Knysna’s sheer beauty attracts an extensive amount of local and international tourists. Sandwiched between the Indian Ocean and both Mountains -Outeniqua & Tsitsikamma mountain rang, you will find the Garden Route- the well-known and much loved area as it has been named – This name stems from the Verdant and ecologically diverse vegetation- Fynbos- the vast indigenous and yes still growing Temperate Forest – The Knysna Amatole montane forest ecoregion which stretches an area of around 3,100 square kilometres and is further skirted by numerous lagoons, estuary’s and lakes that are dotted over this area. Add to this the mild climate the mild to cool winters – actually the mildest climate in South Africa and the second mildest climate in the world -after Hawaii (this according to Guinness Book of records) it is not hard to understand how this area can be considered a paradise or Eden …
This remarkable stretch of coastline is considered one of the most spectacular along the South African coast and boosts varied ecosystems and unique marine reserves, soft coral reefs, soaring sandstone cliffs, rocky formations which extend into the Indian Ocean, Unique caves, Incredible archaeological sites with midden deposits and Strandloper burial sites found at the Western Head. The adjacent Indian Ocean is show-stopping with its abundance of marine life including whales, dolphins, seals, sharks and a host of pelagic bird species.
Often referred to as nature’s playground the Knysna estuary is iconic in many ways. Not only does it provide us with a captivating platform to show off its natural assets but it’s also the richest in terms of estuarine biodiversity in all South Africa- it has been ranked above the St Lucia world heritage site. An extraordinary 43% of South Africa’s plant and animal life has made this extensive estuary home. Fish species such as Grunter, White Steenbras, Dusky Cob and Cape Stump nose are just some of the rare species that can be found in the estuary.
Our area is also famous for the Knysna Seahorse- Hippocampus capensis which has been classified as Endangered in the IUCN red data book- the only Seahorse species that is endangered. This species can only be found in the Knysna, Keurbooms and Swartvlei estuaries. The Seahorse is the iconic symbol for the Knysna community! Research has confirmed that Knysna estuary’s total economic value is approximately between 2.8 and 3.4 billion per annum (Figures includes: recreational use value, subsistence, property, nursery and existence value). It is therefore easy to understand that the lagoon is the lifeblood of many subsistence fishers, and the numerous recreational activities.
This area is very significant as it forms part of the Garden Route National park which covers a vast area of 121 000 hectares and includes the existing Wilderness and Tsitsikamma national parks, the Knysna lakes area and 52000 hectares of newly proclaimed land. The estuary may be the star of the show yet our enchanting indigenous forest is just as mesmerising. This Afromontane forest is a marvellous mix of ancient local and exotic indigenous trees, that thrive in this sub-tropical biome. The forests thick 568 square kilometre canopy is mixture of Ironwood, Stinkwood, Outeniqua Yellowwood, Real Yellowwood and many more.
Here too you will find numerous creatures that call this area home. The most fascinating is the Knysna Lourie with its distinctive features- large green elegant bird with white tipped crest, red beak, red rimmed eyes and white eye liner, vibrant red feathers visible when it flies, and its long, heavy tail. The rarest would be the last remaining Knysna elephant- the African Bush elephant that lives in the Knysna forests, these few elusive elephants are the remnants of the large herds that roamed the forests, in the late 1800’ and early 1900’s they were targeted and hunted for their ivory. Other animals that can be seen roaming amongst this beautiful setting are leopard, bush pig, baboon, vervet monkey, honey badger, bush buck and blue duiker.
The interesting history of Thesen Island dates to the 1800’s, it derived its name from the Thesen family that established the prominent timber manufacturing industry in Knysna. Previously it was known as Paarden Eiland- a portion of the farm Melkhoutkraal, an estate of George Rex. The Jetty was built to facilitate the loading and unloading of cargo –The Thesen family established a ship building company, a sawmill & timber processing factory. The factory was closed down during the 1980’s due to the growing concern from the community regarding the environmental and industrial pollution caused by the factories activities. The development of Thesen Island in to a unique residential marina in 1991 by Dr Chris Mulder called for extremely careful and sensitive planning covering ecological, architectural, engineering, aesthetic, social and cultural criteria. Today this area is prime property with an exclusive residential estate and booming commercial village. The original industrial buildings on the island like the Sawtooth building, Parking garage, Boatshed and the original Turbine hall have been adapted, modernized for re-use retaining an authentic sense of the past. Adding to all of this artistry is the commercial and residential marinas that both have been given their Blue Flag status.
SANParks has also based their operation on Thesen Island managing and regulating all activities occurring on and around the Knysna estuary, forests and reserves. Most importantly they take great responsibility towards the protection of the animal and marine life especially those that have been listed as endangered on the IUCN’s Red list. As an initiative to create awareness to the conservation of the Knysna Seahorse SANParks has created an informative display in their offices including a tank where visitors can view this creature up close. Knysna Basin Project works closely with SANParks ensuring the preservation of flora and fauna in the Knysna estuary and educating the community on how to conserve our precious environment.