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Getting to know Knysna

No one seems to be sure of the exact meaning of the Khoi word Knysna. It could be ‘place of wood’, ‘fern leaves’ or, maybe, ‘straight down’ – an obvious reference to the Heads, the impressive sandstone cliffs that guard the treacherous entrance to the lagoon. But, whatever its meaning, Knysna is an enduringly popular holiday town - and one of the world’s top 100 visitor destinations.

It’s easy to see why. Our Mediterranean-style climate, deep forests, majestic mountains, uncrowded beaches, beautiful lagoon, numerous lakes and amazing variety of flora and fauna, offer visitors endless opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors.

A town built on wood
Only 5% of South Africa’s land mass is indigenous forest – and 90% of this is found in the Knysna area. It’s not surprising, then, that the town’s original prosperity came from the timber industry.

Knysna’s recent history began in 1804, when a timber merchant named George Rex (reputed to be the illegitimate son of King George III) purchased virtually all the land surrounding the lagoon and brought his entire household here to settle. He developed the lagoon into a port with naval and commercial ships bringing in supplies and taking timber out from the settlements of Melville and Newhaven, which eventually united to form the town of Knysna.

In 1869, a Norwegian sea-faring family by the name of Thesen stopped off in Knysna for ship repairs on their way to a new life in New Zealand. They decided to stay and established a thriving business as timber merchants and shipbuilders. The new housing and retail developments on Thesen Islands are on the site of the original sawmills and some interesting pieces of equipment have been preserved and are permanently exhibited in the Woodmill Lane shopping centre in town.

Even today, the timber industry continues to make a significant contribution to the area’s economy. Timber is harvested from pine and gum plantations - and also from indigenous forests, but only in controlled amounts. Timber houses (a particular feature of this area) are exported to the Indian Ocean Islands, Singapore and Australia. Local craftsmen and carpenters use indigenous timbers such as stinkwood and yellowwood to produce some striking furniture and decorative items.

Facts about Knysna:

Khoisan people inhabited the Garden Route from the Stone Age. The Hottentots named a local river by a word that sounded like ‘Knysna’ to the Europeans.

Some scholars are of the opinion that Knysna means place of wood, fern leaves, or simply straight down, referring to the steep sandstone cliffs now called The Heads

Knysna’s colourful history saw many sailing ships, and ship wrecks, timber extraction and even a brief period of gold discovery when a gold nugget weighing 17 penny-weight was found by James Hooper in a river bed in Ruigtevlei.

Knysna is easily accessed by plane or automobile. It lies on the N2 between Port Elizabeth (260km) and Cape Town (500km). Bus companies offer daily services along, and to, the Garden Route. Car hire services are readily available in and around Knysna.

The nearest airport is in George, just 45 minutes drive.

Oyster cultivation was initiated in Knysna in 1946 by Mr Bright, a retired British wine merchant, who investigated the possibilities of cultivating oysters in the Knysna Lagoon.

GPS position:
S 34.029999 Latitude E 23.059999 Longitude

Time Zone:
GMT +2 hours

Knysna has a geographical climate similar to typically Mediterranean Maritime climate. The summers are hot and the winters mild to chilly. During the summer, the average maximum temperature reaches about 25ºC and rarely goes above 30ºC.

The average maximum temperature during the winter months ranges in the area of 16ºC to 17ºC.

The rainfall in Knysna is one of the richest rainfall percentages in South Africa with the wettest time of the year being between October and December.

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Knysna web cam of The Heads >>

Knysna’s population grew substantially in 1885 when alluvial gold was discovered in Jubilee Creek. Even though the gold rush was relatively short-lived, the Millwood Goldfields can still be visited today and this, together with the picturesque picnic area at Jubilee Creek, makes an interesting excursion from Knysna.

Millwood House, which has been moved from its original mining location to Queen Street in the town centre, is now a museum containing exhibits relating to the town’s history and artifacts once owned by George Rex.

The Tourist Boom
Tourism is now Knysna’s major industry and many exciting new commercial, holiday home and golf course developments have put this small town on the international map. With its many fine restaurants, cafés and bars, shops and boutiques and a host of outdoor activities and cultural experiences, Knysna offers something for everyone.

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