The Garden Route is Cape Town’s vacation playground. Located a few hours east of the city, it’s a coastal paradise of little towns bordered by flowers and lush vegetation reminiscent of the Mediterranean, which then turns into the semi-arid region of the Karoo to the north, where we arrived from. First driving through Wilderness and Sedgefield, I had assumed that Knysna would be alike, small, narrow and sandwiched between gentle hills and a rough ocean. Far from it. The town I discovered as Marie was getting reacquainted with it, was rather spread out, built on the shores of a strange estuary lagoon and protected from the ocean by high cliffs that only open up in a dangerous and narrow channel called The Heads.
Staying in Knysna is about eating, sleeping, exploring, enjoying life and not doing much else, not necessarily in that order. We stayed at the magnificent Knysna Belle guest house on Leisure Isle for a few nights and did lots of the above mentioned, not necessarily in that order.
Time flew, of course, and looking back I get flashes of all kinds of beautiful, fun, comical, intense or tasteful episodes competing for a spot in my heart. There was the unsuccessful search for the famous – yet elusive – Knysna seahorse in the lagoon with a pair of snorkels and masks (that were sold to us by a funny man who’s fishing stories were beyond testing), used once and left behind in Cape Town. There was the strange Tides restaurant with naked walls and no atmosphere, ran by an even stranger chef with a temper and who served deliciously cooked and old-fashionably presented dishes, and who’s crème brûlée and its extravagant tower of sugar hair might be the best I have ever eaten. There were wonderful breakfasts and my discovery of marmite – not the pot Obélix fell in as a kid but the British dark brown-colored savory spread made from the yeast that is a by-product of the brewing industry – and my subsequent use of said spread at every breakfast.
There were walks in the shallow water of the lagoon’s sand banks, and swims in the green pools, and un-synchronized kayak runs across the channel and back to the entrance of the cut. There were oysters, wild and farmed, accompanied by the memories of more oysters, a half-a-world away. There were ostrich steaks and biltong, and pies and wine and port. There was horrible traffic too, sadly, as Knysna’s main road, only way south of the Karoo along the coast and on to the cities of Port Elizabeth and Durban, was getting a face lift. There were beaches, more beaches and beaches again, each more spectacular than the previous. There was a gorgeous hike on Robberg, initiated and concluded in the rain, with a few obstacles to be conquered in the middle, such as one’s fears and another’s impatience.
And yes, all of that was located in and around Knysna, conveniently organized by my own local travel agent and staffed by the best guide ever, charming, dedicated, knowledgeable, wine expert, food critic, great sense of humor, prior local experience (!), and most of all, gave me an exclusive membership card! ;-)