Welcome to another edition of The Shape of The Cape with your tour guide Julescape. Today I’m exploring one of the prime holiday destination towns in the Garden Route region along the south Cape coast of Africa, called Knysna. That’s pronounced with a silent K so it rhymes with “nice” and it is a nice little seaside holiday town frequented by local and international travelers throughout the year.
Summer is of course a perfect time to visit, but winter also has its full share of festivities in the town, since the weather is so mild all year long. The town is more developed than most in the area and could be considered the center of the Garden Route region – a stretch of a few hundred miles along this southern stretch of the African coastline.
One prime feature of Knysna is its lagoon, that flows out to the Indian Ocean via the Knysna Heads, as they’re called, a powerful looking set of cliff tops that stand like mighty pillars through which the sea enters and the estuary exits, depending on the tide. Boats sail through or motor through the heads on their way out to sea. You can imagine how ships may have used this in the past to transport items, and pirates may have found it to be a neat access point to the land as well.
In past decades there was very little control of any sort – like a port authority, harbour master or such customs and immigration check here at the Knysna estuary, and particularly sailing boats could just arrive on the shores of Africa and particularly South Africa without any checks or passport control. This may have changed by now but only recently. So this was always an easy access for smugglers, even up until recent years, when Chinese funded abalone smuggling would ship tons of the sea creature back to their shores illegally.
Abalone poaching still goes on to this day and millions of the shell creature are killed and transported by whole gangs here in this region who probably get a pretty coin from the Chinese criminals back in Asia, where their markets will deal in contraband all day long. So this was and still is a vulnerable port through which the last great pirates of the high seas now smuggle their goods, at our loss and particularly the loss of the ecosystem and endangered species.
Nevertheless, the quay has been amazingly upgraded in recent years, with holiday quayside apartments, where one can park ones sailing boat and simply step onto the jetty and into your home. It looks really pretty. And there are smart shops at what is called the Waterfront, an area of tourist shops and fine restaurants for travels, always full with locals and tourists, particularly around lunch time.
One of the most unusual creatures on the planet is indigenous and endemic to this region – the seahorse. It is a very small and delicate creature, now endangered and found nowhere else on the planet. It looks like one of the pre-historic creatures that avoided the last ice age about 10000 years ago while the rest of the planet up north was wiped out. They survived and appear to be a throwback from a previous epoch in history. I don’t know how much longer they will survive but efforts are being made to protect them.
Smaller than your hand, they are very peculiar. The males keep the eggs in a pouch like a kangaroo, and they have an outer skeleton, much like an insect. They are truly beautiful to look at and inspire an awe for nature and the artistry with which such curiosities have emerged. So there are natural mysteries right here to be discovered and investigated for the explorer or curious traveler. If you ever get a chance to explore the south coast of Africa, then I do recommend passing through Knysna. Tourism is probably the primary economic influence in this town, and it is geared up for tourists, with loads of guest houses and restaurants to cater to internationals from all over the world. You will really find value for money and a worthwhile experience here, any time of the year.