Well, there are loads more (loads!), but these are probably the most postcard-worthy of them. And, if you’re planning to stay overnight in the Garden Route, they’re a must for your itinerary.
I’ve lived in Knysna along the Garden Route for four years and I’ve given the heads (two mountain pillars that guard the entry from the ocean to the lagoon) and the lagoon a proverbial run for their money in terms of seeing them, loving them, and showing them off to my friends.
But, I’ve neglected the Featherbed Nature Reserve.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. I had my wedding reception at Featherbed, so it always had such a special place in my heart. Then, in the massive fires of 2017, everything was lost.
The magnificent vegetation, the path that wound its way to the top of the West Head, and the absolutely gorgeous restaurant, which lay on the water’s edge and was shaded by beautiful milkwood trees. All gone. It seemed dismal, destitute, pointless.
But, the people of Knysna were so determined to resurrect this little town and all that it had to offer. And the hard-working folk behind Featherbed were determined to do even more.
They wouldn’t only get back what they’d lost. They were determined to make it even more magnificent, ecologically valuable, and more fun than before.
I was invited to do the eco-tour of the reserve, which is undergoing constant rehabilitation, and was nothing short of blown away by how it has recovered in less than two years. Obviously, this has been the result of some major work and dedication.
The Eco-Tour at Featherbed Nature Reserve
The tour starts at the Knysna Waterfront, which is home to a small working harbour.
We hopped onto the Spirit of Knysna boat, a big ferry that is spacious and comfortable, with open sides to enable you to take fabulous pictures along the way.
It takes about 30 minutes to cross the lagoon, while the guide shares interesting info about the history of the town, its animals, and the luxurious homes perched along the banks of the estuary.
On arrival at Featherbed, we walked a short uphill to the transport, which I can only describe as the 4 x 4 version of a kiddies’ train. It’s actually called a Unimog. There are a number of open-air carriages, so that dozens of people can be transported to the top of the mountain.
We climbed the narrow path in our train-cum-truck, while our guide told us more about the fires, the damage they caused, and what’s being done to make sure that the vegetation is as “pure” and well cared for as possible.
Folks, they hand-weed the West Head. They weed it by hand!
They do this so that they don’t have to use harmful chemicals and they can prevent the invasive exotic species from taking over. But, how incredible is that commitment to biodiversity and eco-health? Tres impressed.
Once we got to the dizzying heights of the head, we could look down onto the incredible passageway between the two mountains, where many ships have met a tragic fate, and out onto the wild waters of the ocean. Really breath-taking stuff.
Then, we could choose whether to walk down to the restaurant below, or to take the truck back. I walked.
The walk is about 2.5 kilometres long, with hundreds of steps down. I’m not exaggerating. I stopped counting at 300 steps (I had a chatty walking partner who was messing with my numbering system), and we were only about halfway through.
But, they’re small and relatively easy (unless you’re not comfortable on slightly uneven ground).
The views along the way are just so spectacular, and there are beautiful little features like wooden bridges, viewing platforms, caves, rock pools, and railway tunnels that keep you intrigued and make for stunning photo opportunities.
It takes about 40 minutes to finish the walk at a reasonably consistent pace; from the top of the mountain to the restaurant below. Of course, if you want to stop along the way and take pictures, you can add a few minutes onto that.
The Restaurant at Featherbed
Then, the restaurant. Oh my hat, that restaurant. You sit under the trees, enjoying a buffet of rare beef steak, pickled fish, tender calamari, roast chicken, a variety of breads (including traditional roosterbrood with lashings of butter, if you want), roast vegetables, pickled vegetables, more salads than you know what to do with, and delicious treats (like snoek balls).
The staff are friendly and helpful, and the buffet is available until you’re too full to roll back to it. Just for the record, that wasn’t my goal. For dessert, there was cheesecake, traditional milk tart (it’s like the cold tart version of a chai latté – creamy with vanilla and cinnamon), vanilla ice-cream with chocolate sauce, malva pudding and custard, and fresh watermelon slices.
The restaurant has been revamped completely, and combines rustic with industrial, bringing the outdoors in and vice versa. It’s a very special space where natural materials and breath-taking lagoon views make any meal particularly memorable.
Tables are made with pieces of wood that have been left as true to their natural contours as possible, and the dappled shade of the trees and the cool air coming off the lagoon make it particularly comfortable, even on a sweltering summer’s day.
After this amazing lunch, we headed back to the Waterfront on the boat. The whole excursion took four hours.
As one of Knysna’s oldest attractions, the Featherbed Nature Reserve certainly doesn’t disappoint. I’d also love to take my family, because it’s ideal for kids with an adventurous spirit (read: excess energy to burn).
Contact the Featherbed Nature Reserve
To book your eco-tour to Featherbed Nature Reserve, call +27 (0)44 382-1693.