48 Hours In Knysna

Despite the fires along the Garden Route earlier this year, spring has arrived and Knysna is ready for visitors. There’s much to do during a 48-hour visit, you may have to extend your trip.

Photographs by Iga Motylska @eagerjourneys

Day 1


Arise with the sun and make your way to the water’s edge as the mist gently awakens. The Turbine Water Club will have kayaks waiting for you to paddle through the calm canals of Thesen Island and along the Knysna Estuary, as marine birds fly overhead and swoop before you. Try spot the resident Knysna Seahorses bobbing about in the water with their tails curled around the meshing of the canal walls. These endangered aquatic animals are only found in three southern Cape estuaries: the Knysna, Swartvlei and Keurbooms estuaries, so you’ll be lucky to see them.


Image courtesy of the Turbine Hotel

Once you’ve expended all that energy, a guilt-free breakfast awaits at the Turbine Hotel’s Island Café. Indulge in their breakfast buffet spread or pick something to your fancy from the a la carte menu – Eggs Benedict top recommendations as do the salmon potato and feta cakes, and the blueberry crumpets. Get a feel of the hotel’s former life as a power station by sitting between the original turbines.

Find amazing flights to George here.


Follow the written pages of renowned author Dalene Matthee’s books as you make your way along the Kringe in die Bos (The Circles in the Forest) walking trail, named after one of her most well received books. The trail starts at Matthee’s memorial, where she used to write. It wends its way into the depths of the Milllwood part of the Knysna Forest past moss-covered Yellow Woods and Stinkwoods that have observed wild elephant herds moving between them for hundreds of years. Today, only a few illusive elephants remain. The three-kilometre walk should take no longer than one and a half hours, though if you have the time do the longer nine-kilometre walk that takes you up and down slopes, across wooden bridges and frog-filled streams, past mushroom colonies and beneath trees bent over the foot path that are overgrown with old man’s beard. The canopy of green will keep you cool during this three-hour route through the country’s largest natural forest. The woodcutters of Matthhee’s books, who made the fortunes from the timber trade, come to life with each step.


Lunch at the shabby chic Totties Farm Kitchen, along Rheenendal Road, which has an ambiance of days gone by with its bric and brac, mementoes and photographs of the 1920s when Florence Eleanor van Reenen first opened a general dealer store, that still stands next door, near her husband’s sawmill.

The Sunday lunch buffet menu is infused with farm-style goodness from home-made bread and soup, to gourmet salads, pies and a pot roast. On any other day, ask for the hearty a la carte menu. The best seat is on the wooden deck in the garden overlooking the koi pond.


Then book yourself into the Turbine Spa, back at the Turbine Boutique Hotel, for some R&R. It has single and double treatments rooms with a range of body, facial and beauty treatments for both him and her, as well as a rasul chamber.


Keep in the spirit of the chilled mood by embarking on a sunset bubbly cruise with the Turbine Water Club on one of their two motorised pontoon barges that can seat up to 10 people. Pop the bubbles, indulge in a gourmet platter of finger foods and keep one eye on the placid water in search of the resident seal and marine life.


Have a relaxed dinner at the Turbine Hotel’s Gastro Pub with its comfortable atmosphere and simple menu of pub grub that’s complemented with a selection of gourmet flat breads and an extensive variety of local craft beers served from the large mahogany bar. Dine al fresco on the sun deck or sink into one of the comfortable armchairs. The restaurant is built around the hotel’s fifth turbine.

Day 2


Take a leisurely sunrise stroll along the crescent-shaped beach at Buffalo Bay to the soundtrack of squawking seagulls. The sun emerges from the water and turns it to gold, as fishermen launch their boats into the ocean to head off for a day of casting and reeling for dinner.


