Step back in time in South Africa’s Garden Route
There were once hundreds of elephants roaming this area, but hunting and deforestation have almost wiped out the population, with as few as one or two elephants remaining in the wild. If these odds sound unpromising, head to Knysna Elephant Park, a pioneering elephant rehabilitation centre, 22km east of Knysna, where you can learn more about the plight of the diminished local population through various activities, including guided walks with the resident nellies. The park also has an on-site Elephant Lodge, where the six bedrooms share a lounge overlooking the orphaned elephants’ sleeping quarters.
But to bed down in the fresh air like the woodcutters of yore, head to an unusual campsite near Diepwalle Forest Station in the heart of the woods. The Forest Timber Camping Decks comprise of raised platforms among the trees, making for great spots to scan the canopy for Knysna loeries while the boerewors (beef sausage) sizzles on your braai (barbecue). You pitch your tent right on the platform, each of which has a braai and a sheltered counter for preparing food, and sleep suspended between the treetops and the forest floor. The scavenging baboons and vervet monkeys are less welcome sights – if possible, store food in a car – but are a reminder of the hardships endured by the woodcutters who knew these forests so well.
Lying in your tent, listening to the rustles and chirps of the forest, you can almost hear an old bull elephants whishing his way between the moss-covered trunks and the woodcutters rising early for a campfire breakfast of sweet potatoes and coffee.
The Diepwalle and Wilderness sections of the Garden Route National Park can be visited on a day trip from Knysna. To hike some of the paths, including the Elephant Walks and Outeniqua Hiking Trail, you will need a permit, which can be obtained both at the park and from the South African National Parks offices on Thesen Island in Knysna .
To get to and around the park, you will need your own transport; in Knysna, you can hire cars from Around About Cars and mountain bikes from Knysna Cycle Works. Various companies in Knysna offer guided walks and other activities in the forests, including Knysna Forest Tours and the Adventure Centre.
Knysna is located 500km east of Cape Town, accessible by Translux, Intercape or Greyhound bus. Kulula and South African Airways operate domestic flights to the cities of George, 65km west of Knysna, and Port Elizabeth, 260km east.