Woodcutters, elephants, narrow-gauge steam trains, Knysna loeries, gold miners, conservationists, storytellers, and more – all romping through the leafy undergrowth and sunny glades of our culture and our past, and giving the Knysna Forests a mythical, magical quality that’s unmatched anywhere in South Africa.
These are the people, the animals, the plants and the places you’ll discover when you explore the Knysna Forests on SANParks’ Rooted in Time self-drive tour of the Gouna-Spitzkop – Diepwalle area of the Garden Route National Park.
Signboards at ten stops – including one museum – along the route explain the history and natural history of the area, making it possible for visitors to discover the forests on a level that’s often only accessible to people who’ve known them all their lives.
Some of the highlights you’ll visit on your tour include:
- Templeman Station at the Ysterhoutrug Picnic Site (S33 57.755 E23 09.411): situated on the site of the old J.H. Templeman Sawmill in the forests at Diepwalle. This was once one of the stops on the Coffee Pot steam train service run by the South Western Railway Company, Ltd., from 1907 to 1949. The Coffee Pot transported timber to Knysna, and goods and passengers to and from the forests. Although most people had thought that all traces of the railway had disappeared from the forests when the track was lifted following the closure of the service, some relics have recently been rediscovered at this site, and you can now follow a 300 metre mini-hike along the remains of the line.
- Diepwalle Forest Station (S33 56.909 E23 09.434), where you’ll find three of the tour’s different way-points: the Forest Legends Museum, a historic Forester’s House, and the Steam Engine Suzie (which once supplied power for sawing the logs – but only on two days of the week!)
- In the Forest Legends Museum, you’ll learn about the animals and birds of the Knysna Forests, and discover the stories of the woodcutters who worked the forests in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Here you’ll also find the famous Knysna elephant skeleton that once stood in the window of the Visit Knysna office (previously the Knysna Publicity Association) on Main Road, Knysna.
- The King Edward VII Big Tree (close to the entrance to Diepwalle Forest Station) – a 40 metre tall, 800-year-old Outeniqua yellowwood (Afrocarpus falcatus) that towers above the forest canopy, and that was named for King Edward VII after local conservators hosted a delegation of British Parliamentarians to luncheon here in 1924. A small entry fee is payable for access to this site.
- Spitzkop (S33.912, E23.1366). At 918 metres, Spitzkop is the highest accessible viewpoint in the area. From here you’ll enjoy commanding views of the Diepwalle Forest and, if the air is clear enough, sweeping vistas of the length of the Outeniqua Mountains and all the way along the Garden Route – from Mossel Bay, 100 km to the west, to Plettenberg Bay, 30 km to the east.
- Kom Se Pad – a winding drive through leafy forests, and a favourite haunt both of the Knysna elephants, and of some of the characters in author Dalene Matthee’s forest novels. Although there’s almost no chance of seeing an actual elephant while you’re here, you will find Rooted in Time sign boards that tell their stories when you drive this route.
- The San Ambroso Chapel Museum (S33.969, E23.053). This chapel was built in 1891 to serve the spiritual needs of a group of Italian silk spinners who were brought to the Cape Colony under unfortunate circumstances in a misguided attempt to establish a silk industry in the region.
The forest roads on the Rooted in Time route are accessible to passenger cars, and also to 4×4 vehicles.
Collect your printed ‘Rooted in Time’ map from the SANParks offices at Thesen’s Jetty (on Thesen Island) – or download it from sanparks.org.