We awoke to a sun filled sky on day 3 on the Garden Route. After another breakfast of copious portions, Mama and I headed off for a drive eats to the small seaside town of Knysna (pronounced Nise-na). As I’ve always told my clients, the variety of South Africa’s natural setting is unprecedented for a country of its size and the disparity between Knysna and Pletteneberg Bay is an excellent example.
Only 10 miles from the long, flat beach of Plettenberg Bay and its sloping hillsides, sits Knysna, a seaside village whose original industries including oyster farming and furniture production. The woods are dense in Knysna and produce a tree called the Yellow wood which is a hardwood yielding beautiful colors (dark yellow or light tan being one color). Furniture production began her in the early 18th century and included works to rival those of Europe. Veneered products, as well as solid wood pieces, were produced. Stinkwood is a magnificent wood, yielding darker colors in its interior but was used sparingly as its name connotes the reason why. When cut and shaped, the wood produced a nasty smell which turned off the local craftsmen. Leadwood trees were cut but proved to be ineffective as the wood was so dense that the steel tools used to turn the wood often broke when attempting to mold this product into something new.
Knysna is a natural harbor where ships came to dock 200 years ago bringing finished goods from Cape Town and Europe or bringing spices east from Asia. The entrance to the harbor is known as The Heads. Two ever growing hills rise from the Knysna harbor eventually peaking to form the 200 yard passage through which boats had to navigate to find the calm waters of Knysna. Mama and I were fortunate to take in the sight on this place during a blissfully sunny and calm day but remained more than awed by the 100 yard sheer cliffs on either side of the Heads. Viewing platforms have been intently positioned such that visitors and locals can see nothing but the waves crashing on shore when glancing down between the slats in the deck. The visual stimulus is as much as you could ask for, and in some cases, too much for a person not so comfortable with heights.
Despite fears of heights, the experience of the Heads is not to be missed as the pathways and decks are safe and used often.
At the base of the Heads, overlooking the entry point, there is a restaurant called the East Head Café. The place offers indoor and outdoor seating of picnic tables, the latter of which sits just on the bay. Prior to heading onto the veranda we walked down to where the shipwreck, the Paquita lay.**** This Portuguese vessel still serves as a dive site for SCUBA enthusiasts. There was an elderly couple sitting on a park bench in our vicinity so we struck up a conversation. They were from Port Elizabeth, further down the east coast. The gentleman and his wife, both Afrikaners (she from the Orange Free State) gave us a perspective on the challenging times South Africa faces under the new government as electricity has begun to be shut off periodically due to poor investment in infrastructure. These senior citizens are the ones who may suffer the most as old age will prevent them from adapting to compulsory changes in lifestyle.
After a short visit to the East Head Café for a Coca-Cola, Mama and I drove to Thessen Island, located within the harbor. The island used to be the home of the furniture makers but is now a village on its own, offering upscale housing, restaurants and shopping. We wanted to eat at Il de Pain, a bakery that has received rave reviews from a few friends I know from Knysna and past clients, but it was closed for renovation. We opted for The Knysna Oyster Company and enjoyed a potato and leak soup overlooking yet another unobstructed water view.
I culminated the day by visiting a few B&B’s back up the east side of the Heads. I believe Mama was a bit nervous about going back up but I wanted to see a few of the places again. Perhaps the most inspiring was, Head over Hills, perched at the highest spot on the Heads. 270 degree views left me stunned. The views were so precipitous that my mother elected not to go inside but rather wait at the curb. This B&B was very upscale and pricing must be high bit for those without a budget, this would be the place to stay. Under Milkwood offered another beautiful spot but for less price. I also visited the St. James Hotel, built in the early 80’s and sitting on an unobstructed peninsula set on the lagoon. They had a garden of which Mama enjoyed quite a bit.
As the sun set, I turned west wanting to see what the Belvedere Manor Hotel had to offer before heading back to Plettenberg Bay. As we turned into the road leading to the Belvedere manor Hotel, we immediately were struck by the serenity and calm in this little village that housed nothing more than century old houses upon our quick review. The little village was founded in the early 1800’s by a daughter of the man who is believed to be the namesake of the town of George. Legend tells that the town of George is named after the first son of King George III who sequestered himself to this outpost in the early 1800’s as his father deemed him unfit to be king.
We entered the village at close to sunset and with the lagoon facing east, we had a nice view of the last of the sun lighting up the water. The church there was built in 1855 by the son in law of George Rex of Knysna, Thomas Henry Duthie. It is fashioned after a Norman miniature style of construction from the 11th century. The church only held probably 50 people. The cemetery was vast and held those dating back to before the church was built. The village itself was very well maintained. As is customary in the trips I have taken to South Africa where pleasant surprises abound, we found a little place to eat and it turned out to be the original hunting lodge of Mr. Duthie dating from the mid 1800’s. The original structure was still in place. They had lit a small fire and we had another excellent, cheap meal in a place that looked like it could hardly produce a bag of potato chips.
We drove the scenic road back to Plettenberg Bay and sequestered ourselves in for an early night as the next day’s drive to Hermanus would be the only lengthy drive we would have to endure, one of 4 hours.