On the 29th of June 2016, the Garden Route National Park (assisted by various key stakeholders) launched an historical self-drive route titled 'Rooted in Time', which takes you to 10 marked, historically significant locations in the Knysna forest. You are invited to walk in the footsteps of our forefathers and those who played an integral part in shaping not only Knysna's natural world, but the very fabric of our town.
Scattered throughout the far reaches of the great Knysna forest are traces of this vast heritage - rich artefacts and anecdotes which give us an insight into the exploration and exploitation of this once untamed wilderness. Reading accounts from the past and gazing upon the grainy black and white images from years ago, hints at the toil and hardship faced by both the indigenous people and the early settlers. They also speak volumes of their strength and courage.
In order to really immerse yourself in this magical journey of discovery, I recommend a whole day be set aside for this route. The truth of the matter is, that many places you will visit along this route will enchant you so much and will encourage you to linger, as this route also offers a window into the wonders of Knysna's complex forest kingdom.
Templeman Station – The first stop along this route is on the R339, about 15km off the N2 highway, where you will soon find yourself at the fringes of indigenous Knysna Forest. It is situated at the Ysterhoutrug picnic site, an ideal spot for families and also the starting point of the circular 8km White Elephant Hiking Trail. This first stop has much historical significance due to the fact that it contains some of the preserved remains of the original “Coffee Pot” railway line, which once carried both timber and people from deep in the forest to the banks of the Knysna Estuary. A short amble will lead you to some of the last remaining evidence of this old forest railway.
Route markers 2,3 and 4 are all situated just 2km away, where you take a right off the R339 and ascend through breathtaking forest up towards the lovely setting of the Diepwalle Forest Station.
Forest Legend Museum – This museum is a rich historical resource for our region, housing a fascinating collection of photographs, artefacts and stories about the lives of the foresters, woodcutters and the gold diggers that once lived here. It also has on display a skeleton of a forest elephant. Once numbering in their many hundreds, they were hunted to near extinction. The jury is still out on exactly how many still remain, but they remain largely unobserved amongst the forest's dense labyrinth, moving through it using ancient elephant pathways.
“Old Suzie' Steam Engine - Stationed just outside the Museum is the engine used from the 1900's by woodcutters to extract and process the colossal tree specimens into transportable timber. With a bright new lick of paint, she stands as a proud reminder of our steam rail heritage.
Old Forester's House – This impressive example of the old stone houses from the past, was once the home of a forester by the name of D.E Hitchins. He was responsible for the construction of a series of houses built in stone at numerous forestry stations across the region. The quaint little tea garden serves lovely tea-time treats, so be sure to take some time to relax here before heading back down to the R339. Make sure to pop into the indigenous plant nursery while there.
Big Tree – Just opposite the entrance to the Dipewalle Forest Station and rising up past all the other stately trees in the forest, is one of the region's most legendary Outeniqua Yellowwood trees. It was named after King Edward VII after a delegation of the British Parliamentary was treated to a traditional South African lunch at this location back in 1924. This tree has been rooted here for about 800 years and it stands more than 40m tall with a bole circumference of 7m. It stands sentinel over this protected tract of forest like a living natural monument, one that has stood the test of time. This is definitely a place to revive the soul and uplift the senses.
Velbroeks Draai – Further up the R339, this location (originally known as Veldhoeksdraai) was once known for the fact that it was a notorious spot for drivers, with narrow fish hook-like bends that were very tricky to navigate. The perfect place to relax and unwind, this stop offers a short 1km circular trail where you will see more ancient forest giants.
Spitskop - Situated in the Ysternek Nature Reserve, Spitskop is the highest accessible peak in the area, rising up 918m above the Diepwalle Forest. On a clear day you will enjoy expansive views of mountains to the north and to the south you can see as far as Plettenberg Bay and Mossel Bay. From this summit, you will be able to drink in a scene which I believe to be one of the most magnificent I have ever gazed upon.
Kom Se Pad – This road which meets up with the R339 and will take you on a journey deep into the Knysna Forest. These forests were exploited prior to 1939, after which the Government decided to close them to the woodcutters’ system. The forest has since revived itself and is the largest indigenous forests in South Africa. There is something quite magical about driving through this lush forest realm. Along this route are sign boards highlighting the history of the Knysna forest elephants.
San Ambrosa Chapel – This is the last stop on the historical route. Situated in Gouna, this chapel is of great significance to many of the descendants from this particular area. In the late 19th century, the colonial government sponsored the immigration of 32 Italian silk farmers, hoping that they could establish a silk industry in the Knysna Forests. Little did they know back then, that the indigenous mulberry tree was in no way related to the white mulberry, which is the silkworm's only source of food. There was never to be any spinning of silk in these parts. Uprooted from their homes and culture, these immigrants were largely forgotten and eked out a meagre existence. The chapel is full of old photographs and artefacts of these Italian families.