Along the Passes Road | 190km

Along the Passes Road.

KNYSNA

...lies on the banks of a tranquil lagoon, guarded at its mouth by The Heads, and overlooked to the north by the Outeniqua Mountains. Surrounded by lush indigenous forests of yellowwood, stinkwood, Cape beech and red alder, its history is closely linked to the exploitation of the forests and to George Rex, a legendary figure who bought the farm Melkhoutkraal in 1804 and established himself as a timber merchant.

One of the most popular coastal resort towns along the Garden Route for South African holidays, Knysna offers visitors a wide range of water sports (in the lagoon and the sea) and adventure activities. Those in search of a more relaxed holiday can explore the lagoon aboard a houseboat, or on a tour boat. The lagoon is home to the endangered Knysna seahorse (Hippocampus capensis) as well as many of the over 230 bird species recorded in the area to date. It is also famous for its fresh oysters.

Places of interest include Millwood House, dating back to the region's short-lived 1870s gold rush and now a museum; George Rex's grave; and the Angling Museum. Numerous arts and crafts galleries, gift shops, farm stalls and furniture factories abound.

MILLWOOD

...sprung up after a gold nugget was discovered in the Karatara River in 1876. The discovery of reef gold in 1886 and the proclamation of the Millwood goldfields the following year caused a rush of miners and fortune-seekers. At the height of the gold rush, the population of the goldfields stood at 400 permanent residents, with 600 diggers living mainly in tents. Over 40 syndicates mined 27 reefs, and Millwood grew to a sizeable village of 75 buildings, including a government office, six hotels, a bank and a post office.

The village also had three newspapers, the Millwood Sluice Box, Millwood Eaglet and the Millwood Critic. However, the reefs were uneconomical to mine, and gold fever soon died down. Many miners left Millwood following the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886. By the early 1890s most of the syndicates were bankrupt, and by 1893 Millwood's population had declined to a mere 74 people and the forest soon reclaimed the land.

All that remains of Millwood today are Monk's Store (now a museum), abandoned mining shafts, the old cemetery and the street names. The Mining Museum at the Bendigo Mine has several pieces of old mining machinery on display, including a five-stamp battery and a 1901 Ransomes Jeffries and Sims steam engine.

JUBILEE CREEK

...lies in a sylvan setting of magnificent indigenous forests and a murmuring, dark-brown stream. Named in honour of the golden jubilee of Queen Victoria, the area was once the scene of frantic gold-mining activity. A reminder of this era is the old alluvial gold diggings about 200 m from the start of the Jubilee Creek Walk, an easy 4-km walk starting from the picnic site. The area also provided the setting for Dalene Matthee's book, Circles in the Forest (1984).

PASSES ROAD

Construction of a road link between Knysna and George began from George in 1868 under Adam de Schmidt and the engineer Thomas Bain, but it was not until 1883 that the entire route was completed. Until the opening of the N2 in 1951, the Passes Road was the only route between the two towns. Beyond the turnoff to Millwood, the road meanders along the Homtini Pass, finished in 1882, before passing Barrington.

Because of the deep gorge of the Homtini - a Khoikhoi name meaning 'the passage' - it was initially planned to swing the route towards the coast from the Silver River. But the sandy terrain along the coast delayed progress, and in 1879 it was decided to reroute the road further inland. Still further on, the road negotiates the Karatara Pass - a Khoi name meaning 'deep and dark' - followed by the Hoogekraal Pass and the Diep River.

WOODVILLE BIG TREE

This 31-m-high Outeniqua yellowwood (Podocarpus falcatus) is one of several yellowwoods in the Knysna and Tsitsikamma forests that qualifies for the title of Big Tree. With a circumference of 9 m, it is estimated to be more than 800 years old. Beyond Woodville, the Passes Road crosses the Touw, Silver, Kaaimans and Swart rivers.

