The seaside town of Knysna lies at the heart of South Africa's famous Garden Route, in between the Outeniqua Mountains and the sparkling blue of the Indian Ocean. It has twice been voted South Africa's Number One Favorite Town, and with good reason. It's both friendly and convenient, with plenty of picturesque B&Bs, boutique shops and gourmet restaurants geared towards its booming tourist trade. It also has more than its fair share of attractions, many of which are inspired by the town's spectacular natural setting. This article takes a look at those activities most deserving of a space on your Knysna bucket list.
Note: Much of Knysna was devastated by fires that spiralled out of control in the wake of strong winds caused by the 2017 Cape Storm. Approximately 10,000 people were forced to evacuate, and countless homes and businesses were destroyed. However, tireless efforts to re-build the town have overcome the worst of the damage and as such Knysna remains a truly worthwhile destination for visitors to the Western Cape.
This article was updated by Jessica Macdonald on February 7th 2018.
Spend a Day at the Beach
Knysna's beaches offer a great way to experience the best of the outdoors for free. When the tide is in, there’s safe swimming at Leisure Island's Bollard Beach. With plenty of clean sand, it's also the perfect destination for sand-castle-loving kids; while a nearby picnic site offers BBQ facilities, toilets and shade. If you're after a long, romantic beach walk, try the 5-mile/ 8-kilometer trail from Brenton-on-Sea to dramatic Buffalo Bay.
Find Tranquility in the Forest
Knysna is surrounded by patches of state forest perfect for a wide range of adventurous activities including hiking and mountain-biking. At Millwood, the Homtini Cycle Route offers 12 miles/ 19 kilometers of unspoiled trails, while the Petrus-se-Brand Mountain Bike Trail at Diepwalle winds through the trees for 15 miles/ 24 kilometers. For detailed information about exploring the region's woodland areas, visit the Knysna Tourism website.
Sign Up For a Township Tour
Like most South African towns, Knysna has its own informal settlement, or township. Companies like Emzini Tours offer township tours, which give residents much needed income while also offering visitors an insight into the life of the local Xhosa people. While exploring the township's ramshackle streets, you'll make new friends, visit local schools and businesses and even have the opportunity to sample authentic African cuisine.
Discover the Local Birdlife
Knysna supports a variety of different habitats, making it an optimum spot for birding throughout the year. Look out for waders and sea birds at Woodbourne Marsh and alongside the causeway to Leisure Island; and for African fish eagles upriver of the N2 bridge over the lagoon. In particular, keen birders should keep an eye out for the Knysna turaco, an endemic woodland species with striking green-blue plumage and unmistakeable scarlet-colored under-wings.
Scuba Dive Knysna Lagoon
Recently established as a Hope Spot in recognition of its marine biodiversity, Knysna is a prime destination for scuba divers. The lagoon is home to several interesting macro species, including the endemic and endangered Knysna seahorse. At around 4 inches/ 10 centimeters in length, divers will need a good eye to spot this species; however, there are plenty of larger animals to look out for as well. A favorite dive site is the wreck of the Paquita, a German ship sunk in 1903.
Hang Out With Elephants
For an amazing close encounter with one of Africa's most iconic species, head to Knysna Elephant Park, located just off the N2 between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. The park cares for orphaned, abandoned and abused African elephants, and offers visitors the chance to meet the world's largest land mammal in a natural, cruelty-free setting. There, you can join an elephant-back safari, or accompany the elephants on their daily bush walk.
Admire the Headland Views
Drive to the public lookout on Knysna's Eastern Head for beautiful views of the lagoon, or sign up for an eco-tour at Featherbed Nature Reserve on the Western Head. The tour starts with a 25-minute boat trip across the lagoon, before you’re driven to the scenic viewpoint. Thereafter, you can return by car, or walk approximately 1 mile/ 2 kilometers back through the coastal forest and along the lagoon’s edge in time for an al fresco lunch at the reserve restaurant.
Picnic in a Secluded Cove
Address2 View Point, The Heads, Knysna, 6571, South Africa
Phone+27 74 666 0124
The road over Knysna’s Eastern Head and down the other side is extremely steep in places, but it’s the only way to get to a beautiful sheltered cove called Coney Glen. Here, you can spend a day in blissful peace - perfecting the art of the South African braai at the grassy barbecue area, snorkeling in the adjacent rock pools, or catching a tan on the sandy beach. For photographers, it's one of Knysna's most rewarding spots.
Catch a Fish For Dinner
Address242 State President C R Swart Rd, Brenton-on-Sea, 6571, South Africa
Phone+27 44 382 5510
Whether you opt to join a deep-sea fishing trip or to hire a rod and try your luck from shore, Knysna offers plenty of opportunities for avid fishermen. The lagoon is a prime spot for estuarine species like garrick, kob and spotted grunter, while the beaches of Brenton-on-Sea and Buffalo Bay offer rock-and-surf species like shad, bronze bream and white steenbras. Wherever you decide to fish, don't forget to buy a permit from the Knysna Post Office.
Feast on Fresh Oysters
Knysna is known for the quality of its restaurants, and in particular for its seafood. Oysters are grown in the estuary and are some of the freshest in South Africa - and as such have become synonymous with the town's culinary scene. Sample them for yourself at the eateries on scenic Knysna Quays; hop on a lagoon cruise to snack on oysters while learning all about the local industry; or experience the madness of the town's annual Oyster Festival.