Travel back in time with a new self-drive route through the magical Knysna forests. You’ll love discovering more about the historic beasts (both human and animal) who used to inhabit this fascinating area.
The mystical forests of the Garden Route National Park tell tales of exploration and exploitation, captured most famously in Dalene Matthee’s enigmatic stories.
Her tales depict herds of elephants roaming the landscape, the meagre existence of the impoverished woodcutters as well as the hope and excitement felt when gold was discovered in the area. Today, woodcutters, gold diggers and many of the elephants are gone, but traces of the past still linger within the lush Knysna forests, waiting for modern explorers to discover their secrets via the new self-drive heritage route.
There are 10 sites in the Gouna and Diepwalle forests, complete with information boards and maps that’ll guide your exploration of the area. You’ll need about half a day to do the route so hit the road early and be submerged in the magical surroundings.
First up is the Templeman Station where you’ll be taken back to an age when old steam locomotives creaked under the weight of harvested timber. The railway closed down in 1949 but you can still relive the history while relaxing at the scenic picnic site.
Next on the route is the Forest Legends Museum at Diepwalle. Here the lives of gold diggers, settlers and foresters will have you fascinated. You’ll learn about our forefathers and get up close to the skeleton of one of the most southerly elephants of the African continent.
If you’re feeling peckish, stop in at the Diepwalle Tea Garden and Guesthouse, which was once home to forester DE Hutchins and now serves the most delicious cheesecake and milktart around.
The journey continues to one of the five renowned old giants of the forest, the King Edward VII Big Tree. After over 600 years, this Outeniqua yellowwood towers high above the forest canopy. Like many of the large trees that remain standing today, the King Edward VII Big Tree was inaccessible to settlers or woodcutters and thus stands tall as gentle reminder of nature’s beauty.
The next stop is the fairy tale world at the Valley of Ferns, where the ground is covered in hundreds of these sprawling plants, which are happiest in the wet habitat provided by the forest.
The second-last site, Kom-se-pad, is a historic link between the Diepwalle and Gouna forests and will take you to the final site.
On road, a favourite of the forest elephants an info board and halfway stop allow you to learn about the magnificent creatures.
Text courtesy of René de Klerk at SANParks.
Photos courtesy of Hennie Homann