Rivers and lakes, lagoons and estuaries abound in Knysna, which is why this beautiful coastal town is one of South Africa’s top tourist destinations.
Apart from their scenic beauty, these waterways offer a myriad adventurous activities for holidaymakers and the opportunity to swim, fish, boat, sail, ski and jetski, paddle and SUP, kite and wind surf, scuba dive and snorkel. All of these waterways are managed by either SANParks or CapeNature and permits are required for fishing and most water activities.
Knysna Estuary and River
The Knysna lagoon, around which the town is built, is really an estuary, the difference being that a lagoon is typically shallow and the water flow sluggish. It covers about 1,633 ha and stretches from the Knysna Heads to Charlesford Weir on the Knysna river which is its main feeder. At its widest, the estuary measures about 3 km and at The Heads, which is the Knysna River mouth, it is just 230 m wide. The incoming tide flows through The Heads at a rate of between 1,000 and 2,000 cubic metres of water per second and reaches 17 km upstream.
The estuary is ranked top in the country in terms of overall conservation importance which includes criteria such as size, diversity of habitat, zonal rarity and biodiversity. It houses a remarkable diversity of species, most notable of which is the rare and endangered Knysna seahorse.
The extreme changes in the estuary are dictated by high and low tide. At low tide the channels and sand banks are exposed, and you can walk through the shallows all the way from Leisure Isle to The Heads.
Noetzie River and Lagoon
To the east of Knysna, the beautiful Noetzie River meanders through kilometres of indigenous forest before it reaches the Noetzie beach. Its name stems from the Khoisan Noetziekamma meaning ‘dark waters’ and is a reference to the tannins which leach into the river from the ancient trees lining its banks, turning the water a deep amber colour.
The river and estuary are a birder’s dream and provide a wonderful opportunity for paddling and swimming in the warm waters.
The unique Groenvlei Lake which lies between Knysna and Sedgefield is part of the Goukamma Nature Reserve and Marine Protected area. It has no inflowing rivers and only an underground link to the sea. It is host to six different fish species, two indigenous and four alien. Canoes can be hired and licenses for freshwater angling and boating on Groenvlei are available at the reserve office or Bait & Tackle in Sedgefield.
Goukamma River and Estuary
To the west of Knysna, the Goukamma River winds through the Goukamma Nature Reserve and Marine Protected Area to the beach at Buffalo Bay Wildside where it flows into an estuary. The reserve has a diverse array of fascinating habitats and an abundance of smaller wildlife, birds and fish. It is also a World Heritage Site. You can hire canoes and pedal-boats in the reserve and enjoy a scenic paddle up the river past farmlands with good bird sightings along the way.
Swartvlei Lake is the longest and deepest of the many lakes of the Wilderness National Park, just outside Sedgefield and one of the top attractions in the Garden Route. It boasts a variety of bird species and is good for fishing. For six months of the year the Swartvlei Lake is connected to the sea and usually the river mouth is opened and closed naturally. Manual intervention sometimes becomes necessary when floods threaten because of high rainfall.
Further west towards Cape Town, the Wilderness Lakes – Elandsvlei, Langvlei and Rondevlei – are a designated Ramsar Site acknowledged as being a wetland area of value.