Into the Langkloof | 255km
...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 for South African holidays along the Garden Route, 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.
PRINCE ALFRED'S PASS
By the mid-1850s Knysna was becoming an important port and the need arose for a route through the Knysna forests and across the Outeniqua Mountains into the interior. The route was surveyed by Andrew Geddes Bain in 1856, but construction only began in 1863, and it took Thomas Bain four years to complete the pass. It was named after Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, who visited the Cape Colony in 1867. During his visit to Knysna, the prince took part in an elephant hunt in which several elephants were wounded and two killed.
This ridge in the forest owes its name to the ironwood (Olea capensis spp. macrocarpa), which was mainly used for railway sleepers and as heavy-duty structural timber. Until 1949, Ysterhoutrug was the northern terminal of a 35-km-long railway line built by the South Western Railway Company in 1904-07 to transport timber to Knysna.
KING EDWARD VII TREE
This forest giant is the largest of several enormous Outeniqua yellowwoods (Podocarpus falcatus) growing in the Knysna forests which you will come across on your South African holidays. With a crown spread of 24 m and a circumference of 6 m, it towers 39 m above the forest floor. Originally known as Templeman's Tree, after the woodcutter who bought it, the tree was never felled because it was simply too big to handle. It was renamed after King Edward VII when a delegation of the British Parliamentary Association was treated to a lunch at the tree in 1924. Its age is estimated at 650 years.
YSTERNEK NATURE RESERVE
...is one of several fynbos 'islands' surrounded by the Knysna forest. The origin of these islands was initially attributed to the activities of early woodcutters, hunters or the Khoikhoi. More recent research, however, has suggested that at least some of these 'islands' are remnants of what used to be a far more extensive fynbos area, and which have been isolated by the expanding forest. The reserve was established to provide protection to an area of mountain fynbos and the surrounding indigenous forest. It was in the vicinity of Ysternek that Thomas Bain established his first construction camp.
VALLEY OF FERNS
This fairy-tale patch of forest lies within the Ysternek Nature Reserve amidst a section of wet forest consisting of red and white alders, stinkwood, Cape beech and Cape holly. Shaded by the dense tree canopy, the well-watered valley supports a lush grove of forest tree ferns (Alsophila capensis) up to 4 m tall.
...rises to a height of 933 m above the indigenous forests of yellowwood, stinkwood, white stinkwood, knobwood and candlewood. At an altitude of 830 m, the viewpoint offers expansive views to the north of the Outeniqua Mountains. To the south lie the forests and Knysna Lagoon, while the view to the east extends beyond Plettenberg Bay.
The remote farming settlement of De Vlugt became a bustling community after Thomas Bain moved his construction camp here in 1863. Bain's camp consisted of a stone house built for his family, accommodation for the convicts and a chapel, also used as a school. From De Vlugt Bain embarked on the most challenging section of Prince Alfred's Pass, much of which had to be cut into steep slopes, with deep river gorges dictating the building of numerous bridges.
Avontuur is the next stop along your South African holidays tour of the Garden Route. The first farm in the area was granted to Matthys Zondagh in 1765, and although the name Avontuur was already in use by 1778, the exact origins of the Afrikaans name, translated as 'adventure', are not known. The settlement lies at the western end of the 610-mm narrow-gauge railway line which served the farms in the Langkloof, a region famous for its apples, until it was discontinued in 1993 due to economic reasons.
...was originally named Terra das Trovoadas (Land of the Thunder) by the Portuguese. The first European to explore the area was a Dutch sergeant, Isaq Schrijver, who travelled along the valley in 1689 and named it Langkloof, meaning 'long ravine'. Lying parallel to the coast, the Langkloof stretches from Herold eastwards for 160 km to just beyond Joubertinia. The valley, which ranges in width from 8 km to 16 km, is bounded in the north by the Kamanassie Mountains and by the Tsitsikamma Mountains to the south.
...a small farming settlement at the northern end of the Montagu Pass, was named after TJ Herold, the Dutch Reformed minister at George from 1812 to 1823. Hops make up the area's most important agricultural crop.
Until the completion of the Outeniqua Pass in 1951, the Montagu Pass was the most direct route between George and the Little Karoo. In 1844, about 250 convicts began building the pass under the supervision of the Australian road engineer, Henry Fancourt White. Completed in 1847, the pass was only opened in 1849 and was named after the Colonial Secretary, John Montagu.
Signposts along the route indicate places of interest; among them are the ruins of the hotel at North Station, the site of the old smithy, the magnificent arched stone bridge across the Keur River and the tollhouse. Many of the bends were named after a particular feature or incident.
...at the foot of the Montagu Pass, was established as a construction camp during the building of the pass. In addition to the quarters for the convict labourers, storerooms and houses were built for the artisans and supervisors engaged to work on the pass. Originally named White's Village, after road engineer Henry Fancourt White, the name was later changed at his request to Blanco.
Much to the chagrin of the inhabitants of George, the village flourished after the opening of the pass, as traffic bypassed George. The historic Fancourt manor house, which White built for himself, is now the focal point of one of South Africa's premier golfing and leisure destinations.
Laid out on the coastal plain below the Outeniqua Mountains, George is a picturesque town with streets lined by majestic oak trees planted soon after it was founded in 1811. The town was named in honour of the then reigning monarch, George III. Situated in the heart of the Garden Route, George is popular for South African holidays, especially with outdoor enthusiasts who are attracted to the numerous hiking trails and walks in the nearby forests and mountains.
Places of interest along the 1,5-km-long historical walking tour include the George Museum, housed in the Drostdy building. The main theme of the museum is the region's timber industry, but it also has an important collection of vintage gramophones and musical instruments. Also to be seen along the walk is the King Edward VII Library (the best example of Edwardian architecture in the town), the old slave tree, St Mark's Anglican Cathedral (1850) and the historic Dutch Reformed Church (1842).
The George Timber Route meanders from the George Museum past several tree species, furniture manufacturers and the Dutch Reformed Church (1842), with its magnificent yellowwood ceiling and handcarved stinkwood pulpit. An interesting collection of railway equipment, coaches and locomotives, as well as a replica of an old station, can be seen at the Outeniqua Railway Museum.