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"Colourful and charming ... Knysna is stunning!"

Knysna nestles on the banks of a beautiful lagoon in the heart of the ‘Garden Route’ of South Africa. It is surrounded by a natural paradise of lush indigenous forests, tranquil lakes and golden beaches, making it a real natural wonderland.

Knysna is a vibrant town, buzzing with creativity and energy, and the pulse of good music. It's a place where the you can enjoy the mellow atmosphere of street cafes, watching the world go by. The main street is very leafy with trees along the pavements and it has a wonderful vacation atmosphere with sun umbrellas everywhere.

Most cafes have outdoors seating areas overlooking the street or on the pavements, with colourful sun umbrellas - a perfect place to sit with the sun on your face, watching passers-by ambling along, sipping a steamy cappucino or staving off the heat with a cold drink.

Summer in Knysna is gorgeous and it is no wonder that it is the vacation resort for South Africans. The town itself has a vibrant buzz and is also an excellent kick-off point to visit the many, many attractions that surround it. For example, Plettenberg Bay is just 20 minutes away and there you can lie on the beach and watch dolphins body-surfing in the waves (honest!)

During the winter months, the town remains a cheerful place to be because of its colour and vibrancy - and your drink will probably be a hot chocolate and a koeksuster', a delicious crispy plaited pastry dipped in syrup. The flavour is unique and it melts in your mouth.

There are lots of shops in the town, ranging from trendy boutiques to supermarkets, from high-priced specialist shops to cheap fleamarkets. Like almost everywhere in South Africa, Knysna has lots of restaurants, and some are not to be missed, like Mama's, which serves Italian food and some great calamari and garlic bread.

And then there is the Waterfront.- This is a fairly new development in Knysna that encompasses marinas, shopping malls, residential complexes, etc. It's a vibrant, buzzing complex that caters for frenetic shopping, exciting dining, or relaxed contemplation. Sitting on the edge of a pier eating an ice-cream is a lovely way to spend a little time. Sipping a glass of wine over a spaghetti lunch is also a great way to spend part of Sundays.

Downsides to Knysna:

  • There are no buses.  This means taxis, cycling or walking ...

  • ... uphill. Nearly everything in Knysna (including most of the accommodation) is on a hill. Great views, but hard on the legs - or good exercise, depending on which way you look at it!

Knysna (pronounced nise-na): The name Knysna is a Khoi word but its exact meaning is uncertain. It could mean 'place of wood', or it could mean 'fern leaves', but its most probable meaning is straight down' - an obvious reference to the Heads. Knysna Heads must be the most striking geological feature along the entire southern African coastline. They flank a deep but potentially treacherous channel through which the sea pours in to flood the wide and breathtakingly pretty lagoon at the mouth of the Knysna River.

Knysna is home to a host of wildlife species, like dolphins, seals and whales.as well as the Knysna seahorse, Knysna dwarf chameleon, the Brenton Blue butterfly, the pansy shell, the brilliantly coloured Knysna Loeire, a plethora of waterfowl and forest birds, not to mention cultivated and wild oysters.

The Knysna Oyster Festival (early July)
Knysna's clear, crisp winter days are ideal for this celebration of the good life. The Knysna Oyster Festival is an outdoor and leisure adventure. Sportsmen and gourmets, culture-hunters and party people gather for great all-round family entertainment. Central to the festival are the Knysna Forest Marathon and Knysna Cycle Races.

