Knysna National Lakes Area

A dramatic aerial view of the Knysna Lagoon and the Heads.

The Knysna Lakes Area comprises a stunning stretch of coastal lakes and lush forests.

Province:
Western Cape
Area:
Garden Route
Marine Icon:
Knysna Seahorse
Famous Bird specie:
Knysna Loerie
Famous Tree Specie:
Outeniqua Yellowwood

Introduction

The Knysna National Lakes Area, like the Wilderness and West Coast national parks, is an area where the demands of leisure activities are heavy, and the National Parks Board aims to maintain a healthy balance between conservation of the environment and the utilization and development of recreational facilities. This beautiful region is home to the Knysna sea horse, which is an endangered species, as well as a large variety of marine life. The sandbanks and salt marshes have plenty of life and provide food to organisms.

The lagoon in the Knysna National Lakes Area is rich in invertebrate organisms and fish which in turn support a wide variety of water birds. During summer, birds such as grey plovers and sandpipers can be seen. During the winter, egrets, cormorants, ibises and gulls find sanctuary in the lagoon. Other birds which nature lovers will be thrilled to see are the Cape shoveler, the black-winged stilt, the avocet and the endangered African black oystercatcher. The Knysna Marine Reserve, which falls within the Knysna National Lakes Area, has been established as a closed breeding area for invertebrates (bait organisms) to be used for restocking areas open to exploitation. Fishing is allowed, but no bait may be collected in this area.

The is an area of unsurpassed beauty and splendor, offering various water sports such as boating, angling and diving. Beautiful lush and indigenous forests, tranquil lakes and golden beaches surround it, making it a true natural wonderland. As a result of the laid back lifestyle, Knysna has always attracted people with skills in artistry and crafts and is known as an artists' paradise. There are many galleries where one can enjoy the works of local artists and appreciate the talent produced here.

Reasons to Visit

1

Water world

The estuary and the rivers and streams that make their way down through the mountains to the Indian Ocean offer guests a myriad water-based activities. Power-boating, diving, canoeing in the rivers, taking a dip in the ocean or hiking alongside a river en route to the beach are all on the cards.

2

Elephant Sanctuary

Knysna is famous for the elephants that used to roam the mountains and hills freely, before they were hunted to extinction. It has been reported recently that a couple of wild elephants are still active in the Garden Route National Park, but catching a glimpse would be almost impossible. Luckily the Knysna Elephant Park can still provide visitors a personal encounter.

3

Adventure Seekers

If you are looking for something more out of your African experience, look no further. Paragliding, powered paragliding and skydiving opportunities are sure to sweep you off your feet. No experience is required, as guests are in tandem with an experienced instructor. There is no better way to view the estuary than from this vantage point.

Useful Info

Getting There
Plane

By Air

The Knysna Lakes Area is a hop, skip, and a jump from George. Travelers to the area can fly from any of the major airports to George International Airport. George is conveniently located on what locals like to refer to as the ‘South Coast’, and flights from Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg are all under two hours.

Car

By Road

Guests to the Knysna Lakes Area will be transported from George Airport in a private, air-conditioned vehicle past Victoria Bay, Wilderness and the quaint town of Sedgefield before reaching Knysna. It is a short drive, but also one of the most beautiful in South Africa. The winding road cuts through forests, with the ocean to the right and the mountains to the left.

Weather & Best Time To Visit

The Knysna Lakes Area is part of the green belt that stretches over the Southern Coast of South Africa, and its lushness can be attributed to the rains that fall throughout the year. The rainfall average for the summer is about 75 mm per month, and 71 mm per month in the winter.  Most days, however, are sunny, and the area is a great place to visit throughout the year.

The area's Mediterranean climate means that summers aren’t too hot and winters aren’t too cold.  Summer temperatures vary between 24°C and 30°C and rarely go above 30°C. The average maximum temperature during the winter is around 16°C and at night it usually drops to about 10 degrees. The temperate climate is another reason that so many activities can be found in the area.

History

The word ' Knysna' comes from the original inhabitants, the Khoikhoi. The name means ‘fern’. The 'k' is silent, but indicates that the word started with a click. Europeans arrived at Knysna in the 1760’s and established a farm called Melkhoutkraal. The first farmer, Stephanus Ter Blans, was given a loan permit to farm here in 1770. George Rex is credited with being the founder of Knysna. The British-born entrepreneur was long rumored to be a royal bastard of King George III. Rex acquired the loan rights to Melkhoutkraal in 1804 and to another farm, Welbedacht (renamed Eastford), in 1816. Rex gave 32 hectares of Eastford to the colonial government, where the Royal Navy established the township of Melville.

Knysna started developing commercially after the Thesen family arrived from Norway on a sailing ship, the Albatross. The Thesens brought with them sailing, commercial and practical skills. They started extracting and exporting timber, established a saw mill and even manufactured small boats. Knysna even experienced a minor gold rush after a golden nugget was found in the Karatara River in 1878. This fast developing port then became infamous for the dreaded Knysna Heads that ships had to enter the estuary through. The famous coxswain and pilot John Benn became known for guiding ships through this treacherous port. The Heads are still count amongst most dangerous port entries in the world.

