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During our road trip along the Garden Route, we spent a total of four nights in the charming lagoon town of Knysna. This idyllic coastal town on the Indian Ocean is located in the centre of the official Garden Route, making it an ideal starting point for exploring one of South Africa’s most breathtaking regions.
Knysna stretches along an expansive saltwater lagoon, sheltered by the imposing Knysna Heads – two majestic rocks that act as a monumental gateway to the Lagoon.
Although the town is known as a lively holiday resort and we had previously read that you can find everything but peace and quiet here, we cannot agree more. Knysna offers numerous oases of peace and wonderful nature experiences.
Where is Knysna?
Knysna lies just off the N2, about 110 kilometres from Mossel Bay (the official start of the Garden Route) and about 90 kilometres from Tsitsikamma National Park (the official end of the Garden Route).
Nestled between the Indian Ocean and the impressive Knysna Forest – the largest forest area in South Africa – the town offers the ideal starting point for discoveries along the Garden Route.
The history of Knysna
Knysna, on the Garden Route in South Africa, has a fascinating history. Originally inhabited by the Khoikhoi and later (from 1760) by European settlers, it developed into an important harbour for the timber industry in the 19th century. The Knysna Forest is one of the oldest and largest forests in the country. Today, Knysna combines tradition and modernity and offers travellers an interesting variety of attractions.
The Knysna Lagoon
The fascinating Knysna Lagoon stretches over almost 20 square kilometres and contributes significantly to Knysna’s popularity. This expansive body of water offers both locals and visitors a wide range of water activities. At its widest point, the Lagoon measures an impressive three kilometres, while between the famous Knysna Heads, it is only 230 metres at its narrowest point. A true paradise for explorers and water sports enthusiasts alike.
Are you an oyster lover?
If your answer is ‘yes’, then Knysna is for you. Nowhere else in the country can you enjoy more fresh oysters because they are farmed in this world-renowned Lagoon. If you want to find out more about the fascinating world of oyster farming, we recommend booking an Oyster Cruise. There are numerous vendors to choose from; below are some recommended links for you. Bon Appétit!
The Knysna seahorses
Address: Unnamed Road, Thesen Island, Knysna, 6570, Südafrika
Telephone: +27 44 302 5600
Sunset Cruise Knysna
The sunset cruise on the Knysna Lagoon was undoubtedly one of the highlights of our trip. Shortly before we set sail, the last clouds in the sky disappeared, and the wind settled down. We were warmly welcomed on board by the friendly crew of Ocean Sailing Charters, with ice-cold bubbly to celebrate the beautiful experience.
Due to the limited number of guests, it was easy for everyone to find a comfortable spot on the catamaran. The crew also provided warm blankets (although we did not need them due to the perfect warm summer temperature and almost no wind).
Our catamaran cruised along the majestic rocks on the western side of the Lagoon to the Knysna Heads. We were pleasantly surprised when the captain navigated our way through the natural harbour out into the open Indian Ocean. All of a sudden, our captain increased the speed of the catamaran without saying a word. The next minute, he pointed to a whale not far from us! We then sailed alongside the whale for a while before returning to the Lagoon. Shortly after that, we enjoyed a delicious dinner on board while admiring the breathtaking sunset. The sunset cruise was the most magical ending to our Knysna visit.
The Knysna Heads- A breathtaking view of the lagoon
The Knysna Heads refers to the two striking rocks at the entrance to the Lagoon, which form one of the most dangerous harbour entrances in the world. In the past 300 years, 44 ships were wrecked here.
Although the imposing rocks are visible from below, the view from the top will take your breath away! The best place to admire the Heads is from the eastern rock. You can drive to the top of the eastern viewpoint, where you will find a parking area from which you can walk along the path with several smaller viewpoints. To find the viewpoint, enter “Knysna Heads viewpoint car park” in your navigation application. Once you arrive at the car park, you should make your way to the first breathtaking viewpoint (a few steps from the parking) to witness the most dramatic panorama views of the entire Lagoon.
The path continues towards the ocean, where impressive views of the sea and the beaches at the foot of the cliffs await. One of these beaches is Coney Glen Beach, a secluded spot that can be easily reached by car. To find the beach, enter “Coney Glen Parking” in Google Maps, and you will find a small car park a few minutes walk from the beach.
A visit to the East Head Cafe at the foot of the cliffs is also worthwhile. From here, you can enjoy an outstanding view of the Knysna Lagoon.
The Knysa Waterfront
The Knysna waterfront is known as the town’s tourist hub. However, anyone who has been to the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town will be disappointed with this one. Nevertheless, a visit to this harbour is recommended, not only because several boat trips depart from there. There are also world-class seafood restaurants, such as 24 Degrees South (our favourite). Even though the atmosphere is somewhat subdued during the day, the waterfront takes on a new personality at sunset. Besides the many restaurants, there are also a few souvenir shops, boutiques and other touristy shops.
Thesen Island- An island with history and modern flair
We spent two nights on Thesen Island in Knysna, which was way too short to experience everything we wanted to. The island was named after the Norwegian timber merchant Arndt Leonard Thesen, who settled there in 1869. He founded a flourishing timber trading company, which was originally known as Paarden Island. In 1904, Leonard’s son bought the island and converted it into a timber processing factory. Soon, the island became known as Thesen Island.
