Knysna’s long and rich history begins more than 300,000 years ago (longer, if you take geological time into account) – and our local museums offer many fascinating insights into the lives of the people who’ve passed through here.
You might even come across the tracks of some of our 90,000-year-old ancestors…
The Knysna Municipality’s Knysna Museum occupies two properties in the CBD: the Old Gaol (corner of Queen Street and Main Road), and the Millwood House complex (corner of Queen Street and Clyde Street).
For kids of all ages with a love of adventure, the various in the Old Gaol, include a maritime collection that tells the story of Knysna as a port in the days when timber was the town’s main export product – while the maps and models room houses some exquisite, hand-made miniature replicas of the ships that made the town.
And if you’re into fishing, the angling collection traces the history of one of our oldest pursuits – and includes a special display about the coelacanth, which will always be associated with Knysna because the dramatic story of its discovery for science involved the famed local ichthyologist, JLB Smith.
A little way down the road, each of the four buildings on the Millwood House site has its own theme:
- Millwood House – has displays about domestic life in Knysna in the 19th and early 20th Centuriies;
- Parkes Shop – once the commissary of the old Parkes Sawmill – explores the trees and people of our forestry heritage;
- Parkes Cottage – like Millwood House, this yellowwood cottage was originally erected at the Millwood Goldfields in the 1880s, and was dismantled, moved, and rebuilt in town after the mines were abandoned. Its displays examine the history of Millwood, and provide a look at the life of George Rex, Knysna’s most famous early settler;
- Pitt Street House – this timber and corrugated iron labourers’ cottage (which was transported here from its original site at Parkes Sawmill) now houses a poster display about Knysna’s ‘Heritage in Stone.’ This includes the geology of the Knysna Basin; how The Heads were formed; and Earlier Stone Age (ESA) and Middle Stone Age (MSA) archaeology in the region. Oh, and if you’re looking for those 90,000 year-old fossilised hominin footprints, you’ll find information about them here, too.
Garden Route National Park Forest Legends Museum
The largely unfenced, 160,000 ha Garden Route National Park is a bold experiment in combining the natural and human environments, so it’s not surprising that its many attractions would include something to do inside on a rainy day.
Visit the Forest Legends Museum at Diepwalle to learn about the lifestyle of the Knysna woodcutters in the Knysna made famous in the novels of Dalene Matthee – and about the Knysna Elephants. (And in case you were wondering, this is where you’ll now see the elephant skeleton that once graced the Main Street window of the town’s old publicity bureau).
There’s also a coffee shop in an adjacent historic forester’s cottage, and both the museum and the cottage are stopping points on the Rooted in Time self-drive forest tour.
San Ambroso Chapel Museum
Another stop along the Rooted in Time tour, the San Ambroso Chapel Museum at Gouna, on the edge of the Knysna Forest, occupies a church that was built in 1891.
This chapel served a group of 32 silk spinners who had been brought from Italy to the Cape to found a silk-spinning industry – but who were cruelly abandoned after their arrival in Knysna, when it was found that silkworms wouldn’t survive on leaves from local trees.
The chapel was recently restored as a museum by a descendant of one of those families.
The NSRI’s Alex Blaikie Museum
Visit the beloved and historic rescue craft, Alex Blaikie, in drydock at the NSRI Station 12 (Knysna) Museum in Thesen Harbour Town.
Displays include information about many of the dramatic rescues carried out by the volunteers who crewed the Alex Blaikie, and who continue to crew her worthy replacements.
The Motorcycle Room
The Motorcycle Room is a private collection of more than 120 bikes, mainly from the 70s and 80s.
The collection is on display in Thesen Harbour Town. (Entry fees apply.)
Knysnamuseums.co.za: Our Virtual Museum
Visit knysnamuseums.co.za online if you can’t get to any of our local museums in person – it has information about all the institutions mentioned above, as well as many, many stories, photos, and videos about Knysna and its people.