On the way back to Knysna, visit the Rustic Tracks Diner located at Elalini Backpackers for the best pancake breakfast in town. Not only do they serve a scrumptious menu of sweet and savoury gourmet pancakes, but they also serve a delectable choice of award-winning cheesecakes. It surpassed all my expectations and the homely vibe will probably want to make you stay longer, so consider swaying in the hammock from the elevated wooden deck overlooking the mountainous vistas.


Then it’s time to embark on a whale watching expedition with Ocean Odyssey. From July to November, the waters of the Atlantic Ocean off the shores of southern Africa are home to Southern Right and Humpback whales that leave Antarctica behind to mate and calve in these warmer waters. Without a doubt, Knysna is one of the country’s best whale watching spots and Ocean Odyssey adheres to sustainable whale watching practices, so as not to unnecessarily stress the animals.

We scan the water between the boat and horizon for blows, dorsal fins and flapping tails. Though sightings can never be guaranteed, we saw Humpback whales and dolphins as well as Southern Right Whales. Outside of whale watching season, Ocean Odyssey also does marine eco tours.


Share your whale sightings stories over a delectable lunch at Ile de Pain, in the centre of Thesen Island, at the walk-in bakery or sit-down café. The rustic decor is complemented by the carefully crafted menu of locally-sourced and fresh produce. Their pizzas and burgers are unrivalled as is their lively atmosphere and friendly service. Stock up on some sweet treats on your way out.

Take some down time or if you’re feeling energetic walk to the Knysna Waterfront Quays, shop at the many boutiques and shops on Thesen Island or order a cocktail on the Turbine Hotel’s canal-facing wooden deck.


Rent a bicycle from Turbine Water Club and cycle to the end of Coney Glen Road or up the Eastern Knysna Head for sunset. The eastern and western Knysna Heads stand guard at the entrance to the Knysna estuary, where the lagoon flows into the Atlantic Ocean. And though it may seem calm, this is actually the world’s second most dangerous water channel.


Knysna is renowned for the annual Knysna Oyster Festival. Though these days the oysters are brought in from Port Elizabeth, mostly for environmental purposes to help conserve the Knysna Seahorse. The two are inextricably linked and hundreds pilgrimage to the town each June-July.

Dig your feet into the sea sand as you crank back your head at Freshline Fisheries, where they are served with sundried tomatoes. Order SASSI green-listed fish from the surrounding waters, such as the Geelbek as its made to perfection on the braai.

Where to stay in Knysna (Luxury):

Image courtesy of the Turbine Hotel

Image courtesy of the Turbine Hotel

The funkiest – and most colourful – place to stay on Thesen Island, and arguably in Knysna, is the five-star Turbine Hotel and Spa. This former turbine-driven power station used to light up the surrounding region all the way to Plettenberg Bay, until it was laid to rest in 2001 and later brought back to life with new purpose. Various elements of the power station are seamlessly introduced into the elegant décor. This boutique hotel is like a live-in art gallery, and all the pieces are for sale. The floor-to-ceiling glass walls in the Island Café look out onto the narrow canals that flow through the Knysna Estuary. Book a room with a view over Thesen Island.

Book at the Turbine Hotel here.

Image courtesy of the Turbine Hotel

Where to stay in Knysna (affordable):

Elalini Backpackers, only a few minutes’ drive from Knysna and Buffalo Bay, looks out onto beautiful mountainous vistas from its elevated communal kitchen and lounge.

Elalini means ‘in the village’ in Xhosa and that’s exactly what this laid-back, rustic accommodation epitomises, as the five farmer-style homesteads are located in a circle at the former Goukamma Station. The homesteads range from dorm rooms to double rooms and family rooms.

Relaxation is the mantra here, whether you keep an eye out for the resident Knysna Loeries from a hammock or choose to read in the forested garden, though Elalini also organises a number of activities. And you can choose to cook or eat at their Rustic Tracks Diner, which is famed for its pancakes and cheesecake. I even took a take-away slice when I checked out.

Knysna is so much more than simply knys! 

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