In 1998, the reengineering of the island was initiated. More than 100 conditions had to be met in order to protect the sensitive ecosystem. In order to generate more land and waterfront space, Thesen Island was divided into 19 individual islands, which initiated the official new name, Thesen Islands. Since then, many of the old factories, even the former clinic, have been repurposed and now serve as hotels and restaurants. One such example is the Turbine Hotel (where we stayed). Here, guests can admire the restored machines that have been affectionately integrated into the hotel’s guest spaces, giving one fascinating insight into the town’s history. We highly recommend this extraordinary hotel.
The shopping district of Thesen, Harbour Town, is a popular meeting place to enjoy up-market shopping or dining in one of the many cosy restaurants. Various boat tours (such as ours) also depart from the smaller harbour on Thesen Island.
Leisure Island, Knysna
Leisure Island is another island in the Knysna Lagoon. This island, which is mainly a residential area, has smaller beaches, a nature reserve and several cosy cafés and restaurants. It is worth a stopover on your way to the Knysna Heads. In the Steenbok Nature Reserve, you will find charming paths along the Lagoon that invite you to stroll along the water’s edge. The beaches of Leisure Island have safe swimming areas and calm waters, which are ideal for snorkelling in the Lagoon.
Featherbed Nature Reserve
The Featherbed Nature Reserve is a private nature reserve on the western side of the Lagoon’s cliff of the Knysna Heads. In addition, the reserve has a hiking trail, restaurants, and a fleet of boats to rent. The nature reserve is ideal for lagoon cruises, nature trails and walks along the Knysna Heads. The location is ideal for hosting private functions, conferences or a wedding at one of the many venues. Note that this nature reserve is only accessible by boat, which must be considered when hosting an event.
The town centre of Knysna
The Main Road (N2) leads through the centre of Knysna and presents a lively backdrop with numerous restaurants, cafés, exclusive boutiques and shopping malls. We found the streets a bit too noisy and chaotic, but first-time visitors may want to take a stroll through the town centre.
The Millwood House Museum is the town’s proud heritage museum. It is located along Main Road. Here, you can learn more about the history of the town and the gold mining era which initiated the furniture industry.
Beaches in the Knysna area
Brenton -on-Sea Beac
First and foremost is Brenton Beach in Brenton-on-Sea. This pristine beach is only 15 kilometres from the centre of Knysna. The car park is located directly above the cliff path, which offers breathtaking views of Buffels Bay. For us, this was undoubtedly the most beautiful beach on the Garden Route. A wooden staircase leads down to this expansive, long stretch of the beach (watch our YouTube video about this incredibly beautiful beach). This is where we watched a playful seal in the water. If you enjoy walking along the beach, you can hike all the way to Buffels Bay.
We were so impressed by the stunning views in Brenton-on-Sea that we returned late afternoon to watch the sun set over the sea. Afterwards, we had dinner at the trendy Butterfly Blu restaurant with a panoramic view over the ocean. The food is not great, but the views make up for it.
Buffels Bay, also known as Buffelsbaai in Afrikaans, is located about 20 kilometres from Knysna. This picturesque beach town is the ideal place for a family holiday. Situated on a small headland, Buffels Bay offers untamed and unspoiled beaches. The western side is known for being the safest beach, while the eastern side is ideal for swimming. Numerous restaurants on the beachfront invite beach lovers to spend a relaxing day. So, if you are looking for an intimate beach, Buffels Bay is the right place for you. Buffelsbaai is also the starting point for the family-friendly Buffalo Bay Trail, a short hiking route of around five kilometres through the fascinating coastal vegetation.
The Knyna Forrest
The Knysna Forest stretches over an impressive 80,000 hectares and is considered the largest indigenous forest area in South Africa. The forest was once home to large herds of elephants, of which only a small, shy group is believed to exist today. The old elephant paths now serve as hiking trails for visitors to explore the Knysna Jungle. Daleen Matthee was a famous South African author who wrote several books about the Knysna elephants. The most popular being ‘Circles in a Forest’. You may wish to read some of her world-acclaimed books before visiting the forests
This forest area, known as the Knysna Forest, can be visited all year round and offers a very special atmosphere even in adverse weather. The forest is known for its ‘Big Trees’, which are believed to be more than a thousand years old (you can read more about this, too, in the Daleen Matthee books. In addition to fascinating hiking trails, the forest also offers mountain bike trails, idyllic picnic spots, refreshing waterfalls, unique swimming spots and much more.
Our accommodation in Knysna
We stayed in two different locations and hotels in Knysna
This hotel, formerly a steam power station, is located on Thesen Island. Where once stood sawmills is now home to a 5-star hotel. The lovingly restored machinery of the former power station has been skilfully integrated into the building, giving the hotel a unique atmosphere. Most of the hotel’s rooms offer spectacular views of the canals of Thesen Island. Even if you are not staying there, we highly recommend a visit to the hotel to admire its interior and savour the hotel’s excellent cuisine.
This oasis of tranquillity is situated just outside Knysna, directly on the picturesque Knysna Lagoon. The 5-star hotel, surrounded by spacious gardens, impresses not only with its attentive and friendly staff but also with the most spacious suites (you have to witness it to believe us). Besides the hotel’s great location on the Lagoon, it offers two heated pools and a complimentary boat trip on the Lagoon.
We can honestly say Knysna surpassed our expectations. However, the town itself is not one of the most picturesque places on the garden route. Plettenberg Bay offers a much more pleasant experience from this point of view. However, Knysna is one of those places that you cannot admire only in photos; it’s a place to be experienced.
In our next blog article, we tell you more about our favourite town on the Garden Route – Plettenberg Bay.