South Africa’s only walking festival is becoming the ‘not-to-miss’ event on the Garden Route over the Easter Weekend. Home to our country’s most famous trails and hikes, the festival celebrates the region’s iconic walks and appeals to adventure lovers while offering an exciting programme suitable for everyone in the family, from kids to seasoned hikers.
“Some of the best walks in the country are showcased in this exciting festival. Not to be missed are the Tidal Pool Meander and the brisk hikes up the region’s highest peaks, such as the Peak 1067 Challenge outside George and the Peak Formosa Adventure in the Tsitsikamma. Traditional walks include the Robberg Peninsula or Circles in the Forest Elephant Walk in the Knysna forest.
“For kids there is an amazing line-up this year, we have SA’s first Gruffalo Walk based on the famous children’s book character, allowing kids to learn about and encounter different
species of animals in the forest. The all Jme favourite Hi-Tec Kids Pirate Treasure Walk is perfect for Easter Sunday and promises to be great fun with friends and family on
Keurbooms beach,” says festival founder Galeo Saintz.
“The Hi-Tec Garden Route Walking Festival is the biggest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere - it’s a massive undertaking that involves the support and involvement of
volunteer and professional guides who share their knowledge of the region and their passion for nature. There are walks on offer every day for four days all along the coast from Mossel Bay, George, Wilderness, Knysna and PleW to Nature’s Valley.”
“Each year we are astonished by how many new people discover the festival and join in. The Garden Route is one of the world's great walking destinations, its incredible mountains, secret forests, cascading waterfalls, coastal cliffs, amazing beaches and famous trails are ideal for an end of summer festival in the outdoors.”
The programme of over 52 different walks includes unusual walks, such as the Walk with Poetry, the Underwater Walk and the Sketching in Nature walk. For those with an
adventurous spirit tough hikes along the rocky coast are a must and the one not to miss is the Oystercatcher Trail experience.
“Everyone is welcome, as the festival is about building connection between our diverse communities and between ourselves and wild nature,” says Saintz. The festival benefits local Garden Route environmental charities and conservation projects by showcasing their work and facilitating donaJons contributed by walkers.
“Join us for fun time out, meet new friends and discover hidden gems off the beaten track. This festival is ideal for families and everyone keen to discover new trails,” concludes Saintz.
Date: 19 - 22 APRIL 2019 - Easter Weekend
Registration is free, and necessary to coordinate numbers. Most walks are free, while
others require SANParks or CapeNature permits or guiding fees.
Register at www.walkingfestival.co.za
Organiser: Galeo Saintz
Cell: 082 888 8181
Facebook: Garden Route Walking Festival
More than thirty years ago the Japanese coined a poignant phrase to explain the sense of well- being one experiences when spending time in the heart of a forest. It’s called shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing”. Based on ancient Buddhist practises, the philosophy is quite simple: go to a forest, walk slowly, breathe and open all your senses. There is mounting scientific data on the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest. It is the best medicine for the mind, body and the soul.
It is more important now than ever to take the time to disconnect from this fast paced, techno-crazy world of ours, and to reconnect, with the natural world. With this in mind, and feeling the need for some serious 'forest bathing', I loaded the kids and the camping gear into the car and headed to Diepwalle, one of most magnificent forest realms in South Africa.
We arrived at the Diepwalle Forest Station as the last drops of a much needed, heaven-sent rain had fallen, and the combination of rain, decaying leaf litter, plant perfumes and ozone made for a powerful and heady scent which made us all stop and take a deep and mindful breath.
We had booked the weekend at one of the Diepwalle Forest Tented Decks, which are discreetly tucked within the forest, a short distance from the Forest Station. After unpacking all our gear, the kids immediately set off to explore and I sat on the deck and took in the sights, sounds and smells of the enchanted forest which surrounded me.
For many hours after the rain had ceased, I could hear the sound of raindrops sliding off the verdant leaves of the forest canopy. That and the chatter of children, cicadas and frogs. The therapy session had commenced. Later that afternoon we headed to the Forest Legends Museum, which houses fascinating stories of yesteryear; of woodcutters, timber merchants, botanists, settlers and the elusive Knysna elephant. The children marvelled at the museum's famous elephant skeleton and the stuffed honey badger.
That night around the fire, we played charades, sipped on hot chocolate and chatted into the night while a pair of owls hooted in the trees above us. We slept soundly, and awoke early, just when we could see the sun’s amber rays pierce through the boughs of a thousand trees. It was a perfect summer's day. We laced up our takkies and headed out on the Red Elephant Forest Trail, one of three walks in the Diepwalle Forest. It is marked along the route with a yellow plaque with a red elephant on it.
The kids raced off ahead of me, full of energy and enthusiasm. These forest trails have been blazed through a tightly-knit maze of diverse tree species, some so old that they rise up way beyond the canopy. I often had to remind the kids to stop and take a closer look at the intricate web of life thriving in this ancient forest sanctuary and to take the time to observe the little things along the way. Much of the beauty of the forest lies in the details, such as the velvety, bright green moss which clings to the bark of trees and rocks, which on close inspection are remarkable in their complexity; the multicoloured forest fungi that grows on fallen trunks of decaying timber; the various shades of pretty leaf litter; the wispy, pale green lichen which hangs like chandeliers from the limbs of the trees and the thick, dark green ferns which edge the pathway. Fascinating life forms wherever you cast your eye.
