The forests of Knysna have gained mythical status among South Africans, largely thanks to the work of writer Dalene Matthee who wrote the famous novel, Kringe in ’n Bos. This story follows the kinship between a woodcutter, Saul, and a legendary bull elephant, Oupoot, as they each navigate the forest on their own journey, circling one another and nearing an inevitable truth.
These characters seem to haunt the forest, and our collective imagination, drawing visitors to the trails as they try to catch a glimpse of the forest’s ancient history under the dense leafy canopy.
There are many routes to follow here, some first created by the elephants themselves, that sadly, no longer roam these hills.
Beyond the forest floor, there are also plenty of hiking routes that follow the shore.The Turbine Water Club offers guided hiking tours, but if you, like us, can’t get enough of this magical place, here are a few of our favourite Knysna hikes!
Millwood Mine Walk
Do you fancy yourself something of an Indiana Jones-type? If so, then this hike is for you. It begins at Mother Holly’s Tea House & Garden and follows a path that heads towards an abandoned mining village called Millwood at the foothills of the Outeniqua Mountains.
Millwood was the site of a short-lived gold rush in the late 1800s. A man called James Hooper found what he thought was gold-bearing gravel in a small creek off what was then called the Karatara River near Rheenendal. As it turns out, he was right!
A throng of eager fortune-seekers followed his discovery, but after five years, they had to halt operations due to the gold vein’s tricky positioning among the mountain folds. Put simply: too much effort for too little gold. As quickly as it was populated, the town was abandoned, and what remains is a fascinating, somewhat eerie, former settlement that has been reclaimed by the forest.
Mother Holly’s is actually one of the original mining homes and used to mark the beginning of town, which, at its height, was a few hundred souls strong. Here you’ll also find a small museum detailing the rise and fall of the mine.
From the tea house, the hike is well-marked and relatively easy, although some parts can get slippery after rain. About 2 km in, be on the lookout for a sign indicating the mine’s direction – another kilometre or so on from this point.
Once you enter the “ghost town”, explore to you heart’s content! Be on the lookout for the shed which houses recovered mining equipment, including a heavy crusher, stamp battery, steam engine and a boiler, and the old cemetery.
Distance: Approx. 5km; circular
Difficulty rating: Moderate
Permits: Purchase at the Goudveld Entrance Gate to Bibby’s Hoek
Contact: 044 389 0252; sanparks.org
Elephant Hiking Trails
Situated in the Knysna Lakes section of the Garden Route National Park, the Elephant Hiking Trails are three distinct routes that follow portions of the longer Outeniqua Hiking Trail. Follow in the footsteps of old woodcutters and lose yourself in the green-tinted majesty of this tranquil place. Depending on your energy levels, you can choose between the Black, White or Red Elephant Trail. Each begins at the Diepwalle Forestry Station.
The Black Elephant Trail
This trail passes through the Ysterhoutrug and the King Edward VII Picnic Sites – ideal for a lunch stop. As you walk, pay attention to the forest itself, noting the ancient yellowwoods, some of which are more than 1000 years old!
Distance: 9km; circular ( 3-4 hours)
Difficulty rating: Easy
The White Elephant Trail
This loop is perfect for summer months, when you can take a dip in the rockpool you’ll encounter about half way through.
Distance: 8km; circular (3-4 hours)
Difficulty rating: Moderate
The Red Elephant Trail
A slightly more challenging walk, this option passes by a beautiful mountain stream, perfect for a leisurely stop and some forest bathing. Be sure to listen out for the elusive Knysna Turaco who inhabits this wilderness.
Distance: 7km; circular ( 3-4 hours)
Difficulty rating: Moderate/ difficult
All of these trails are a scenic delight. There is something about walking through a forest, particularly such a pristine indigenous example, that fills your cup and leaves you with a deep sense of rejuvenation and wellbeing.
Permits: Purchase at the Diepwalle Forestry Station. If there is nobody around, there should be a wooden box under the tree in front of the offices with self-issue permits inside. This trail is free for Wild Card holders.
Contact: 044 382 9762/3); sanparks.org
Mosy along this 2,4 km route, past fossilised sand dune cliffs and picturesque beach scenes on the outskirts of Brenton-On-Sea.
This popular trail is an ideal way to expose yourself to a different aspect of the Garden Route’s beaty – the Indian Ocean!
You’ll begin on the cliffs, descending to the beach via a pathway that cuts down towards the craggy coastline. Skirt along the beach and enjoy the waves as your constant walking companion before heading back up from the water and towards elevated soil. If you aren’t in a rush, linger by the ocean and even enjoy a dip!
Both access points to this loop are located on Steenbras Street in Brenton-On-Sea. Pick to walk in whichever direction looks favourable to you on the day.
Up for a challenge?
Although there are many beautiful day hikes in Knysna, encompassing a variety of different landscapes, there are also longer, overnight routes to explore.
One of the most popular trails is the Outeniqua Hiking Trail, spanning 108 km over 7 days. You’ll walk through the most beautiful forests, valleys and mountains imaginable, but this trek is not for the faint hearted and you should be prepared and fit before setting off!
Hikers average a distance of about 15 km per day and need to book this route well in advance as there are designated overnight huts. Shorter 2- and 3-day options are also available.
If you’re eager to tick this epic route off your bucket list, click here for more information.
- The forests of Knysna are famous in South Africa, thanks to the novel “Kringe in ’n Bos” by Dalene Mathee.
- The Turbine Water Club offers guided hiking tours in Knysna.
- One popular hike is the Millwood Mine Walk, which takes you to an abandoned mining village called Millwood.
- Another option is the Elephant Hiking Trails, which offer three distinct routes in the Knysna Lakes section of the Garden Route National Park.
- Fisherman’s Walk is a 2.4km trail that takes you along fossilized sand dune cliffs and picturesque beach scenes in Brenton-On-Sea.
Stay with us
The Turbine Hotel & Spa is ideally located for those looking to explore Knysna and surrounds. The staff at The Turbine Water Club are very knowledgeable about the area and would love to help you plan the perfect outing to suit your needs.
Browse our hotel’s website and select a luxurious accommodation offering for your stay in Knysna.
We can’t wait to show you all that Knysna has to offer!