"Both placements I attended were great - a real experience of a lifetime to remember forever!" Zoey Marshall


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Knysna Main Street
The main street, view from one of the verandah cafes

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Volunteer being one with nature at the Knysna Heads

Volunteers outside the accommodation, waiting to go to the beach for a barbecue

Sunset on the Lagoon

There are lots activities you can do in Knysna. Many activities involve outdoor sights and sports because the beautiful weather and stunning surroundings makes these pastimes a very natural leisure activity. Things you can do include:
  • The Knysna Heads - The Heads offer panoramic views of the town and lagoon from various viewsites. You can walk along the cliffs or sit in a pub right on the edge for some Kynsna Oysters or Mussels.
  • A ferry ride across the lagoon is a great way to see the heads and get a full view of the lagoon.
  • Markets - There are many markets in the center and on the outskirts of Knysna. Here you can buy anything from African Curios (of which there are many) to clothes, shoes and jewellery.
  • Beaches - There is no beach in Knysna itself, but the coast surrounding Knysna has some really stunning places to visit for the day. Visit Brenton-on-Sea, Buffalo Bay, Bollard Bay on Leisure Isle, and the beach and estuary at Noetzie. Noetzie is famous because of the castles surrounding the beach that make it look like a scene from the medieval times.
    The warm currents of the Indian Ocean make for pleasant sea temperatures in the summer months. A word of warning, be sure that you are sensible about where you choose to swim as there can be some dangerous rip tides. If you are in any way uncertain, look out for the lifeguards on the beach. They mark out areas that are safe to swim in and monitor the water very carefully.
  • The Keurbooms River Nature Reserve is situated 5 km past Plettenberg Bay (about 25 km from Knysna), in the direction of Port Elizabeth. This nature reserve stretches up the river for about 5-6km. To experience the beauty of the reserve you can either take a ferry trip which lasts 2½ hours, or you can hire a boat with engine from the Angling Club and travel up the river by yourselves. There are a number of picnic spots next to the river with little beaches where you can spent your whole day swimming, tanning, fishing etc.
  • Whale and Dolphin Watching - The Knysna coastline is home to one of the highest diversity of marine mammals in the world - including whales and dolphins. During certain times of the year, sightings of the following can be had: Southern right whale, humpback whale, Bryde's whale, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, orca, humpback dolphin.
    The Knysna Heads as well as Brenton on Sea provide a wonderful opportunity for land based whale watching during whale season (May to November), or take a boat-trip to experience a closer encounter.
  • Canoeing - Many waterways in the area are restricted to non-motorised craft, giving ample opportunity for canoeing on the Knysna lagoon, Knysna River or Goukamma River.
  • Abseiling - Knysna has awesome scenery and what better way to experience it then abseiling the cliffs at the Heads or through a waterfall in the Harkerville forest.
  • Diving - Diving along the Knysna coastline is a great experience. You will see many colours and coral reefs, Nudibranchs, sea spiders, Toothed decorator crabs, colourful corals, fish and sharks and many more. Reef dives, shore dives and wreck dives are offered by local dive companies. Contact a local dive shop for information before going diving..
  • Fishing - Knysna provides a wealth of opportunities for the keen fisherman: fly-fishing, rock and surf fishing, deepsea fishing, bass and trout fishing. The most common fish caught in the area are steenbras, grunter and leervis.
  • Hiking Trails - The Garden Route features some of the most spectacular hiking trails in the world, through forest, fynbos and along its pristine coastline. Advance Booking is essential since the trails are very popular, and numbers are limited. Permits are required. Many trails offer accommodation in overnight huts. The most famous of these are the Outeniqua Trail, the Harkerville Trail, the Otter Trail and the Tsitsikamma Trail. There are also many great walks you can do in the Knysna Forest.
  • Horse Riding - Enjoy the Knysna forest on horseback; there are trails in the Harkerville area. Several stables in the area provide guided outrides:
  • Cycling and Mountain Biking - Knysna offers cyclists some great mountain bike trails. These cycle routes consist of a choice of difficulty grades. Many of the cycling routes include some single track riding. 
  • Harkerville Cycle Routes: Situated between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, these routes offer some of the finest cycling in the country. Four district routes have been laid out though the indigenous forest, plantation and coastal fynbos and have been colour-coded. Knysna Cycleworks provide bicycles for hire, and guided cycle tours along several trails, including an overnight trail.
  • Sailing - With over 18 square kilometres of lagoon, and a tidal system of over 1.7 metres (five feet) Knysna draws sailors from far and wide who enjoy swapping stories at the third oldest yacht club in South Africa, with its most hospitable 'bar'.
  • Monkeyland is unique as a primate sanctuary. It is home to many varied species of monkey from several continents which were captive bred prior to their release at Monkeyland. Situated 16 km east of Plett, it offers safaris conducted by game rangers. This is the world’s only multi species, free roaming primate sanctuary. To read more about Monkeyland, go to http://www.monkeyland.co.za/welcome.html
  • Elephant Park - An encounter of a closer kind than at Kruger or Addo – visitors are allowed to touch and feed the elephants, Harry, Sally and Duma. 

