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WESTERN CAPE: Our insider’s guide to Knysna

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A town which attracts tourists with its mild climate, beaches, festivals and events offers a laid-back and safe environment with all the amenities, including shopping malls, hospitals and schools

Blessed with a moderate climate, a protected lagoon, the warm waters of the Indian Ocean and abundant natural resources, Knysna is arguably the jewel in the Garden Route crown, but it hasn’t been plain sailing – the devastating fires in 2017 almost destroyed this tight-knit community.

Steeped in a rich history associated with the timber industry – the name Kynsna comes from the Khoisan word for “place of wood” – forestry still plays a big part in the local economy, but tourism is now the main driver.

Anchored by its quaint and historical character, Knysna has all the amenities required of a modern town: shopping malls, private and provincial hospitals, and excellent public and private schools.

Born and bred Knysna resident Nelis Genade is a fan: “I was raised here, so it’s always been home. While the only constant in life is change, Knysna has always retained its village feel. It’s a place where time slows and you can enjoy the natural beauty of the surrounds.”

It has also become well-known for hosting high-profile events, notably the Oyster Festival in June. Other than feasting on oysters, the main attractions are the forest marathon, a major bridge tournament, road cycling and mountain bike races. These events draw entries from thousands of competitors nationally. 

It is also becoming a magnet for motorsport and car shows. The 10th Knysna Jaguar Simola Hillclimb took place this year, drawing high-priced, high-powered vehicles vying for the King of the Hill honour. Run over four days and catering for vintage and current models, it has become one of the most prestigious events on the national motor racing calendar.

The Knysna Lagoon, with the estuary entrance protected by The Heads – the undoing of many a vessel – is popular with water sports and fishing enthusiasts. It is also the presence of the Knysna seahorse which sets this pristine space apart.

“The demand for residential property from economically active locals is bolstered by the needs of retirees and non-residents seeking holiday homes. The market is comprised of homes catering to the needs of all these groups,” says Re/Max Coastal broker/owner Schalk van der Merwe.

Modest one-bedroomed apartments begin at around R650 000, while owning your island comes in at R20 million plus, he says.

Thesen Islands has homes on canals with their own jetties. Picture: Supplied

Knysna also has a few retirement villages, with prices varying from R2.8m for a two-bedroomed unit to R3.2m for a three-bedroomed unit. “At the top end of the market, Pezula and Simola golf estates are also popular. Prices vary from R400 000 to R13m for erven and R2.5m to R22m for homes,” says Van der Merwe.

Thesen Islands boasts luxury homes, most on canals with private jetties. Prices start from R4m for apartments and R6.5m for houses. The average price is around R7.2m.

A few private islands exist, going for R20m. “Knysna’s residential market is buoyant and popular with residents relocating from cities to a more relaxed and safer environment without sacrificing amenities. The amenable climate ensures winters are warmer than further north.

“And the way the community pulled together in the face of the recent fires pays testament to the spirit of the people.”

Nelis Genade’s favourite things to do 

I was raised here, so it’s always been home for me. While the only constant in life is change, Knysna has always managed to retain its village feel. It’s a place where time slows and you can enjoy the natural beauty of the surrounds. – Resident Nelis Genade Picture: Supplied

1 Outdoors

Walk with elephants. The Knysna Elephant Park began in 1994 with two calves rescued from a cull in Kruger Park. To date, more than 40 of these giant wonders have passed through the park, many rescued from places of distress. It is open 365 days of the year from 9am to 3pm; 044 352 7732.

If packing down with pachyderms is not your scene, perhaps a tandem paraglide flight will get your adrenalin going. Fly Time Paragliding is based in Sedgefield just outside Knysna. For the experienced pilot they offer solo flights, as well as tandem rides for the novice; 072 612 8168.

Take a walk on the wild side in Knysna Elephant Park, a rare opportunity to be close to a pachyderm. Picture: Erin Shattock

2 Eat

Café Mario offers authentic Italian dishes cooked to order. The thin-based pizzas complement a wide range of pastas. It’s advisable to book in season; 044 382 7250.

If seafood is your thing, The Dry Dock Food Company should be your choice. In addition to a comprehensive menu, their oyster tasting is a must – a selection of cultivated and coastal oysters with a glass of bubbly; 044 382 7310.

3 Drink

Muse Fusion Food offers an eclectic relaxed space to unwind and enjoy a drink. There’s a pool table and if you get peckish the pizzas are legendary. Closed on Sundays and Mondays; 044 382 0804.

Project Bar offers an amazing position with views of the lagoon and through The Heads; 044 382 4874.

4 Shop

Since 2000, Harkerville Market has offered typical country fare. A wide selection of goodies is available: crafts; jewellery; food and drink; art and stuff for kids. All under the shade of a giant oak tree; 084 510 9939.

Under new ownership, Oaks on Main is becoming a go-to place for shopping and food. An array of traders – coffee, clothing, food, music, art and gifts on offer; 082 467 3060.

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