I made my way slowly along one of the many narrow trails which lead visitors through the Pledge Nature Reserve in Knysna. It was slow going because so often I just simply had to stop and momentarily gaze at a particular plant specimen which flanked my path, the unique beauty of each flowering variety heralding the arrival of Spring.
Almost 300 different species are rooted across this reserve. The bird life is notable, too ,with at least 98 species recorded and the birdsong was therefore a constant companion throughout my walk. The upper reaches are characterised by a mosaic of rare Garden Route Shale Fynbos. I linked onto the Fynbos Trail, which is dominated by species such as Proteas and Restios. The Ericas with their wispy sprays of mauve and white flowers punctuated the blue skies, and buchu varieties filled the air with a heady scent. The trail led up to a spectacular vantage point, which boast impressive views of the estuary and the Knysna heads.
The lower-lying trails traverse through Riverine Thicket and lovely wetland vegetation and are veiled in a leafy cloak, the twisted boughs of many different trees reaching upwards in pursuit of light. They are edged with a host of shade lovers such as Plectranthus, the delicate purple flowers occasionally catching the thin rods of light which sneak in through the dense foliage. The bright orange petals of the Clivias, in strong contrast against the green palette of the forest, demanded my attention, as did the bright flowers of the Wild Pomegranate.
It was easy to understand why this place is dubbed the 'Green Heart of Knysna'. When you are in the midst of this natural wonderland, one can so easily forget, for a brief moment, that this 10 hectare reserve lies right in the middle of Knysna's very busy urban landscape. That is the beauty of it. That this remaining vestige of the natural world is there for us to enjoy, right on our doorstep.
It wasn't always this pristine. The land was once a brick-field during the time of the timber boom of the 1800’s and thereafter it became an informal dumping ground, which then tainted the once crystal clear streams running through it and which eventually spill into the Knysna Estuary.
Fortunately the land, which lies just 200m from the Main Road that runs through Knysna, was proclaimed a Nature Reserve in a 1991 and has since , with the combined efforts of flora loving locals, been transformed and revived close to what it perhaps once was in its pristine state. It went from toxic dumping ground where invasive alien species ran rampant, to a place where indigenous life in many shapes and forms prosper.
There are various trails from which to choose, and one can quite easily spend hours ambling about the place. We are extremely fortunate to have this little green gem, which is somewhat unique for an urban centre. In order for it to succeed in the long term, it needs full support from both locals and visitors. So grab a friend and go for a walk during your lunch break, or head up to the top for an after-hours respite and take in the wonders of our unique natural heritage.
Tickets can be bought at the top entrance of the reserve, the Knysna Tourism office, Polvo Coffee and Wayside Inn.
The Reserve hosts a Full Moon Night Walk, where visitors will have the opportunity to hear and hopefully see the creatures of the night. The next one takes place on Thursday, 15 September 2016.
Guided walks with bird, plant, or wildlife specialists can be arranged.