When I was asked by Fine Places and Knysna Tourism to join a group of local bloggers at the Pick ‘n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival a couple of weeks back, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to spend time in one of my favourite Garden Route towns. I’d heard much about the Festival that seems to anchor Knysna’s calendar and was pleased for a chance to attend and learn more.
Admittedly, my first reaction to Theresa Lozier’s invitation was – ’I don’t eat oysters, can I please come anyway’ – and on the back of that, she designed a four-day itinerary that was just perfect for me. One with special emphasis on all things Naturally Knysna and offering a collection of incredibly diverse experiences and activities. I was set to see a town I thought I knew, through a fresh set of eyes.
Flying up from Cape Town to George on a Thursday morning, I checked into my Garden Room at the secluded Knysna Hollow where I spent three comfortable nights. Perfectly positioned just minutes from the town centre with a spacious garden, three large pools, a veggie patch and a recently refurbished lounge, bar and dining room area – not to mention free wifi – the Hollow serves as the perfect base when visiting the area.
Activity number one was an Instawalk along the now-abandoned waterfront railway line, starting at the Festival Grounds at the Knysna High School and continuing onto the bridge over the tranquil lagoon. Hosted by SA’s Instagram Legend Gareth Pon (below) and local Iger Mark Jackson, a group of over 30 gathered and together we ventured off to capture a moment.
This fun start set the tempo for the rest of the weekend. From here there were varied activities and loads of ridiculously fresh air. Walks, beautiful meals, charming local people, views across the lagoon and a festive feeling everywhere you turned. My four days went a little like this:
Where I walked:
Besides the Instawalk, I took the FNB Forest Family Hike (which offered a 3km, 5km or 10km option) into the Knysna Forest, where the southernmost elephants are known to roam. We took a boat trip across the lagoon to the unspoilt Knysna West Head where we hiked in the pristine Featherbed Nature Reserve. Then on Sunday morning donning bright pink t-shirts, Natalie, Merushka, Theresa and I joined the 5km women’s walk in aid of breast cancer awareness. Truth is, we were late for this one and by the time we got there most of the pink ladies were arriving back. But proudly displaying our race numbers, we were not deterred and walked the coastal route anyway.
Where I felt peace and love.
Natalie and I took a tour of the largest Rastafarian community in South Africa, Knysna’s Judah Square. Our guide Brother Zebulon or Dawie Afrikaner, brought the lives and philosophy of this peaceful place to animated life with his stories and ‘fist to chest’ Irie greeting.
Set is a small valley in Khayalethu South, this boom-gated community is ‘an informal settlement which developed into a formal one’ when in 1993 the municipality responded to a request by the local Rasta’s for their own area. Today store holders sell fruit, vegetables, arts and crafts and take turns manning the gate.
The wall lining the main road is a testament to their origin and history with an emphasis on respect and learning. Brother Zeb told me about their vegetarian ways, dreadlocks, modest dress for worship and religious practices – some admittedly illegal. Their goal is ‘to rise together in One Love’ and I could feel it. Bob had this way of life mastered. The length of the road to the hilltop residences is painted with murals that depict the history and beliefs of the Rastafarian people. Below their tabernacle, is a place of worship.
I put my feet in the sand:
No visit to the area would be complete without the drive down a rather bumpy dirt road to Knysna’s Noetzie Beach. This is exactly what I did, for a walk and a look back at the Castles that have stood here since the 1930s. There was hardly anybody there and the 135 steps to the beach could not have been better rewarded.
Where I ate:
Meals were in decadent supply, the highlight being an incredible meal by Sanchia at FireFly Eating House. This is my favourite restaurant in the area and I was lucky enough to secure a table for 4 in their red-walled room that maxed capacity for the night at 14 pax. Exotic spices, laid-back bohemian and tasteful in every sense. A collective offering of handcrafted dishes accompanied by Method Cap Classique and I was in heaven. (Do chase them down for a reservation. It’s everything I say it is and more.)
The other astounding meal that was matched by the ambience, African fusion and flavours were by Mawanda Khondlo at his Wandu @ Ekasi Restaurant. After a ceremony of traditional handwashing, we took our place around Mawanda’s table and prepared to feast. Mawanda grew up in Oudtshoorn and relocated to Knysna to seek out better opportunities. Following his dream to make a difference he worked at Knysna Hollow before starting his Wandu Tours after realising a gap in the market for township tours. Expanded to his restaurant and homestay. The food is delicious, the mood warm and the man incredibly talented and unutterably charming. I now know why he has forged his way to be one of the area’s main attractions. I had thirds!
The Dining room and open kitchen from which Mawanda serves his African flavoured feast. Below is one of the fire drums that we all congregated around for after-dinner chats. Of course, no visit to Knysna should neglect a visit to the Waterfront for generous portions of good food at both 34 Degrees South and The Dry Dock. I did stop by to say hi to Markus of Ile de Pain on Thesen Island too and stock up on pastries for home. Best hot chocolate in the world!
All the while I was eating and delighting, marathons were being run, cycles raced and paddles swung. Not to mention oysters shucked, paired, romanced over and appreciated for their sheer taste of the ocean.
I do recommend that if oysters are your choice of pleasure, you opt for the cultivated variety as wild oysters are undeniably under much stress around the world. With Knysna having a long history of oyster farming that stems back to 1946, this is certainly the best place to do just that in South Africa.
Mostly, what I learned:
That Knysna is an active and interactive community. That I could live here. That the sheer beauty of the tranquil lagoon will always astound me. That people who preserve pieces of land as nature reserves should be sainted. That I fit right in with peace-loving vegetarian Rastafarians. I can now do a proper Rasta greeting. That this Festival produces one of the best maps I’ve ever seen. That biomimicry is the future. That I want to grow my own oyster mushrooms in my used coffee granules. That elusive elephants live in the forest, probably fairies too. I really do love this town.
This was the 30th Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival and what was evident to me during my four days there was how the whole town bought into the occasion. Everywhere you look there was signage leading you to a different adventure. Community projects, libraries at work with local children, design and food markets on rooftops. The philosophy of the town is one of healthy inclusion and the people of the town both participate and benefit.
Beyond thrilled to have been there and I’ve already marked the dates for next year. Although I know that I will return to Knysna sooner than that and certainly revisit some of my above newfound favourite spots.
Thank you to Fine Place, Knysna Tourism and the Pick ‘n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival for hosting me as part of your Media team. Beyond wonderful and I am most appreciative of the opportunity.
Find the original story with additional photos and info here – The Knysna Oyster Festival.