The outpourings of sympathy and assistance from people all over the country has been incredible.
Knysna, in particular, was hard hit – the Featherbed ferry dock has burnt down (which hasn’t stopped ferries from operating), and Pledge Nature Reserve will look more than a little bare. It’s the suburbs of Knysna, more than the tourist areas, that have felt the impact…
Amazingly, the Garden Route town is business-as-usual. Thesen Island and the Waterfront are fine. Around 4 000 beds are available to visitors, and many of the attractions that make Knysna and the Garden Route so beautiful, remain unspoilt.
But, they’re going to need a record number of visitors for things to improve. So, if you need an excuse to visit the Garden Route (and who needs an excuse to visit one of the most beautiful parts of the country?), this is it!
Attend the Oyster Festival, 7-16 JULY 2017
Knysna Tourism confirmed that the annual Pick n Pay Oyster Festival 2017 will go ahead as planned. It’s a jampacked week with live music, comedy, whisky evenings as well as major sporting events – the Big5 Sports Challenge, the Momentum Knysna Cycle Tour MTB and Road Races, the Simola Phantom Night Run, the Knysna Wine Festival and Night Market and the Momentum Knysna Forest Marathon.
There’s also a Women’s Walk. Download the Oyster Festival programme from their website (but book your accommodation early!). The Comedy Chuckle (13 July) is worth booking your tickets from webtickets ahead of time.
Tour the 7 Passes
Despite recent upgrades to the road (in preparation for the annual 7 Passes MTB Challenge, which has been postponed as a result of the fires), it looks as though the 7 Passes Route is open to vehicles.
This used to be the major highway connecting George and Knysna. Designed by Thomas Bain, it’s now more of a country lane when compared with the modern N2. But the scenery and exciting drive are second to none and it’s a wonderful alternative across 10 rivers, seven gorges and eight mountain passes.
See the Whales
See Southern Right whales and Humpback whales in the waters off Knysna’s Heads – Ocean Odyssey gets you up close and personal on their boat tours from Thesen Harbour Town jetty.
Even pods of killer whales have been sighted just beyond the Knysna Heads, although this is a rare occurrence.
Hike the forest
Knysna’s iconic indigenous forest, filled with yellowwoods and several endangered species, has escaped the recent fires unscathed, and between Goudveld and Diepwalle the forest is accessible. This is South Africa’s largest portion of Southern Afrotemperate forest. Walk it.
Spend the day at Buffalo Bay Beach
Buffalo Bay, according to Mike Hampton of the blog Knysna Keep, lost their golf course, and the gorgeous Riverdeck restaurant overlooking the Goukamma River. But all the houses are safe due to incredible work from the fire department. And their beautiful blue flag beach is open for visitors. Look out for pods of dolphins.
Hike up to Spitzkop Viewpoint
It’s ironic that this wonderful viewpoint was described, way before the recent fires, as ‘an ideal spot to watch for forest fires’.
It is the most beautiful viewpoint around Knysna and the highest point above the town – you can hike or drive there along the Prince Alfred Pass. It isn’t clear whether it was involved in the recent mountain fires.
Take along a picnic or snacks as there aren’t restaurants or coffee shops along the route.
E A T
Take in a restaurant at Knysna’s Waterfront
Knysna’s modern Waterfront Quays are what the V&A Waterfront is to Cape Town – they’re a drawcard for any visitor to the town, not least because they offer a myriad restaurants, shops and some accommodation.
East Head Café
If you’re after seafood or a great plate of fish and chips (their Cape Malay seafood curry is second to none) then head to East Head Café. Besides, the views out over the Knysna estuary are fantastic, and there’s a children’s play area just off the patio.
African Bean for coffee
The coffee is great, but the hot chocolate with Belgian chocolate is even better, as are their muffins.
Il de pain for artisan breads
After suffering a fire of their own, in 2015, Il de pain re-opened to once again produce quite the best pastries, breads and simply delicious dishes – if the smell doesn’t get you, then the newer décor will! Though you might have to wait for a table.
The VegTable Private Dining Room
As its name suggests, this restaurant celebrates vegetables, particularly local, organic and foraged vegetables from local farms and gardens in Rheenendal. Produced by botanist chef Brett Garvie the menu changes as the seasons do. Expect to be delighted.
Breakfast at the Wild Oats Farmers’ Market, in Sedgefield
It’s not much of a drive, and so worth the effort…