Wildlife

At first glance, Knysna might not seem to be full of wildlife, but at closer inspection this will most definitely prove false. The estuary is teeming with life. A specie that can only be found here - and some surrounding rivers - is the Knysna seahorse. It is a treat to dive in the Knysna estuary and spot this endangered little seahorse amongst the marine vegetation. It is the world’s first seahorse to be listed as endangered. If you don’t want to get wet, you can also just go look at it in the SANParks Thesen Island office. For anyone keen to dive, the Knysna estuary is an underwater wonderland filled with indigenous fauna and flora as well as a number of shipwrecks.

Birds are plentiful. The estuary provides the perfect habitat for marine birds. Thus seagulls, cormorants and even the endangered southern black oystercatcher are spotted frequently. The area is host to five kingfisher species, and fish eagles are common. The nearby natural indigenous forests contain the famous Knysna Loerie, also known as the Knysna Turaco. The large indigenous forests have antelope like bushbuck, blue duiker, common duiker and steenbok. Leopards and caracals also move through these forests, though very stealthily. Recently, when trying to capture leopard footage on camera traps, the Cape Leopard Trust even got one sneaky photo of the thought-to-be extinct Knysna elephant!   

Vegetation & Terrain

A large part of the Knysna Lakes Area recently joined with the Wilderness and Tsitsikamma regions previously protected by SANParks to create the Garden Route National Park. The Knysna Lakes Area is of critical importance to the area due to the fact that it encompasses the most important estuarine ecosystem in South Africa, being the largest along the southern coast of Africa. It is also the only known natural estuarine bay in the warm temperature region. The endemic estuarine is also the natural habitat for the rare Knysna Goby and Knysna Seahorse. An estuary acts as a nursery and important feeding ground for marine animals.

Flanking the estuary, two geological features, known as the Knysna Heads, tower over the estuary like sentinels. The eastern head can be visited at any time and a lookout point has also been constructed here. The western head is located on a privately owned reserve. Looking inland from the heads, the Knysna Forest and its closed-canopy stretches further along both directions. The indigenous forest is accompanied by fynbos vegetation which has over 8 000 plant species and falls within the Cape floral kingdom. Although the entire forest is protected, the Outeniqua yellowwood, real yellowwood, milkwood, and stinkwood count among those who have received the highest level of protection.

Activities

Knysna is an all-in-one area in terms of wildlife, landscapes and adventure. Some of the best hiking trails in the country can be found in the area, and encompass a series of settings which includes the famed Knysna Forest and coastal regions. The lagoon and Knysna Heads are ideal spots for landscape photographers or those in search of a breathtaking view. A round of golf can be enjoyed at the impressive Simola Golf and Country Estate, and boating, diving and various other water activities are available for those more comfortable on or in the water. If neither tickles your fancy, paragliding is also quite popular in the area.

If you are traveling with the kids, sand boarding, acro-branching, a trip to Monkeyland or the Knysna Elephant Park are a few activities to keep in mind (there are really too many to list). If it’s a more relaxed experience you prefer, try a sunset cruise on the lagoon, a day at the beach or a picnic in the woods. The area is known for its creative flair, and a visit to one of the many art galleries or museums are guaranteed to impress. There are also various weekly and monthly local markets and events, where local craft-makers gather. If you love wine or beer, a visit to the Packwood Wine Estate & Vineyard or Mitchell's Brewery should be on your to do list.

Experiences to be Savored

A close-up of a Knysna seahorse in the Knysna Lagoon.

Horsing around

It is imperative that you get to know the Knysna Seahorse, the little creature that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. A trip to the SANParks office in Thesen Island offers visitors the opportunity to view them from up close and learn more about this endangered lagoon-dweller.

Tree hugging

Hugging the big tree, also known as the King Edward VII tree, near Diepwalle Forest Station has become somewhat of a tradition. Go and give some love to the big Outeniqua yellowwood, which is estimated to be between 800 and 900 years old.

Forest Legends

Probably one of the best kept secrets of the Knysna Forest, the Forest Legends Museum is situated in the Diepwalle region of the Knysna Lakes Area and holds historical and environmental treasures such as a skeleton of one of the famed Knysna elephants - legends in their own right.

FAQ

Are there places to shop?
Yes. A lot of shops line Knysna's main road and larger shopping centers are also available.
Can you go fishing in the lakes?
Yes, fishing is allowed at most lakes. The best times are either early morning or early evening.
How deep is the Knysna lagoon?
The Knysna Lagoon is quite shallow, with a maximum depth of approximately 12m.
Are there any picnic areas?
There are plenty of areas to enjoy a picnic, especially near the Knysna forest and the viewpoints of the Knysna Heads.
What type of food can we expect in the area?
There is a large variety of seafood available, and Knysna is well known for its oysters.
Can I go out on the lagoon?
Yes, boating and kayaking are the most popular ways to explore the lagoon.
Are there any wild elephants left in the Knysna Forest?
Contrary to popular belief, and quite amazingly, there are. Researchers are unsure of the exact amount, but believe that there could be up to five currently roaming the forests.

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