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.
Knysna is literally surrounded by lush indigenous forests and with the holidays coming up, the time for exploration has arrived. You may feel a bit overwhelmed by the choices available to you when it comes to forest exploration and self-driven tours.
Here are two recommended routes you can do in your own car. Browse through them and see whether one (or both!) sparks an interest in your adventurous side.
This attractive route starts on the Rheenendal Road, just off the N2 and will lead you to the Millwood Forest. On your way there stop to visit the sites and attractions of the Rheenendal Ramble (pick up a map from Knysna Tourism office in Main Road). You will find a host of delightful coffee shops, a dairy and much more. It’s well worth making this a day trip as there is really so much to see.
Continue along the Rheenendal Road until you reach Totties’ Farmhouse Restaurant (you will also see a small petrol station) – drive about 200m’s further until you see a sign for Bibby’s Hoek. Take a right when you see the sign. A few kilometres up you will come to a boom, during peak season you will have to pay a small fee per head to enter the area (not more than R18 per person).
This road is full of charming stops and hiking trails. Look out for the 9km Woodcutters Walk. You will also see the Dalene Matthee Memorial (a fantastic South African author, well worth reading) and the Circles in the Forest Walk which is a short 3.1km.
About 3.6km further down this road you will reach Jubilee Creek. This is a magical place which both kids and adults will enjoy. It’s a great spot for hot days as the picnic benches are under tall leafy trees which provide plenty of shade. Dip into the cool stream waters and let the kids have a go at catching crabs. In the summer months, it’s easy to spend a few hours down there- braai (BBQ) facilities are available and toilets are close-by.
Gouna and Diepwalle
A great route for your self-drive tour is to drive the Gouna and Diepwalle routes; it is a circular route that starts and ends on the N2 (Main Road Knysna). Start at the Gouna Pass side and make your way (about 60km’s) through Diepwalle and back around to the N2 (you will come out at Nekkies - an informal settlement just outside of Knysna).
The Gouna Pass is a quiet world of lush green forests and a must see on your trip to Knysna. This Pass consists of a gravel road that can be rather uneven in places, so be prepared to drive slowly. It branches off from the Old Cape Road close to the Simola Golf Estate.
To get the Pass take a left at Old Cape Road (direction Knysna). Wind up a steep tarred road until you reach the top entrance of Simola Golf Estate. At this point, you will have three turn-offs. If you go left, you will enter the Simola Golf Estate, if you go straight you will get onto the Blaricum Heights Road - to get onto the Gouna Pass you must take a sharp left as you pass the entrance to Simola.
Travelling along this road is a real treat. The dense indigenous forest allows only streams of light to filter down onto the road, creating a magical atmosphere. This road is also called the R339 (make sure you have a map just in case). If you continue down this road, you will eventually pass the Gouna Forest Station and San Ambrosia historical church. The church is a quaint little church that is steeped in Knysna’s forestry history. Interestingly enough, there is a descendent of the original Italian settlers who came to this land a few hundred years ago. He still lives in a house adjoining the church and may well sell you some locally produced veggies or give you some information about the area. Make a stop there - the little church is always open.
If you continue straight along this road you will get to a big tree that is almost in the middle of the road. You will see three turn-offs - you want to take the one going to the right hand-side. This stretch of road is known as Kom–se-Pad, which is a beautiful scenic drive through thick indigenous forests and which terminates near the Diepwalle Forestry Station; contact number 044-382 9762/3.
At Kom-se-Pad stop and park your car and do the Terblans Walk. The walk is only 6.5 kms in length. It is a short circular route which starts and ends at the Grootdraai picnic site. It’s the perfect place to have a picnic or braai after your hike. There are also toilets available there.
When you have finished with relaxing and enjoying the sounds of the numerous birds, continue your drive continue on the Kom-se-Pad. You will eventually get to a T-junction. If you go left, you will head to Uniondale (and the Prince Alfred’s Pass) and if you go right, you will head back to Knysna, and connect again with the N2.
Take the opportunity while visiting the Garden Route to explore the region in your car. It allows you to experience first hand adventure and also gives you the opportunity to drive at your own pace. Make lots of stops along the way to really appreciate this gorgeous landscape – just make sure you have a tank full of fuel, your hiking boots and a couple of cold beers in the boot. Enjoy (but remember - don’t drink and drive!)