The Garden Route in the Western Cape is one of the most popular road trip routes in South Africa. And for good reason! This coastline is absolutely breathtaking with long sandy beaches, incredible coastal hikes, lush forests, amazing farmer’s markets and characterful towns. Whether you’re stopping at Wilderness, Sedgefield, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay or Nature’s Valley you are bound to have a wonderful time along the Garden Route. Knysna is arguably the true gem of the Garden Route with gorgeous vistas, a vibey town and restaurant scene, the enchanting Knysna Forest and plenty of stunning places to stay.
Where to stay?
During our most recent stay we were treated like gold at Amanzi Island Lodge. This boutique hotel located on Leisure Isle has 15 luxury rooms and is the perfect upmarket stay in Knysna. We stayed in the Kingfisher Honeymoon Suite and the views from our bed over the lagoon and out to the Knysna Heads were just glorious. There is a private infinity pool where you can cool off while enjoying the stunnings vistas. There are garden view or sea view suite options to choose from. The hotel offers bicycles and kayaks for you to use. We cycled around Leisure Isle and found it to be the perfect way to explore the island. Amanzi Island Lodge is a 5 minute drive from the Knysna Heads, one of Knysna’s top attractions. Amanzi is the perfect place to stay if you’re looking for some peace and quiet, gorgeous views of Knysna Lagoon and a bit of pampering.
A delicious buffet breakfast is included in the room rate with croissants, meats, cheeses, yogurt, fruit and cereals as well as a hot plate including eggs benedict, English Breakfast, omelette and pancake options. The staff are so kind, friendly and always happy to help. We loved our stay!
During a family trip to Knysna we stayed at Footprints of Knysna. It was a lovely little spot that had room options for couples and families. It had a beautiful garden with a pool and our balcony overlooked the Knysna Heads and Lagoon. Our host, Kitty, was incredibly helpful and friendly. The location was absolutely perfect for exploring Knysna and the prices were affordable.
What to do in Knysna?
Knysna has an abundance of amazing things to do with so many opportunities to explore the natural surroundings. Here are some of the best things to do during your stay. While I haven’t down all of these myself (due to limited time), I can recommend all of them wholeheartedly.
Visit the Knysna Heads
The Knysna Lagoon is Knysna’s crowning glory and the best place to view it is from the top of the Knysna Heads. The Knysna Heads are two hills that act as the gate entrance from the ocean to the Knysna Lagoon. The West Head is private property and so pretty much impossible to access (you can however, drive up to Margret’s viewpoint and get a view from the West side of the lagoon). The East Head is where the action is really at. You can type ‘Knysna Heads viewport parking’ or ‘East Head View Point’ into Google maps and it’ll take you to the top of the hill. From the parking you just walk a few metres and you’ll see the sign indicating the viewing spots. There are four different viewing points which each give you a different perspective and view over the lagoon, of the West Head and of the Indian Ocean. There is no entrance fee so you can enjoy these spectacular views for free.
Go snorkeling in the Knysna Lagoon
Once you’ve taken in the beauty of the Lagoon from above it’s time to take a dip in the water! The best place for swimming in the Knysna Lagoon is at the little beach to the right of the East Head Café. You can park at the Café and walk down the steps to the right of the Café. There is a little cove shaded by Milkwood trees. Here you can swim in the beautiful lagoon water or even don your mask and snorkel and go for a snorkel. There are some remains of a shipwreck to the left hand side where all sorts of tropical fish hang out. We saw butterfly fish, parrot fish and four striped damsel fish, not to mention the massive starfishes! Why not catch some lunch at East Head Café while you’re here?
Explore the Knysna Lagoon by Boat
Another fantastic way to explore the Knysna Lagoon is by boat. Whether you hire a kayak, SUP, or do a sunset boat cruise, exploring Knysna by boat is a must! If you’re staying at Amanzi Island Lodge they offer kayak usage to all their guests which makes exploring the lagoon even easier.
Check out these experiences on the Knysna Lagoon
Visit Leisure Isle
Leisure Isle is a beautiful and upmarket neighbourhood in Knysna. We stayed here at Amanzi Island Lodge and it just was the most peaceful spot. You can go for a beautiful walk along the island in the Steenbok Nature Reserve or go for a swim at Bollard Bay. Guests of Amanzi Island Lodge have access to the Lodge bicycles. We went for a cycle around the island one morning and it was just idyllic! There is plenty of bird life around the lagoon so the keen birders might enjoy finding a spot to sit within Steenbok Nature Reserve and doing some birding.
