If you are planning to drive South Africa’s Garden Route between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, there are dozens of places where you could break your journey, and each would offer a unique beauty. But one of the places that I always recommend that people should try to spend a few days in, is Knysna. Although it is always amusing to hear tourists’ attempts to try and pronounce it, I will spare you the embarrassment – the k is silent and it’s pronounced nigh-z-na
Established in 1882 and named after the Knysna river (probably from a Khoikhoi word), Knysna is today a bustling town of over 75,000 inhabitants. It is situated mostly on the northern shore of the large estuary fed by the Knysna river, known as the Knysna lagoon, and it was this lagoon that provided the town with its initial purpose. Once ships negotiated the treacherous entry into the lagoon through two rocky headlands known as The Heads, the port of Knysna could provide shelter and provisions for up to 50 ships. Much of the town’s early economy was based on the export of timber through the Heads, but owing to the dangerous channel and the loss of many ships, the port was eventually closed in 1954. Today, tourism is the town’s major source of income.
The Featherbed Private Nature Reserve is part of the Cape Floral Region South African Natural Heritage site situated on the Western Head and is privately owned by Mr William Smith who inherited this property from his father, Professor JLB Smith, the world renowned icthyologist who identified the coelocanth (a fish thought to have become extinct 180 million years ago). The Featherbed name is said to come from sailors, who, after enduring rough seas around the Cape of Good Hope, appreciated the calm and tranquil lagoon waters of the bay beside the western head and used the opportunity to rest and catch up on much needed sleep while waiting to dock. The Featherbed Company has been operating for 20 years and offers ferry trips on the Knysna Lagoon, sailing aboard a luxury catamaran yacht, fine dining on a paddle cruiser and a unique eco-experience in the Featherbed Private Nature Reserve.
My Featherbed eco-experience started with a lovely relaxing boat ride across the Knysna lagoon on a perfect December morning, with great views of the Heads as well as Thesens Isle and Leisure Isle. As you approach the Western Head, it’s hard to believe there is any human habitation on the reserve as the indigenous bush is incredibly dense – but then a little wooden complex and a jetty emerge out of the sea of green. Once we had docked at the Featherbed jetty, we were settled on the deck overlooking the lagoon and nestled among indigenous Milkwood trees. Lunch is a casual buffet served in the adjacent restaurant, and South African dishes feature strongly. My plate of starters included a fresh herb salad, a calamari salad, and delicious traditional pickled fish. The hot mains included a venison casserole that my father loved and a rib-sticking lentil bobotie. And if you still had room, there was fresh fruit, chocolate mousse. traditional malva pudding and ice cream for dessert.
After lunch, we all boarded the tractor-drawn trailer in which we were going to do our eco drive, under the expert supervision of our guide who was able to share both the history of the are as well as her knowledge of the indigenous vegetation. The trailer means that even those who are not so steady on their feet are able to enjoy the more remote viewsites in the reserve. Our first stop afforded a panoramic view over the lagoon and the town, while our second stop overlooked the Eastern Head, said to be home to the most expensive real estate per metre in the country. From there, those who wished returned to the restaurant on the trailer, while the more intrepid (including me!) undertook a guided walk from the top of the ridge down to the water’s edge to explore the natural rock arch and caves which were used as shelter by the prehistoric inhabitants of this beautiful headland.
All too soon, I found myself back on the restaurant deck having coffee and preparing to board the ferry back to Knysna after four happy hours in one of the most unspoilt parts of the Garden Route, enjoying breathtakign views. The full eco experience and lunch takes approximately four hours and costs ZAR 375.00 (about £31 or $48), and it is definitely something I would recommend to every Knysna visitor, young and old. Booking recommended.
The Featherbed Company Remembrance Lane (off Waterfront Drive) Knysna