakes and rivers lend themselves to swimming boating and fishing. A wide range of leisure options, spectacular scenery and a mild climate guarantee an unforgettable holiday experience when visiting the Garden Route in South Africa.
The region provides a stirring study in contrasts. The delightful town of George, known as "The Gateway to the Garden Route", graces a coastal plateau in a fertile area of lush greenery at the foot of the Outeniqua Mountains. Oudtshoorn, "Capital of the Klein Karoo", is set in a semi-arid valley, providing the ideal habitat for ostriches which are farmed here on a grand scale.
The Garden Route stretches on the southern coast from Heidelberg to the
Tsitsikamma Forest and Storms River. It’s a nook of the country that
offers inspiration to writers and artists whose presence gives the Garden
Route a trendy flavour. It is also a top priority of many a foreign visitor.
Little is known about the indigenous inhabitants of Knysna, the Khoikhoi. The area east of present-day George was separated by high mountains and deep gorges, making it virtually inaccessible to European travelers.
Nevertheless, the first Europeans arrived in the area in 1760, and the farm Melkhoutkraal (literally translating from Afrikaans as 'milk wood kraal’) was established on the eastern shore of the Knysna Lagoon. Stephanus Terblans, the first European farmer to settle in the area, was given a loan permit to farm here. Upon moving to Knysna George Rex, a British-born entrepreneur credited as being the founder of Knysna, bought Melkhoutkraal and the farm of Eastford in 1804. He gave 80 acres of Eastford to the Colonial Government, on which the Royal Navy established the township of Melville. Rex’s properties were sold when he passed away in 1839. In April 1817, the transport brig Emu, belonging to the Cape Town Dockyard, was the first European vessel to enter the Knysna heads. She struck a rock, now known as Emu Rock, and was holed. Her crew ran Emu ashore to prevent her sinking. In late April HMS Podargus arrived to render assistance. After surveying the area, Podargus sailed safely into the Knysna and retrievedEmu's cargo. The next major settler in Knysna was Captain Thomas Henry Duthie, who married Caroline, George Rex’s daughter, and bought a portion of his father-in-laws farm, Uitzicht, which he renamed Belvidere. The construction of a small Norman-style church was commissioned by Duthie on his property, and was consecrated in 1855. The settlement’s population grew slowly, and Englishmen such as Henry Barrington and Lt. Col. John Sutherland, who established the settlement of Newhaven on a portion of purchased land, settled in the area. At the time, Knysna was a field cornetcy of Plettenberg Bay and a Magisterial Division of George. In 1858, Knysna became a separate Magisterial Division, new stores and accommodation facilities were opened, and Knysna became the new commercial centre of the region. On their way to New Zealand, the Thesen family who were travelling from Norway fancied the little hamlet of Knysna so much that they decided to stay, bringing with them their knowledge of commerce and sailing. Soon, timber was being exported to the Capefrom the vast areas of forest surrounding Knysna, and a steam sawmill and small shipyard were established. Later, these were relocated to Paarden Island, later known as Thesen’s Island.
Millwood Gold Rush
Millwood House Museum
In 1878, a very important discovery was made in the area. A gold nugget was found in the Karatara River, near Ruigtevlei. Soon fortune hunters from all over the world arrived at the Millwood Forest in search of gold, and Millwood grew into a bustling town. Millwood was declared a gold field, the first in South Africa. However, soon not enough gold was recovered to sustain a growing town, and the mining industry in the area collapsed. Some miners relocated to Knysna, bringing their little homes with them. One of the houses, known as ‘Millwood House’, now functions as a museum. Amalgamation and timber industry By 1880 over 1000 people had settled in Knysna. In 1882, the settlements of Newhaven, Melville and the “wedge” of land between the two villages were amalgamated to form the municipality of ‘The Knysna’, getting its name from the Knysna River. Knysna’s timber industry peaked when George Parkes arrived from Britain and saw the opportunity to use the hardwoods of the Knysna Forest for export to elsewhere in the country, and even overseas. He established the Knysna Forest Company, later renamed Geo. Parkes and Sons Ltd., which is still trading to this day.
Knysna Lagoon, an estuary
The town is primarily built on the northern shore of a large warm-water estuary, known as the Knysna Lagoon, which is fed by the Knysna River. The estuary opens to the ocean after passing between two large headlands. These are popularly known as "The Heads", and have become infamous due to the loss of boats and fishermen passing through their treacherous and unpredictable waters. Near them are geological formations, known locally as "The Map Stones." To the north of Knysna, Afro-Montane or temperate rainforest covers the hilly terrain for 20 km until changing to fynbos or macchia high up in the Outeniqua Mountains.
Knysna has a climate similar to that of Mediterranean regions. Summers are hot and winters mild to chilly. During the summer, the average maximum temperature reaches about 25ºC and rarely goes above 30ºC. The average maximum temperature during the winter months ranges in the area of 16ºC to 17ºC. Knysna has one of the richest rainfall percentages in South Africa with the wettest time of year being between October and December. Knysna stays green in any season, and its temperate climate makes it a tourist destination all year round.
The town is a popular destination for both tourists and senior citizens entering retirement, especially among the British and former expatriates due to the year-round warm climate. Recently the town has also become a preferred destination among golfers, as the town boasts several world class golf courses including Pezula Golf Course, Simola Golf Course and the well established Knysna Golf Course situated on the lagoon. It is situated near the towns of Plettenberg Bay and George, where there is an airport.
Knysna hosts a variety of events annually, which draw local and international visitors alike. Such events include the Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival (late June/early July); the Pink Loerie Mardi Gras (end of April/beginning of May); Gastronomica lifestyle festival, which promotes healthy eating and organic principles(September); and the Rastafarian Earth Festival held at the end of July, celebrating Rastafarian religion, culture and lifestyle.
Knysna Oyster Festival The Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival, held annually in late June/early July, is the town's biggest event. The duration of the festival is ten days, first held in 1983. Oysters, the festival's namesake, are a large component, and approximately 200 000 are consumed over the 10-day period. Many sporting activities take place too, such as rugby, golf, bowls, squash, cycling and marathons. The Knysna Forest Marathon and Half Marathon, as well as the Rotary Cycle Tour draw many a sporting enthusiast to the town.