Go Gin Tasting at Knysna Distillery
The Knysna Distillery is an eclectic little spot close to Leisure Isle. They offer gin and beer tastings at affordable prices in a cosy setting. Knysna Gin is distilled the traditional way with a flame & copper pot still. It is made with nine natural botanicals, including the Num Num berry which is the Knysna Lourie’s favourite treat. For only R60 you can taste 3 delicious local-brewed gins including their Classic award-winning London Dry style, a Limited batch/ seasonal release gin and my favourite the Honey gin.
Visit Thesen Island
Thesen Island is where the elite stay in Knysna. While it is impossible to access the residential area without owning property there, you are free to wander around some of the canals and bridges of this man-made island. The houses are pretty to look at and if you can manage to swim off one of the jetties you may see a Knysna Seahorse! Alternatively you can explore the Thesen Island canals by hiring a SUP from Ocean Odyssey. While on Thesen Island why not pop in at Ile de Pain for a delicious croissant or brunch or to pick up your artisanal bread?
Image credit to Champagne on Arrival blog
Check out the Knysna Waterfront
The Knysna Waterfront is a great spot to grab dinner at a restaurant and watch the sunset. Drydock is a lovely restaurant at the waterfront and has some brilliant winter specials. Not quite in the harbour but close enough is Freshline Fisheries which is a rustic beach restaurant with absolutely divine seafood platters. Their winter specials are also insane!
Image credit to Champagne on Arrival blog
Go for a swim in the Knysna River and spot a Knysna Loerie
There is a lovely spot along the Phantom Pass where you can swim in the Knysna River. The location has a sign indicating the Westford Nature Reserve. However, you will not be able to find this on Google Maps. From the N2 turn-off to Phantom pass drive for about 4km (7 mins) and you should see a road to the right labeled Westford Nature Reserve. Drive down this gravel road and you will find a spot to park. Have a swim in the salty river and if you’re lucky you may spot a brilliantly green Knysna Loerie in the trees.
Go for a walk in the Knysna Forest: Garden of Eden
The Knysna Forest is the county’s largest forest. Filled with yellowwoods, stinkwoods and plenty of other tree species it is a place where one can really be fully immersed in nature. The Garden of Eden Forest Walk is probably the easiest way to access the Knysna Forest. This spot is located between Knysna and Plett. There is a small entrance fee to pay at the offices at the entrance to the walk (around R20). The walk is only 1km but a beautiful boardwalk walk through the forest. This is also a great pitstop if you have a long drive along the N2 and need a leg stretch.
If you’re wanting to head a bit deeper into the forest then you might choose to venture up to Diepwalle for a walk along one of the Elephant trails. The forest here is thick and gorgeous. You can even camp here at the Diepwalle campsite. We did this one New Year and it was the most gorgeous stay! Read all about it in my blog post on Camping in Diepwalle Knysna Forest.
Check out the Harkerville Market
If you’re keen for a classic Garden Route Famer’s Market then the Harkerville Saturday Market is the closest one to Knysna. It is open on Saturdays from 8am-12pm.
Visit Brenton Beach
Brenton Beach is probably the nicest beach close to Knysna. This lovely long 7km stretch of beach is perfect for beach walks.
Image credit to Champagne on Arrival blog
Visit the Knysna Oyster Festival
Taking place annually in June/July, the Knysna Oyster Festival is a highlight event for Knysna. The whole town comes to life with plenty of festival activities and if you love oysters there is no shortage of wonderful oyster specials at all the restaurants. The festival coincides with the school holidays and the Knysna Forest Marathon. If you’re looking for a quiet getaway up the Garden Route then this probably isn’t the best time to plan your trip, but if you’re looking for festivities and to experience Knysna in full swing then you’ll find plenty to do during the festival time.
Do the Robberg Nature Reserve Hike in Plett
The Robberg Nature Reserve Hike is one of the best hikes along the Garden Route. The hike has 3 different distance options: 2km, 5.5km, 11km. We did the 5.5km loop and absolutely adored it! I wrote a blog post with all the details you need to know to do the hike. Find it here.
Visit Sanctuary Beach in Plett
After you’ve done you hike at Robberg Nature Reserve have an ocean dip and relax at Santuary Beach in Plett.
Looking for a more rustic Knysna experience? Why not try camping in the Knysna Forest!
Spending some time along the Garden Route? Why not visit Storm’s River Mouth in the Tsitsikamma National Park? Check out my blog on it here.
Is your Garden Route stop part of a bigger East Coast road trip? Why not check out my Cape Town to Coffee Bay blog post?