Garden Route Tourist AttractionsKnysna Forest
Where? Knysna, Garden Route, South Africa
How? Call +27 (0)44 382-5510
Across Africa are only a handful of sheltered, remote pockets of Afromontane forest; all that remains of huge tracts of ancient forest that covered large parts of the continent.
On the Garden Route is one such forest. Knysna Forest, in some places so dense it borders on impenetrable, is a marvellous mix of ancient trees, both local and exotic. Tree ferns, creepers, flowers and the elusive Knysna loerie, its call heard more often than it is seen, are also part of the forest.
The thick canopy of ironwood, stinkwood, Outeniqua yellowwood, real yellowwood, Cape holly, white pear, wild fig, milkwood, Cape beech, bastard saffron, assegai and kamassi trees covers 568 square kilometres between the Krom River and Mossel Bay, sprawling across the southern slopes of the Outeniqua Mountains.
Described best by local author Dalene Matthee in her series of books set in the forest, Knysna Forest is beautiful, bestrewn with forest walks and hiking trails that allow visitors to explore its perimeters.
Together with the Amatole forests, further inland, it makes up Africa's southernmost Afromontane forest. Today this thick, sweeping forest rich with bird life and a collection of animals that include the endemic Knysna dwarf chameleon is protected. But its history is not quite as tame.
Timber harvesting left the habitat degraded, for back then the forests were considered so big that nothing could exhaust them. The forest area was probably about 2 500 square kilometres before 1 900 square kilometres were destroyed by the combination of logging, development and a huge fire.
Many of the larger mammal populations like the buffalo, elephant, and possibly leopard, were largely destroyed. The elephant are of the forest's most famous inhabitants; there is continuous debate as to their whereabouts, if indeed they are about at all (a photographic sighting in 2014 raised hopes).
The last buffalo was shot in the forest in 1883, whilst of the roughly 500 elephants of 1860, only 4 remained by 1990. Any attempt at re-introduction to strengthen their numbers has failed. It does not help that their previous migration passage is no longer possible because of human development.
Explore the forest along demarcated walks and hikes.