Although there is some contestation about what the name ‘Knysna’ means, it is largely agreed to be a Khoi word referring to the rolling valleys and hills of the Knysna forest. And what a forest it is: Its abundance of ferns and winding streams stretch across 20 kilometres before reaching the Outeniqua Mountains further inland. This coastal retreat is one of the Garden Route’s prime attractions, bursting with charm and buzzing with year-round activity thanks to its Oyster Festival, Pink Loerie Mardi Gras, and Knysna Speed Festival.
Knysna has come a long way since the first European settlers arrived in 1760. Many a ship met their ruin attempting to sail through the infamous Knysna Heads into the estuary. As a result, snorkelling and diving in the lagoon yield glimpses of old shipwrecks that have been claimed by the tidal waters. Visitors can now safely pass through the Heads on a yacht or high-adrenaline speedboat.
The Goukamma Nature Reserve is nearby, a perfect stop on the way to the excellent surf at Buffalo Bay while the illustrious golf courses at Conrad Pezula and Simola are the perfect wind-down after a hard day adventuring. Knysna offers a range of accommodation and restaurant types, easily suited to the needs of any visitor.
We've taken the liberty to answer everything you may need to know about visiting Knysna
As a self-drive destination, there are many routes to choose from, all depending on how much time you have! Our guests often ask us how long the ideal Garden Route trip should be. So, here are our thoughts and suggestions to get the ball rolling!
Two Weeks or More
When guests have as much as two weeks, you have enough time to drive the route in both directions and touch on many of the key towns and attractions. We usually recommend starting in Cape Town, then visiting Robertson or Swellendam, enjoying the Route 62, spending time in Oudtshoorn, and finally joining the Coastal Route at George. From here we recommend a few nights in Plettenberg Bay before visiting a game reserve in the Eastern Cape area. On your return to Cape Town, we’d recommend a stop in the Tsitsikamma, then Knysna or Wilderness and a stay along the Whale Route and then Stellenbosch or Franschhoek before heading back to Cape Town.
One Week or More
If your time is limited to a week, we’d recommend a drive along the Coastal Route, spending time in either Knysna or Plettenberg Bay with a day trip to Oudtshoorn. From here you can venture to Eastern Cape for a safari. We’d recommend leaving the car and flying back to Cape Town or to your next destination from Port Elizabeth to save on time.
Three to Four Nights
If your calendar only allows three to four nights on the Garden Route, then we’d probably recommend a guided tour. Our guided tours take the stress out of driving and enable you to see many things in a short time. (We also like to think that they give you a taster for your next trip!)
Less Than Two Nights
You require at least three or four days to explore the Garden Route. If you’ve only got two nights, our consultants will suggest a two-night stay in Hermanus or perhaps spending some time in the Winelands. The Garden Route needs to be enjoyed at leisure, and the long distances mean that a whistle-stop tour is no fun.
In a destination surrounded by nature reserves, mountains, forests, rivers, lagoons, estuaries and beautiful sandy beaches, most of the action takes place outdoors.
Whale-watching is a popular attraction during mating and calving seasons – July to November – and the cliff walks, and vantage points along the coast are excellent. Dolphin and whale cruises offer some extreme close-ups of these fascinating creatures. Not to mention, that brave guests can partake in Shark Cage diving.
Meerkats, ostriches and crocodiles, and olives, vast caves are championed in the Little Karoo that surrounds Oudtshoorn.
Several nature reserves offer spectacular hikes, mountain bike trails, horse trails and canoeing expeditions. Best of the bunch is the peninsula in Robberg Nature Reserve in Plettenberg Bay for hiking, Harkervile forest for biking, Equitrailing for Horses and more. We are the experts because we have done it all ourselves and speak from first-hand experiences.
For those keen to get the adrenaline pumping, Bloukrans Bungee Jump, at 216m, was at one stage the highest in the world. It presents a unique viewpoint of the spectacular gorge — if you can keep your eyes open, that is! Add to that zip-lining through the Tsitsikamma Forests close to Storms River, also an outing of note and one that raises the heart rate just a tad!
The primates at Monkeyland are a superb example of a successful ecotourism venture and is an experience not to be missed. Many rescued primates species have free reign in 23 hectares of forest, crisscrossed with trails and wobbly footbridges suspended between ancient yellowwoods.