We spent several hours in the forest, stopping often to sit and linger and when we finally exited the comforting cloak of the forest, we felt both rejuvenated and elated. And that's pretty much how the weekend unfolded: long, languid alfresco meals at our tented deck and long, leisurely walks in the forest, time spent connecting with the natural world and with each other. I could have stayed there for a week, but the weekend had to suffice. When we left Diepwalle, our moods were elevated, energy levels increased and any stress we had arrived with was entirely dissipated. All from being one with this ancient forest. It was just what the doctor ordered.
For more info visit: www.sanparks.org
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.
The section provides for everyone, from old and youth, to the fit and physically disabled. Stop at Garden of Eden and learn the marked indigenous trees by name as you stroll the forest on a comfortable 800m boardwalk. Picnic, water and ablution facilities are available. The facility is situated between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, on the N2.
Looking to take a walk on the wild side. Look no further than the Kranshoek Coastal Hiking Trail. Engaging all the senses, this challenging 9km route provides not only the ultimate workout, but also the sweet serenity that comes from being in the great outdoors.
We recommend that you set aside a whole day for this trail, it is certainly not one to be rushed. You can take a dip along the way in untainted forest streams, or perhaps in one of the rock pools along the shoreline. There are so many spots en route which are ideal for picnicking - places to linger and digest the awesomeness of our region's diverse habitats.
The trail leads to the beach, where for some distance the crashing waves will be your guiding companion. But first, you will rove through an old coastal forest, and wind your way down from the plateau into a gorge through which a gentle river flows. You will walk among a variety of indigenous trees, which rise up in unison from the leaf-littered forest floor; you will walk past giant ferns and minute multi-coloured fungi; you will hop across tannin-tinted streams. The roar of the ocean can be heard while you are still deep in the forest, but eventually, from its cool shade the trail opens up onto the pebble strewn beach.
A little way down this beach is the turn off for the shorter 4km alternative route, which is recommended for those who are not quite as fit. It does nonetheless still require a good dose of stamina as there is a fair amount of climbing involved. Throughout the hike, you will come across interpretation boards covering various aspects of the ecology, such as the geological formations and the flora and fauna likely to be encountered here. It is interesting to learn just how these landscapes have formed over millions of years.
The trail weaves its way along the coastline, passing rocky outcrops that form buttresses to the invading sea. It is a kaleidoscope of colour around every corner: boulders draped with vivid orange and stark-white lichen; the emerald green of the forest and the sea’s shifting shades of blue. Make sure to look out for the rare Indo-Pacific humpback and inshore bottlenose dolphins. They often feed in the many rocky reefs close to the shore. Also from early winter and well into early summer one can see humpback and southern right whales skirting our Southern African coastline on their epic annual migration They can often be seen breaching from the shore - a totally mesmerizing sight.
The trail often veers off the beach, moving back into thickets of forest. Parts of the hike are very strenuous as one has to clamber over boulders in the pathway and there are lots of ascents and descents throughout the route. Eventually the trail makes a turn back into the forest for the final 200m ascent towards the plateau. When you finally reach the top, you will be afforded fantastic views of the coastline, this bird's eye view giving you an even greater appreciation for the trail you just walked. The vegetation along this part of the trail is very different, consisting of a variety of Fynbos species such as protea’s and erica’s. This final stretch of about 2km is fairly easy and flat and you will eventually find your way back to the Kranshoek picnic site from where you set off.
Entry is only R22 and is payable at the kiosk at the main gate.
For more information visit www.sanparks.co.za or call: (044) 302 5606
In the year of 1876, a farmer by the name of James Hooper was ambling along the banks of the Karatara River on his farm, collecting stones to aid the digestion of his prized ostriches (yes, strangely enough, ostriches do not have teeth and therefore eat stones to help break down their food). Among this bed of stones something shimmered and caught his eye. He picked it up and suspected that he had stumbled upon a nugget of alluvial gold. His suspicions were confirmed by Knysna’s apothecary and well, the rest as they say, is history.
Throughout history, this precious metal has held the power to seduce and intoxicate mankind and in this case it was no different. Word of the discovery of gold in Knysna’s Millwood Forest spread fast and furiously, luring prospectors locally and from abroad to seek out their fortunes.
The team at Knysna & Partners was recently invited to take part in the Historical Millwood Goldmine Tour, which is one of the activities on the popular Rheenendal Ramble tourist route and which is led by accredited and extremely knowledgeable guide, Andrew Aikman. His captivating tales of the past took us all back in time to this short- lived period in Knysna’s history, when the area was in the grips of man’s relentless thirst for gold. We learnt that a bustling town sprang up and eventually there were up to 1000 people living there. Six hotels were built as well as two schools, three newspapers were established and a host of saloons mushroomed.
The problem was that no one struck gold in any large quantities and as the production was unable to sustain the large number of miners, the result was that the ‘rush’ lasted a little more than a decade.
