Thursday, January 7, 2016

Knysna Revisited

Knysna Lagoon and the Heads
I find myself back in Knysna on the Cape south coast.  I didn't plan to be here - at least not now.  As the saying goes - man proposes, God disposes. So between visiting a very dear and very sick relative in hospital, I've been reminded of how beautiful this area really is.

So what makes Knysna so special?  That’s very easy to answer.  It’s the lagoon.  It’s beautiful, exiting to the sea through a crevice in the rock-basin called simply The Heads. Not only does the lagoon provide a wonderful scenic feature and a home to all sorts of water sports, but it is also home to the Knysna Oyster.  The canny folk of Knysna have a knack of taking their natural advantages and turning them into commercial advantages.  For many years one would drive onto a small low-lying island in the lagoon –Thesen Island - which had a desultory timber business on it, and the Knysna Oyster Company.  The Knysna Oyster Company was a beacon attracting tourists and locals alike.  At first it consisted of an oyster farm where oysters were cultivated in the lagoon and sold –open or closed – to visitors and local restaurants and hotels.
After some time, a few outside tables were added where you could sit in the sun, enjoy the lagoon and eat your oysters with your own wine.  Then it became a café, then a restaurant, then a landmark … and then it disappeared.

Knysna specializes in rarities.  There are the famous Knysna elephants, by far the rarest of their clan.  Believed extinct for many years, it has now been established that a few still wander deep in the Knysna forests keeping well away from humans.  For visitors who don’t have a few months to invest in trying to find them, an Elephant Park with non-Knysna elephants has been conveniently situated nearby.

Presumably the wedding guests
At Brenton on the sea side of the town, there is a butterfly – the Brenton Blue – which occurs only there.  In common with several other species of Blue, it has a complex relationship with a species of ant.  The caterpillar secretes a sweet substance that the ants enjoy, and in return they protect it and help it with its complex life cycle, even excavating a hole for it to feed on roots and eventually pupate.  Since this is sea front property, the Blue was hardly likely to have been left in peace, but at least an area has been set aside to attempt to preserve the species.  Brenton Blue tours are doing well too.

Then there’s the Knysna Seahorse – the rarest species of seahorse and the only one on the South African coast.  It occurs only in three estuaries along the west Cape coast.  All seahorses are fascinating creatures - see Susan's delightful posts - with their rather languid behavior and charming faces.  Fortunately, they’ve caught the hearts of the people in the Knysna area.  But that brings me back to the disappearing Oyster Company. Thesen Island has become a residential development.  Suddenly this small island, practically at sea level, has been packed with houses.  We are assured that no damage will result to the lagoon or the seahorses.  Just what happens to the effluent from all these new dwellings is best left to the imagination.  The oysters packed up and left, bag and baggage.  But where can the seahorses go?

Thesen Island today
Well, perhaps global warming has one saving grace after all.  Thesen Island will be among the first to go…



  1. Michael, thank you for this run down. I hope your sick relative recuperates well and quickly.

    Regarding development, I, of course, am on the side of the butterflies, the seahorses, and the elephants. I once read an article in a travel magazine that listed Knysna as one of the top ten places in the world to live. It seemed obvious that such praise could become the kiss of death. I never thought I would be looking forward to the good side of global warming. :{

  2. Thank you, Annamaria. It is gorgeous here. I hope it can stay that way...

  3. What a beautiful place. All it needs is a Walmart and life would be perfect. Sorry, make that a Trump Hotel.

    I too hope your relative is doing better, Michael.