Knysna pushes the boat out
Garden Route town reclaiming tourism stake with determination and drive, writes Louise Liebenberg
The residents of Knysna are a gutsy bunch. While it is true that few of them will ever be the same following the deadly fires that swept through their town and region of legendary beauty last June, their determination to rise and rebuild will prove to be the story that will ultimately endure.
Just 10 months after the blazes that caused immeasurable devastation and heartache, the Garden Route town is returning to its picturesque splendour and working committedly to reclaim its position as one of South Africa’s top tourist attractions.
On a Weekend Post media visit earlier this month I was moved, for instance, to see so much fresh, new growth on the previously decimated Featherbed Nature Reserve.
All along the estuary edge and beyond there was evidence of rebuilding and renewal – yet another sign that life is industriously going on in the historic town.
My husband, Salvelio, and I were on board the Outeniqua, a magnificent 50-foot yacht custom-built by Ocean Odyssey’s Steff Pepler, one of many residents who have put real energy into reviving tourism in the town.
We found ourselves in Knysna outside of the school holidays and it was encouraging to see scores of visitors, foreign and local, milling about the waterfront and occupying restaurants and cafes.
Last year’s Oyster Festival, held soon after the fires, was a decidedly lacklustre affair. Locals, though determined to put on a good show, were still shell-shocked and visitors were just not psychologically ready to reconcile the picture-perfect Knysna of their memories with the reality of the time.
This year it’s a very different story and many have already booked festival beds. Knysna lives and thrives.
Following a delightful and very healthy lunch at The Grain Mill Organic Bistro in town, our sailing excursion in perfect conditions, a delicious trawl of kitchen and gifts emporium Metelerkamps and dinner at South African-themed Bazala at the waterfront, our first night was spent at The Lofts Boutique Hotel on Thesen Harbour Town.
We were welcomed by charming Knysna native Carla Meyer, who showed us around the hotel which has been ingeniously designed to fit into the re-modelled timber frame of the town’s historic boat-building shed, also home to renowned artisan cafe and bakery Ile de Pain.
The sleek and sophisticated hotel has a contemporary design with a decidedly industrial edge that pays homage to the building’s fascinating former life. We overnighted in one of The Lofts’ exclusive lagoon suites which has a king-size bed, all the luxe touches and a large private balcony from which to soak up perfect views of the lagoon.
Following an exhilarating day of e-biking with Ocean Odyssey, beer-tasting at Mitchell’s lagoon-side taproom, shopping up a storm on Thesen Harbour Town and browsing the fantastically-curated Knysna Fine Art Gallery (do also look out for work by quite a few of our top Eastern Cape artists), our second night was spent at Westhill Luxury Guest House.
This 1920s Cape Dutch-style heritage property underwent a total renovation in 2015, with Eastern Cape-born Roeléén Schofield and her British partner in life and business, Steve Collinson, also extending it to include three new spacious, pristine and very comfortable guest suites.
Westhill’s biggest assets are, one, its priceless panoramic view of the Knysna estuary and Heads and, two, Roeléén’s wonderfully welcoming and warm personality.
Roeléén previously ran a wine business in Belgium, where she imported South African wines for 10 years, and she still represents several top estates. She sent us off to dinner with a bottle of Saxenburg Private Collection Sauvignon Blanc – an ideal partner for a seafood feast at Freshline Fisheries.
This media visit was arranged by Knysna Tourism. For Westhill Luxury Guest House bookings and more information contact (044) 382-4909 or 079-810-3019, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The Lofts Boutique Hotel is on (044) 302-5710 or email@example.com
New format for popular oyster fest
The Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival from June 29 to July 8 provides an ideal winter family break. The new format will see it spread throughout the town, introducing new venues and views alongside old favourites.
The Momentum Knysna Cycle Tour on June 30 and July 1, and the Momentum Knysna Forest Marathon on July 7, will remain at the Knysna High School sports fields.
Loerie Park will have live entertainment, inflatable fun and games for kids as well as a market, food stands and the popular fish braai on July 3 and 4. It will also host rugby, soccer and netball tournaments.
Flavours of Knysna on July 4 is a culinary journey to some of the best restaurants in Knysna and surrounds. Taste your way through Knysna starting at the Knysna Yacht Club, where you may plan your own route on the hop-on-hop-off shuttles. You’ll receive a voucher book for tasters – either a “once off” bespoke flavour taster or a taste of the restaurant’s best-selling or flagship menu item.