Similarly, its neighbours in the Crags, Birds of Eden, The Elephant Sanctuary, Tenikwa et al. are all fine candidates for a full day of rehabilitated animal adventure.
With such spectacular scenery, conventional sporting activities take on unconventional characteristics. This includes swimming, running, hiking, horse riding, mountain climbing, canoeing, cycling, archery, fishing, diving, surfing... we could go on all day!
In particular, golfers are well catered to as courses are of international calibre, in most cases award-winning and offer spectacular scenery. These most notably include Fancourt, Pezula, Oubaai, Pinnacle Point, and Simola.
The Whale Route and Overberg region run from Cape Town to Cape Agulhas and inland to Swellendam. Flanked by some of the most spectacular coastlines in Africa, our Whale Route is worth a stop. Each year, between July and November, our shores are chosen by Southern Right and Humpback Whales to calve, and this has afforded Hermanus the title of “best land-based whale watching” in the world. What better way to walk off a big breakfast than by taking a stroll along its gorgeous coastal promenade? Enjoy the fresh ocean breeze and have your camera ready to capture the creatures frolicking nearby in the bay.
The coastline is also famed for being a great white shark country, with the small coastal town of Gansbaai offering world-famous cage diving and boat-based shark viewing.
Inland the area is equally as spectacular and includes pretty villages such as Stanford, Swellendam, and its botanical gardens, Harold Porter, perched beautifully between mountain and sea. If you have time, consider stopping off at the southernmost tip of Africa at Cape Agulhas where the Indian and Atlantic oceans converge. Don’t forget that Hermanus has a superb wine route, the Hemel en Aarde valley, home to some award-winning estates.
Route 62 makes for the ideal self-drive destination. Passing through many small rural communities, the Route 62 meanders its way between Cape Town and Oudtshoorn. Winding through impressive mountain passes and many beautifully preserved little ‘dorpies’ (small towns) on its way. Route 62 is the inland alternative to N2 which runs closer to our Southern coastline. The route encompasses dramatic mountains, stunning landscapes, scenic passes, rivers, vineyards and fruit orchards as it winds gently through the Breede River Valley and Klein Karoo. Hiking, mountain biking, horse riding and 4x4 trails are found in most of the villages along the way, while others offer fly fishing, canoeing and rock climbing. Then, there are the numerous wine cellars and estates that make Route 62 reputedly the world’s longest wine route.
The perfect base is Oudtshoorn. Celebrating “Afrikaans” culture by offering country and farm-style living, through small and quaint, often quirky properties that allow you the time and vicinity to enjoy the ostriches, crocodiles, caves, meerkats and olives the area is well known for.
Coastal Route, Highlighting Knysna and Plettenberg Bay
Our Garden Route coastal drive portion usually starts in Mossel Bay, with the next stop being George (ever so slightly inland and well-known for its famous Fancourt Golf Course). Wilderness comes next just down the road from George, famed for its wild and impressive stretch of white sandy beach, followed by Sedgefield and then eventually Knysna (pronounced NIZE-na), which nestles on the banks of an estuary, surrounded by forests, lakes and beaches.
A mere 25 minutes ahead, Plettenberg Bay is a seaside destination with spectacular scenery and a bay so beautiful that the Portuguese called it Bahia Formosa, which means “beautiful bay”. Today it’s affectionately known as Plett. Plett offers white beaches and a bay bordered by the protected Robberg peninsula in the south and the Keurbooms estuary in the north, setting the scene for a classic sun-sea-sand holiday destination.
Knysna occupies a narrow shelf between a large lagoon and the sheer Tsitsikamma Mountains. Knysna Lagoon is protected by two large cliffs – called ‘The Heads’ – through which a boat-sized gap leads out into the Indian Ocean. The western arm is a nature reserve accessed by ferry, and the other is home to many of our most recommended boutique properties since their views are breathtaking.
Enjoy a malaria-free safari at the very end of the Garden Route in the Eastern Cape. Port Elizabeth officially marks the end of the Garden Route and is home to an area where early settlers established themselves, thus rapidly affecting wildlife numbers.
However, in 1930, the Addo Elephant Park was established to protect the last remaining animals in the area. Today, it’s a shining beacon to the region and was an instigator of more private farms in the vicinity being slowly purchased and restocked with wildlife over the years. The area is now home to some of South Africa’s most well-known lodges. The lodges are top-rated as they are the closest ‘authentic safari’ experience to Cape Town and is located in a malaria-free area.
