Located on a tidal lagoon, Knysna (the ‘k’ is silent) is now one of the main hubs of the Garden Route, and makes an ideal base from which to explore. Its name derives from a Khoi word, meaning ‘hard to reach’ – which remained true into the 20th century, and which preserved the Georgian and Victorian buildings at the heart of the village.
In the 19th century, Knysna was a small village in the midst of massive yellowwood and stinkwood forests, settled by woodcutters and their families. It developed as a port for the timber trade. Fortunately, conservation policies introduced in the late 19th century saved some of the remaining forest, and, without trees to fell, the timber trade went into decline.
Knysna has a human-size centre, with many excellent shops, restaurants and delicatessens; and great seafood, including cultivated and wild oysters. The Knysna Quays are a small-scale waterfront complex and marina where you can wander round the boutiques, eat delicious oysters, or sip a cooing drink looking out over the lagoon.
Sit on the quay and watch the world go by; take a boat trip across the lagoon to Featherbed Nature Reserve and around Knysna Heads; or discover the superb forests, lakes, mountains and rivers nearby. There is a plethora of wildlife, including waterfowl and forest birds, and the area has some of the best golf courses in South Africa. Knysna is not the place for the beach, but there is fine swimming in the lagoon and the stunning beach at Brenton-on-Sea is only 20 km away.