Many folks that visit South Africa will prioritize two things: Safari and Cape Town. What is often overlooked due to trip length and maximizing vacation time, is the Garden Route of South Africa. It is the equivalent of driving along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in the US but through several small towns along the Southern South African coast. Starting in Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha) and ending in Hermanus, the Garden Route is for those that enjoy scenic rides and a bit of a reprieve from the bustling metropolises of Johannesburg or Cape Town.

Halfway through the scenic road trip, we had a two night stay in Knysna. Let me tell you… I wish we had 5 nights in Knysna for how beautiful and perfect it was!

View from my bedroom in a small bed and breakfast.

Knysna is a small community formerly known for its fantastic oyster population in the estuary, which is protected from the open ocean by the Two Heads. The commercial oyster farming was huge as it was the perfect environment for them to grow. Turns out some thought-to-be-extinct seahorse lived in the estuary which resulted in all commercial oyster farming to be shut down. Now the bay is just for personal fishing, cruises, and smaller boating activities.

The community is now largely a retiree / summer destination / tourist destination for South Africans and international travelers alike. The main reason we fell in love with it is for the breathtaking views with the town built into the cliffs and every step overlooks the water and reveals yet another beautiful vista.

Note the beautiful greenery from the mountainscape behind me!

The town is largely navigable by foot or by short car trips to/from your lodging. We took advantage of the spiraling and steep roads to find overlooks and took mini hikes throughout our stay there. I was also able to run along the town’s jogging trail which overlooked the estuary for miles. It is a beautiful place for athletes and those looking to slow down from the big city.

What I did not realize until arriving is how big golfing is for folks in Knysna, as we drove through several golf courses to our Airbnb including Pezula Golf Course, Simola Golf Course and the Knysna Golf Course situated on the lagoon. Golf + Retirees = True Love!

Knysna represents the Garden Route beautifully, as those visiting get the scenery, the outdoor activities, fresh seafood and animal sanctuaries. It is no wonder it is an idilic destination for so many. In normal, non-COVID times there is even a Knysna Oyster Festival held every year in June or July where about 200,000 oysters are consumed over the 10 day period.

Me + Oysters = True Love!

Now that you have a bit of background, I’ll walk through our mini itinerary of the three days spent in Knysna.

Day 1: Arrival

We started off the day in Port Elizabeth and made our 3 hour trek along the scenic garden route drive. Along the way we stopped at the Monkeyland and Birds of Eden Sanctuary. They were charging full freight tickets for foreigners, but great to get local pricing to see all the different monkeys and birds.

The Monkeyland was built in a way that the monkeys are free roam within a large netted area. There are only guided tours available for this reason, as the guide is mindful of the tourists not messing with the monkeys and vice versa. The tour was a little under and hour and we slowly strolled the ground with monkeys following along beside us in anticipation of some treats. Many were sent from defunct zoos or privately owned, which is an interesting take on owner surrendered animals. Here I thought that just applied to dogs and cats.

What we enjoyed the most was Birds of Eden, again another netted enclosed area where the birds can fly freely within it. The vibrancy of many of these animals was beautiful and the grounds themselves were expansive. We were the only single late 20s people there, but we were having just as much fun as the kiddos having an educational experience with their parents. To top off a great self guided tour, the coffee shop overlooking a pond was actually delicious and not overpriced. Shocker one could exist at a zoo or tourist attraction.

After our 2 hour break we rolled into Knysna proper around 4pm. We were the only patrons at the Bed & Breakfast and so we got upgraded to a suite (of sorts) complete with a massive peach colored 1980s master bathroom. The location was right next to the heads, so we dropped our bags and walked about 10 minutes around the windy public trail to the look out point of the Knysna Heads. Immediately amazed by the views not only from our bedroom, but just up the street on a public trail.

That evening we asked our property owner for dinner suggestions and got his recommendation for a taxi driver, even though everything in town is only 10min away. The taxi driver took us to the liquor store (bless him) and then to Freshline Fisheries which is BYOB and outdoor picnic benches. I was not totally prepared for the outdoor part and would’ve brought a thicker jacket, but they had a fantastic amount of fresh caught seafood and we went to town on their platter style meal while splitting a bottle of wine. Freshline Fisheries is a mere 20M from the shore as well. You know that seafood was swimming around earlier that day.

Day 2

Early start and headed out on a run around town. The hills are a bit brutal near the heads, so once I reached the golf course area and connected up with the public running trail, it was smooth sailing. Easy peasy to sneak in a quick 5 miles before breakfast.

Shortly after breakfast we drove to Robberg Nature Reserve to do what we expected to be a nice hike. Nice hike does begin to describe it. Robberg stunned us, as we hiked around a peninsula with amazing views and look outs. It is by far the best hike I’ve ever been on, and I’m fairly qualified to say this since I’ve done the Everest base camp trek. We opted for the 5K route and took our time to pause, take pictures, and enjoy the scenery. It felt like I imagine New Zealand to be. At one point we came to a narrow part of the peninsula and had 360 degrees of beach due to the shaping of the land mass from the winds. Incredible. All in all we soaked up the 2 hour hike and views.

Nearing noon, we wanted to prioritize the Knysna Elephant Park, what we had understood as a must see. We enjoyed learning about the elephant’s paths to the sanctuary, again many from defunct zoos, private collections, circuses, you name it. It was a timed ticket out to the pasture and we opted to buy the fruit bucket for our friends. What was odd and perhaps a function of our era, is that the guide was trying to turn it into an instagram photo shoot. I’m all for a picture of us and capturing a cool event, but it was almost a bit….much. Coaching through the photos to the point where we had to say “oh we are good, thank you! Just want to stand here next to them.” Aside from that quirk, the ability to be next to such a grand animal is crazy. Their skin is hairy, something I didn’t realize, and eyelashes incredibly thick. We ended up spending less time than we thought – just under an hour, half of which was waiting for our mini Jeep to get us from the lobby.

That evening we booked an Oyster Tour along the Knysna estuary. To our surprise, there were local South Africans with us on the boat! Knysna is a tourist destination both locally and internationally. We went probably 2mph around the bay and it was a fantastic cruise. Fresh oysters shucked on board, champagne for everyone and a sunset in Knysna. Couldn’t have been a more perfect day. The tour itself was an hour and a half and I consumed a bit more champagne than intended… thankfully a sushi place was right next to the boat dock! We walked all of 5 feet and devoured our dinner.

Fresh caught oysters from our Sunset Cruise

Day 3: Departure Day

Sadly all good things come to an end. Knysna didn’t want us to leave either though, for after our lovely breakfast we walked outside to a flat tire on our car. Ugh. Luckily our property manager told us about a tire shop next to Freshline Fisheries, and $4 USD and a patch later we were on our way to Hermanus. What is worth mentioning is the stop over we had for lunch along the way. Not really close to anything – Mogg’s Country Cookhouse. Think elevated country, with a charming country dining room. I don’t recommend making the trek from Knysna to Hermanus in a single day (5 hour drive!!) but certainly plan on stopping by Mogg’s to fill and fuel a road weary traveler.

Have you been to South Africa or enjoyed a ride along the Garden Route? Let me know if I missed any of your favorites!

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Posted by:Allie

2 replies on “Knysna: A Must See Town Along South Africa’s Garden Route

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