Reserves such as Kwandwe, Shamwari, Lalibela, Kariega and Addo Elephant Park, are situated close to Port Elizabeth at the Garden Route’s eastern end. This provides you with a wealth of options that suit all budgets and is a memorable way to end the most wonderful adventure on the Garden Route.
Getting to and around the Garden Route
Most people fly internationally to South Africa into Cape Town Airport or Johannesburg Airport. From here, there are daily flights to and from Port Elizabeth and George (both along the route) if required.
The most exciting and flexible way to appreciate the Garden Route is by hiring a car. This allows you to explore the area at your own pace, as well as the luxury of spontaneity and being able to stop as much or as little as you fancy to get those snaps! It's also the more wallet-friendly means of exploration within our country as you are not paying for a guide, their transport or accommodation. It's also the best destination for those who enjoy self-driving holidays! The roads are extremely well signposted, in excellent condition in accordance with international standards, offering lots of opportunity for gas/petrol stations and loo breaks along the way. Also, of course, our scenery means the journey itself is part of the fun! Some guests choose to drive one direction and fly back the opposite way if time does not allow for exploration with a return trip.
For those who prefer not to drive or have limited time available to them, there is the option to do the area justice with a guided tour. We have some fantastic and uber-experienced guides on-hand.
The most cost-effective tour option is a scheduled shared tour, where you travel with other guests. These include organised inclusions and follows pre-designated stops along the route. If you prefer a private tour, we can tailor it to suit your time, budget and interests. The latter offers more spontaneity because you don't have others to consider. You also have the luxury of choice, which understandably makes it a pricier option.
The Garden Route has a Mediterranean Maritime climate, with moderately hot summers, and mild to chilly winters. It is one of the richest rainfall areas in South Africa. Most of the rains occur in the winter months, brought on by the humid sea-winds from the Indian ocean. The Garden Route's temperate weather falls between two climatic regions of summer and winter rainfall, so it rains mostly at night, keeping the area perennially green.
Spring (Sept): You can feel spring in the air by the end of August and into September. October can be quite mixed because, just when you think summer has arrived, another cold front moves in.
Summer (Nov - Mar): The months of November to March are warmer, with December to February seeing midsummer daily temperatures of about 24-30ºC /75.2- 86ºF.
Autumn (May): Temperatures start cooling down from about April, but it can still be very pleasant until June.
Winter (Jun - Aug): The days may be bright and warm, but it gets cold in the evening and can be rainy overnight (8 -17ºC / 46.4-62.6 ºF).
Yes, a resounding YES! Golfers are spoilt for choice along the Cape and Garden Route. Since we have an abundance of space, so many gorgeous landscapes and varied biomes in our little slice of the world, we have lots to "play with" in terms of creating some of the most wonderful championship courses.
Many of these are top resorts and destinations as a whole too, where one can stay in-house and have access to the leading home courses, as well as the opportunity to explore the experiences that are on offer outside the extensive grounds. Top examples of these and firm favourites for discerning golfers are Pearl Valley, Fancourt and Pezula. Between them, we have Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player designed courses and the most southern golf course in Africa as noteworthy highlights. Just a word of warning that you will get distracted by the beauty of the ocean, vineyards and mountains during the game!
The extraordinary Pearl Valley is located just outside of Paarl, so within our Cape Winelands and ideal as a base here to play and stay. If you stay here as part of a Garden Route itinerary, it will generally be towards the start of your trip — and what a great way to kick things off!
Fancourt is located in the heart of George, towards the middle of the Garden Route. It is home to three championship courses, yet its crowning glory is The Links. We recommend staying on-premises at The Manor. If you are an avid golfer, we recommend a minimum of three nights, especially if you wish to play two of the three courses.
At the very least, you should visit Pezula, meaning "high up with the gods". This course is aptly named as it is perched right on the edge of the Indian Ocean, on Knysna's Eastern Head, the peninsula that divides the town's sleepy lagoon from the wildest of oceans.
Other notable courses along the route worthy of attention are Oubaai (stay in George, Mosselbay or Wilderness), Simola (stay in Knysna or Plett), Pinnacle Point (stay in Mosselbay), or Arabella (stay in Hermanus).