There is no definite discovery of the meaning of its name but most consider it derived from the Khoisan word for ‘fern’. Locals and regular visitors sometimes refer to her as ‘Nice-Naa’. Knysna is considered by many to be the prettiest town in South Africa.
Knysna, the town, is 60 kilometres east of George and 30 kilometres west of Plettenberg Bay. The N2 (national) highway runs through it. She sits 34 degrees south of the equator, hugging the Knysna Estuary.
The Knysna Municipality a.k.a. the Greater Knysna, stretches from Sedgefield to Harkerville, along the coast, and from the coast to the Outeniqua Mountains. Alongside the Indian Ocean, it encompasses the towns/villages of Sedgefield, Knysna itself and Harkerville. Inland, it holds the farming communities of Rheenendal and Karatara as well as many forests of which the most famous are Diepvalle and Gouna.
You can read about Knysna’s history here.
The 2011 Census put Knysna’s population at 68 000 but it is likely higher. Coloured and black people make up 80% of the town with whites at 19%. Over the past decade, there’s been a steady increase in Africans from other countries such as Malawi, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Mali. Of particular note has been the increase in Chinese businesses since 2010. Indians are scarce as residents but expected to increase as Indian tourists have become a regular feature since 2012.
Like many small, South African towns, Knysna expresses great disparity between the rich and the poor. Because she’s a small town, based mostly on hills and bluffs that look down on the Knysna Estuary, the contrast can be highly visible with housing prices varying from R30,000 to R25-million within a scant 5km. After the 2008 stock crash, the economic return to reality has witnessed the middle class shrinking with many white people leaving for the cities. Wages are low and unemployment high (with the coloured population hit hardest at 50%). Alcohol and drug abuse (mostly tik) is highest among the poor.
Knysna is one of South Africa’s most well loved tourist destinations. For overseas travellers, she’s a particular favourite for the Germans and Dutch.
Knysna is also well-known for events such as the Knysna Literary Festival, Knysna Oyster Festival and the Knysna Arts Festival. Golf is popular all year round.
Knysna’s biggest boast is her natural beauty which features forests, lakes, the most famous estuary in the country, beaches and the sea. Landmarks (and free attractions) include The Knysna Heads, Noetzie Beach, Knysna Estuary, and Bollard Bay (Leisure Isle).
WILDLIFE & ‘WILDLIFE’
The Knysna Loerie is the unofficial icon of Knysna. It is, in fact, a large turaco and is only found in the forests of southern and eastern South Africa, and Swaziland. In Knysna, it is regularly seen outside the city centre. With green plumage and red underwings, the Knysna Loerie is an incredibly beautiful sight to behold.
The endangered Knysna Seahorse can only be found in three locations over 50km along the Garden Route, of which the only permanent populations are in Knysna and Swartvlei estuaries (both within the Knysna Municipality). It grows up to 12cm in length and ranges in colour from light green to black.
The Brenton Blue Butterfly was discovered in Knysna in 1858. It was not seen again until 1977 in Nature’s Valley (50 km east of Knysna) but that population unfortunately died out during the 1980s. Thankfully, in 1991, it was found at Brenton-on-Sea, a coastal area of Knysna 18km from the town centre. Being endemic to the area, housing development was halted and a nature reserve established.
The Knysna Elephant stirs up much debate over how many exist so that myth and reality often get confused.
Near the end of the 20th century, the majority of the estimated 400-600 herd had been shot. The elephants learned their hard lesson and adapted, becoming more elusive and silent, changing their diet to that more suited to the shelter of Knysna’s massive forests.
With the new century, it was commonly said that there was only 1 wild elephant left (a matriarch). The famous writer and scientist, Lyall Watson, claimed to see a female elephant in 2000. The following year, conservationist Gareth Patterson, took a deeper look which has extended to this day. Through DNA analysis of elephant dung, Gareth has claimed that a young herd exists however SANParks has not supported his claim. Lately, there have been several claims of seeing a younger elephant. Our hope for their return may be finally leaving fantasy for reality.
Knysna has several animal sanctuaries within easy driving distance: