The town of Knysna, in South Africa’s Western Cape Province, is a popular stop along the Garden Route! Situated 25 kilometres west of Plettenberg Bay and 72 kilometres east of George, Knysna is easy to access via the N2 highway – this is the national route that runs from Cape Town all the way to Port Elizabeth, and beyond.
The history of Knysna
Knysna has an interesting history. Its first inhabitants were the Khoikhoi people and its name is thought to mean ‘ferns’. The geography of the area made it less accessible to European travellers than other parts of the region. Nevertheless, the year 1760 witnessed the first arrival of the Europeans, and the establishment of a farm occurred a decade later. The British occupation began in 1804, when entrepreneur George Rex obtained the loan rights to the farm. He acquired further farmland in 1816 and is considered the founder of Knysna. It is possible to visit his grave in the churchyard at Lower Old Place.
The next settler of note is Thomas Henry Duthie, a Scottish captain who married Caroline Rex, George’s daughter, and purchased some farmland from his father-in-law. Duthie oversaw the construction of a small church on his land. Meanwhile, further settlers moved into Knysna, including the Thesen family from Norway. The Thesens stopped off at the town on their way to New Zealand. Enticed by the opportunities for development, they ended up making it their home. They happened to have a lot of experience in commerce and sailing, to the extent that they set up a steam sawmill and a shipyard (later relocated to Thesen Island) for transporting timber from Knysna to other regions all over the Cape!
Knysna’s success in the timber industry was instrumental in the growth of the town. By 1880, Knysna had become home to over a thousand people. It merged with three neighbouring settlements to create a municipality termed ‘The Knysna’. Export of timber continued under George Parkes, with logs from the forests transported overseas. The company Geo Parkes & Sons still operates from 1 St George’s Street today!
Activities & wildlife
The forests surrounding Knysna – temperate rainforests – are just one of this thriving town’s attractions, perfect for walking, hiking, biking, and runs. The terrain is hilly, adjoining the Outeniqua Mountains. At this altitude, colourful fynbos thrive, and you can look out for leopard, grey rhebuck, klipspringer, an assortment of rodents, and plenty of birds. There are a few elephants in residence too – if you’re a fan of the gentle giants, you will love Knysna Elephant Park, for walks and rides!
Knysna’s waters provide opportunities for swimming, kayaking, and fishing. Visitors are advised to keep away from the dangerous Heads, but the estuary (known as Knysna Lagoon) and river are perfect for boat trips and a very scenic swim! The lagoon boasts a number of lovely secluded beaches, and links to Thesen Island along a brick promenade.
The town has a busy calendar of events too. For example, near the end of April you can enjoy the Pink Loerie Mardi Gras. In early May, there’s the Knysna Speed Festival, featuring the King of the Hill Challenge! Late June and/or early July sees the Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival, which lasts for 10 days. And the Rastafarian Earth Festival celebrates Rastafarian culture at the end of July. Throughout the year, various sporting fixtures take place – marathons, rugby matches, cycling tours, and golf tournaments. Keen golfers are spoilt for choice in this region, as there are three world-class courses! These include Knysna Golf Course, on the lagoon.
Knysna contains a good mix of accommodation options – central guesthouses, boutique hotels, forest lodges, and luxurious out-of-town estates. Please check out our property pages and contact us for further information. We look forward to hearing from you!