Participants will get to vote for their favourite taster and those who hand in completed ballots will also be entered into a lucky draw.
The Knysna Wine Festival is on scenic Thesen Islands on July 2 and 3, and the Comedy Shuckle is at Mitchell’s Brewery on July 5.
Find the full festival programme at: oysterfestival.co.za
Where to eat and hang out
Best for breakfast and lunch:
The Grain Mill Organic Bistro in Union Street is a labour of love for German owner Adelheid Schmid. They specialise in hand-made pastas, breads and the like using organic flours such as spelt and einkorn, an ancient grain with numerous health properties. Do also try the kombucha and Adelheid’s irresistible apple strudel. There’s a retail section with a good selection of natural products and foodstuffs too. Contact: 083-635-7634.
- Tapas & Oysters on Thesen Harbour Town is a long-standing local favourite. We could not resist the magnificently fresh and fleshy wild coastal oysters; they also sell the cultivated kind and a large variety of other dishes. It’s a laid-back spot and the waiters are super friendly. Contact: (044) 382-7196.
- Ile de Pain at The Boatshed on Thesen has had a major makeover since an electrical fire gutted it in 2015. It’ s more popular now than ever for breakfasts, lunches and artisan-baked goods. Contact: (044) 302-5705.
- East Head Cafe boasts one of SA’s most stunning natural locations – the magnificent view from this landmark is directly through the famous Knysna Heads. We had a lazy breakfast and some superb coffees. Contact: (044) 384-0933.
Dinner with a difference:
- Bazala at the Knysna Waterfront is an SA-themed restaurant with all the favourites, from hearty potjies to roosterkoek and malva pudding. Contact: (044) 382-1693.
- Freshline Fisheries is a rustic spot just before the Thesen Islands bridge. It’s hugely popular with locals and you can dine with your toes in the sand. The fish literally could not be fresher: we hit the jackpot with the kob and geelbek. Contact: (044) 382-3131.
The Project Bar and Lounge is upstairs from Sirocco on Thesen Harbour Town and has an enviable cocktail menu. It’s a very classy bar with slick and sophisticated decor. Do try the elderflower and citrus G&T! Contact: (044) 382-4874.
Bikes, boats and beer deliver on fun
Fancy a whiparound of the Knysna Lagoon? Few modes of transport beat a boffy bicycle with a hidden weapon – an electric engine that’ll take the pain out of every uphill! The nifty GOnow bikes are available from Ocean Oddyssey at Thesen Islands. After a short demo on how to operate them, and strapping on helmets, off we whizzed on a scenic loop alongside the lagoon towards East Head and back. Contact: (044) 382-0321.
- Nothing tops a sunset cruise on a spiffy yacht across the estuary and out through The Heads into open ocean to watch marine life at play. We set off from the Knysna Waterfront in front of Drydock Restaurant for 2½ hours of sheer exhilaration on the water followed by bubbly and snacks on the Outeniqua, a custom-built, 50-foot beauty. Whale-watching is available in season. Contact: (044) 382-0321.
- Beer lovers cannot miss the chance to taste Mitchell’s Brewing’s finest craft beers. Frikkie Burger of the iconic Knysna brand led our tasting. Salvelio’s top pick was the Raven stout; mine the superb 90 Shilling ale. Contact: (044) 382-4685.
One lucky Weekend Post reader will win a two-night stay for two at Westhill Luxury Guest House in Knysna.
The prize, which is valued at R3 400, includes accommodation for two nights (sharing) at the four-star establishment, and breakfast the following morning.
All other costs will be for the winner’s own account.
The winner and his or her partner will also need to make their own way to and from Westhill.
The prize is not transferrable, or exchangeable for cash, and must be taken up before April 14 next year, subject to prior booking and availability.
To enter, SMS the word WESTHILL to 41893. The competition closes at noon on Monday.
The winner will be electronically drawn, and telephonically notified, before the end of the day on Monday.
SMSes cost R1.50 each, errors and omissions are billed, and free SMSes do not count. Other Ts and Cs may also apply.
Tiso Blackstar employees and their family members are not permitted to enter.