WILDERNESS

Nestling on the banks of the Touw River Estuary below hills draped in indigenous forests, the sparkling white beaches, lakes and rivers of Wilderness have drawn visitors on South African holidays for over a century. Not to be missed is a drive to the Map of Africa viewpoint, which overlooks a near-perfect outline of Africa, or a leisurely walk along the Boardwalk, which forms part of the Pied Kingfisher Trail.

WILDERNESS NATIONAL PARK

...was proclaimed in 1987 to manage and conserve the delicate Wilderness lakes area. The park consists of four lakes, five rivers, two estuaries and 28 km of coastline, and is surrounded by a National Lake Area of 10 000 ha. The wetlands are an important habitat for waterbirds, and support 72 of a possible total of 95 waterbird species. Total bird numbers range between 5 000 and 15 000, although at times the wetlands support up to 24 000 birds a month.

The lakes are not only popular with waterbirds, but are also ideally suited for a variety of water sports. To ensure that sensitive areas are not disturbed, the lakes have been zoned for various activities. Canoes and rowing boats, for example, may be used throughout the area, while motor boats are subject to certain restrictions. The Wilderness-Sedgefield Lakes Complex consists of three separate systems: the Wilderness Lakes System in the west, the Swartvlei System in the centre and the Groenvlei in the east.

WILDERNESS LAKES

The Touw River and its estuary are linked to three interconnected lakes, a system known as the Wilderness Lakes. The river is connected to the first lake, Eilandvlei, by a meandering channel, the 5,5-km-long Serpentine. Also known as Lower Langvlei, the 150-ha Eilandvlei owes its name to Drommedaris Island which lies at its centre. To the east, the lake is linked by a channel to Langvlei, which was formed when the sea level was much higher than it is today and the lowlands between the dunes were inundated.

Langvlei, in turn, is linked by an 800-m-long channel to Rondevlei, the easternmost of the Wilderness Lakes. Covering 143 ha, Rondevlei was formed some 7 000 years ago when a deflation basin formed by wind was inundated by rising sea levels. The lake is an important habitat for several waterbird species, such as greater crested and blacknecked grebes and redknobbed coot. For birding enthusiasts, there is a hide at the lake's northeastern edge.

SWARTVLEI

Covering 1 085 ha, Swartvlei is the largest and deepest of the Wilderness-Sedgefield Lakes Complex. It owes its name to the dark colour of the water, which is produced by plant colloid and certain acids. The lake is an example of a river valley that was drowned when sea levels rose due to warmer climatic conditions approximately 6 000 years ago. Swartvlei is connected to the sea by a channel which is blocked by a sand bar for more than half the year.

The sheltered waters are home to the Knysna seahorse, and the lake is a popular destination for yachting, powerboat, water-skiing and windsurfing enthusiasts. It also offers excellent angling and birding opportunities.

GROENVLEI

...was formed some 3 000 years ago when its channel to the sea was cut off. Situated about 3 m above sea level, it is the only freshwater lake in the system. Because it is not linked to any rivers, it is recharged by rainwater seeping through the dunes and the freshwater springs at its eastern end. Groenvlei owes its name and its colour to the algae that flourish in the water.

GOUKAMMA NATURE RESERVE

This scenic reserve covers 2 500 ha of coastal fynbos, coastal forest, 14 km of coastline and Groenvlei. The marine reserve adjoining the coast extends for 1,85 km seawards. Visitors on South African holidays can explore this scenic reserve along several day walks, canoe or sail on the Goukamma River and try their luck at angling, either along the coast, in the river or in the vlei. Accommodation is limited to a rustic bush camp on the shores of Groenvlei and a thatched rondavel overlooking the Buffalo River.

BELVIDERE

The Holy Trinity Church on Belvidere was built by Thomas Duthie, owner of the estate between 1833 and 1857. Consecrated on 5 October 1855, the church is a miniature of the Norman style of the 11th and 12th centuries. Sandstone was quarried at a nearby site, while stinkwood and yellowwood timber came from the Knysna forests. Except for the parapet, the pulpit was carved from a solid block of sandstone. The magnificent stained glass rose window was made in England from pieces of glass obtained from churches bombed during World War II.

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