No one seems to be sure of the exact meaning of the Khoi word Knysna. It could be ‘place of wood’, ‘fern leaves’ or, maybe, ‘straight down’ – an obvious reference to the Heads, the impressive sandstone cliffs that guard the treacherous entrance to the lagoon. But, whatever its meaning, Knysna is an enduringly popular holiday town – and one of the world’s top 100 visitor destinations for holiday rentals.
It’s easy to see why. Our Mediterranean-style climate, deep forests, majestic mountains, uncrowded beaches, beautiful lagoon, numerous lakes and amazing variety of flora and fauna, offer visitors endless opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors.
Plettenberg Bay 34km
George Airport 75 km
Port Elizabeth 255km
Cape Town 510km
A town built on wood
Only 5% of South Africa’s land mass is indigenous forest – and 90% of this is found in the Knysna area. It’s not surprising, then, that the town’s original prosperity came from the timber industry.
Knysna’s recent history began in 1804, when a timber merchant named George Rex (reputed to be the illegitimate son of King George III) purchased virtually all the land surrounding the lagoon and brought his entire household here to settle. He developed the lagoon into a port with naval and commercial ships bringing in supplies and taking timber out from the settlements of Melville and Newhaven, which eventually united to form the town of Knysna.
In 1869, a Norwegian sea-faring family by the name of Thesen stopped off in Knysna for ship repairs on their way to a new life in New Zealand. They decided to stay and established a thriving business as timber merchants and shipbuilders. The new housing and retail developments on Thesen Islands are on the site of the original sawmills and some interesting pieces of equipment have been preserved and are permanently exhibited in the Woodmill Lane shopping centre in town.
Even today, the timber industry continues to make a significant contribution to the area’s economy. Timber is harvested from pine and gum plantations – and also from indigenous forests, but only in controlled amounts. Timber houses (a particular feature of this area) are exported to the Indian Ocean Islands, Singapore and Australia. Local craftsmen and carpenters use indigenous timbers such as stinkwood and yellowwood to produce some striking furniture and decorative items.