The first stop on the tour is a visit to Mother Holly’s, one of the only remaining buildings of this gold mining boom. It houses a museum which contains fascinating relics of the past, not only of the gold mining era but also tales of the timber industry that is so deeply ingrained in our history. It also shows images of the iconic elephants that once roamed here, and sadly were hunted in large numbers.
The tour includes visits to two abandoned mines shafts, including the well-known Bendigo Mine, one of the mines in the area bearing reef gold. Walking through these dark chambers blasted out of hard bedrock, one can only imagine the gruelling life of these hopeful miners. Along the route is the restored mining equipment of the Bendigo Mine.
Our tour concluded with a visit to the amazing Tottie’s Farm Kitchen, another destination steeped in history. It is named after Florence Eleanor van Reenen, affectionately known as ‘Tottie’ by the van Reenen family. Born in 1878, she later moved to South Africa from New Zealand as a “Florence Nightingale” nurse during the Anglo-Boer War. In 1922 Tottie opened a general dealer store on her farm named Rheenendal, which is the building where “Totties” is situated today.
Tottie’s Farm Kitchen has remained in the family and is now run by her great-grandson Garth and his wife Marian. Beautiful old artefacts, coupled with antique lace, old photographs, eclectic reclaimed timber and freshly picked roses, gives this country restaurant an exquisite charm. And then there is the food. Their salads are out of this world and their burgers give new meaning to the phrase ‘gourmet burger’! On Sunday’s they offer a buffet to die for!
Looking for something to do over the holidays, check these tours out:
• Gold Mine Day Trip (Thursdays from 09h00) - Jubliee Creek Gold Mine Walk, Lunch @ Mother Holly’s, Gold Mine Tour, High Tea at Totties Farm Kitchen @ R950 per adult
• Mine and Bike Day Trip (Friday’s from 10h00) – Mine Tour, Refreshments at Mother Holly’s, 1hr20min cycle through indigenous forest and fynbos, lunch at Totties Farm Kitchen @ R950 per adult.
• Standard Goldmine Tour (Wed – Sunday: 10h00, 12h00, 14h00) @ R200 per adult
• Combo Deal (Sunday’s from 10h00) – Gold Mine Tour, Buffet Luncheon @ Totties Farm Kitchen @R325 per person.
Bookings essential via Totties Farm Kitchen 074 228 4103/ 044 389 0092
There is something quite magical about walking through Knysna’s lush forest realm. It cloaks so much life, both big and small ensuring something new and interesting to see, touch, smell and hear. You could walk here every day and be surprised by something different each time.
While all life in the forest is wondrous, the unique characteristics of certain fauna and flora make them more eye-catching than others. Take, for example, some of the big daddies of the forest - the Outeniqua Yellowwoods (Podocarpus falcatus). These majestic trees soar upward towards, and occasionally beyond, the forest canopy. If you want to see just how spectacularly big they can grow, head to the Diepwalle Forest east of Knysna to admire out the King Edward VII tree, which has been rooted there for almost 700 years. This beautiful tree is more than 40m tall and has a bole circumference of a whopping 7m. It stands sentinel over this protected tract of forest like a living natural monument - one that has stood the test of time.
Another fascinating and otherworldly species that is often seen is ‘old man’s beard’ (Usnea barbata). This specie is wispy, pale green lichen that dangles delicately from the boughs of many tree species. All lichens are the product of a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and a photosynthetic partner, usually algae, which have evolved together to behave and look like an entirely new being.
What is interesting about this particular lichen is that it is highly sensitive to environmental disturbance, especially pollution, and has thus been hailed as a valuable indicator for air quality. Old man’s beard grows prolifically in our forests, and is therefore a wonderful sign of our untainted air quality.
Green obviously dominates the forest colour palette. Therefore the brightly coloured profusion of various species of bracket fungus is so eye-catching. Occurring in various shapes, colours and sizes and seen protruding like a shelf on both live and dead and decaying trees, bracket fungus plays an important role in the decomposition of wood in the forest.
Another plant that is often lit up by the early morning dappled forest light, is the common forest grape (Rhoicissus tomentosa) – an attractive, vigorous climber with velvety tendrils and pretty vine-like leaves and sprays of grape-like fruit. These forest grapes are loved by forest dwelling birds such as the Knysna Loerie. They can climb towards the tops of the tallest trees in the forest, often as high as 20 metres.
The leaves of the common forest grape exhibit an interesting natural phenomenon called guttation. This happens when glistening drops of clear, watery fluid collect on the margins of the leaf and is best seen in early morning after humid windless nights. Do not confuse these drops of moisture for dew, they are not. These are drops of liquid forced out of the plant when soil moisture is high and atmospheric conditions are not good for transpiration (evaporation of water via the leaves). The root pressure builds up and the plant cannot rid itself of water fast enough so the liquid is pushed out of the tips of the veins in the leaves.
The complex web of life in our Knysna Forests tells a captivating tale and is what makes a forest walk here so richly rewarding!
For more information on Knysna’s network of forest trails visit: www.visitknsyna.co.za