As an added bonus to your project you will also have the opportunity to provide help and support to the local community through the various afternoon activities we have to offer. This is an excellent way to emmerse yourself into the African culture, but most importantly to give a caring hand to the local community. The activities could range from helping out at;

  • The local orphanage  - Make the afternoons fun and exciting for these lovely children by playing games, helping them with home work and just being there to give them the attention that they so crave.
  • The art center for children - You could make a great impact in their lives by helping them to express their creative side and enjoying an afternoon full of art and crafts. This is such an exciting opportunity for children, so why not be a part of it too!
  • The soup kitchen - Soup kitchens have been set up to provide a meal for the poorer children in the community and often this will be the only decent meal a child has during the day -  any support given is greatly appreciated by all.
  • After school drama or sports - Take some time out after school to set up after school sports or drama clubs, the children love it and it's a great way to get to know them better in a relaxed and fun environment (If you'd like to set up a drama or sports club, please let us know when you apply so that we can arrange it with the school before you arrive.)
  • Other community projects  - In the past volunteers have helped to paint the outside of a crèche that was in desperate need of a lift, the crèche is now looking very cheerful with brightly coloured walls. A jungle gym was donated to this orphanage and volunteers also helped to put it together for the crèche too!

You could be part of these excellent and worthwhile projects so why not volunteer in Knysna!


Enhance your program with some exciting activities:
Wildlife Safaris & Adventure Tour Combos
4-Day Surf Safari and Wildlife Adventure
1-Day Adventure Activities in Cape Town
1-Week Wildlife Rehabilitation

1-Week Whales Sharks Dolphins
Cage Dive with Sharks

Photo Galleries
Knysna Diary
Wildlife Rehabilitation Diary
Wildlife Expedition News!

Knysna's colourful history spans the days of sailing ships, timber extraction and even a brief period of gold discovery. The vast, indigenous forests just outside Knysna became an invaluable source of timber for buildings, ships and wagons from the mid- 1700's onwards, and provided the historical background around which Knysna was built. The town’s streets and quaint, old buildings show its commercial past, while the rocky coast and deep, silent forests reflect the history of men with bows and arrows, ancient hunters, gatherers and nomads.

Knysna, the town, began in 1804, when the farm Melkhoutkraal was purchased by George Rex, a timber merchant. He owned virtually all the land surrounding the lagoon. Because of him, Knysna became a major supplier of Timber to most of the Cape.  Today Knysna, is famous for quality, handcrafted furniture, made from selected indigenous woods, using traditional joining methods, these pieces remain highly sort after collectors items.

In 1876 a gold nugget weighing 17 penny-weight was found by Mr James Hooper in a river bed on his farm Ruigtevlei, who showed it to a government official Mr CF Osbourne. Work commenced in the Karatara River, and proved successful. This widely publicised find encouraged a number of fortune seekers to descend on the Millwod area.

By December 1887 over 2000 reef and alluvial claims had been pegged, and over 600 miners and 400 other residents had settled in the Millwood Village. At its height the village possessed some six hotels, a bank, and government office and sixty shops. Regretfully the mine failed to deliver the untold riches many had hoped for and within ten short years the reef was dead.

Since then, the forest has been protected; preventing any further exploitation thereof. Knysna has developed into a town with a booming tourist population and has won numerous awards for being South Africa’s favourite town.

Got any questions? Please email us:

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