The name Knysna has appeared in various spellings since about the 1770s. It was ‘Nysna’ in one of the earliest letters from James Callander (who built a home for himself at The Heads, and who drew the first map of the estuary) to the Governor of the Cape Colony, Lord Charles Somerset - but by the early 1800s, the current spelling - Knysna - seems to have been universally accepted.
"The history of Knysna begins with a handful of Dutch settlers who hacked their way through the forests and established farms in the region. The farm; 'Melkhoutkraal', which included the entire Knysna Lagoon basin and the Heads, was first granted to Stephanus Terblans in 1770. But it was George Rex who really put Knysna on the map. This larger-than-life personality bought the Melkhoutkraal farm in 1804. He had arrived in the Cape during the first British occupation, married a widow with several kids and went on to hold a number of impressive, but minor, administerial posts with the British Government. When the Batavian regime took over in 1803, Rex decided to ignore the change in the country’s ownership and stayed on in South Africa. By all accounts, George Rex was a moody man, although he was certainly well-educated and articulate. He could also be a right quite brash, as some of his colleagues would testify, but his humour and hospitality were legendary! His personal history, however, was what made him the stuff of legend.
When George Rex grew tired of the Cape Town high-life, and he relocated to Melkhoutkraal in Knysna where he built a homestead fit for the illegitimate son of a king. From his huge estate, Rex and his progeny kept themselves busy by farming, hunting and cutting down trees. Rex also started agitating for the government (by now under British rule) to establish a harbour inside the Knysna lagoon. This would get around the logistical difficulties of building a road through the thick forests that swaddled the coast, and help Knysna become economically viable.
The problem with the harbour idea in the Knysna Lagoon was that the currents which roared through the Knysna Heads were very fierce (and they still are). This narrow channel, flanked by the two tall sandstone sentinels of the Heads, separates the placid waters of the lagoon from the wild, open sea. So, any boats that wanted to anchor in the calm, expansive estuary first had to run the formidable gauntlet of the Knysna Heads.
In 1817, after endless nagging by George Rex, the British navy sent a ship to try and navigate the passage through the heads. The experiment was not a success as the vessel hit a submerged reef and had to be run aground. A second ship was sent to salvage the first ship, and this one did manage to get through the Heads safely.
Rex was delighted, and he donated some land for a shipbuilding yard. He also built a slipway, in expectation of all the boats that would be launched into the lagoon, but the shipbuilding enterprise failed. Eventually, Knysna did get its port, and it was declared a village in 1825. The town wasn’t named after the ruling British governor - instead, it retained its original Khoikhoi name, which is thought to translate as ‘place of wood’. In 1928, a standard gauge railway line from Knysna to George was completed, and this helped precipitate the closure of the Knysna port in 1954. The once-abundant natural beauty of Knysna has actually been heavily compromised by the rampant development of the town. Houses are being built further and further up the mountain slopes, and the vast informal settlement grows. One of the Knysna Heads is thoroughly pockmarked with over 100 large holiday homes, and this has destroyed much of its wild beauty. Ironically many of these houses were destroyed in a raging forest fire in 2017." by: David Fleminger
WHAT AN AMAZING DESCRIPTION OF OUR BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY... IRRESPECTIVE OF WHERE YOU ARE IN THE WORLD NOW! 😍
I sit here quietly thinking about what it means to me to be South African, a visitor to South Africa, or even African. So it seems easier to rather explain the effect that this unique land has on me...
The perfume of rain on African soil. The scent of woodfires drifting across the Highveld on winter evenings. There's a very distinctive aroma just as one starts coming into George / Knysna / Plett (I've never figured out which herb it is), in much the same way the smell of Wild Sage defines the area around Santawani in Botswana. The odour of thatch in a game lodge. The bouquet of dust and the various plants when one gets into the bush, sometimes a whiff of something dead. The tang of the ocean at the seaside. The smell of ‘moer’ coffee over an early morning fire, or the delicious aroma of roasting meat over flames – whether you call it a braai or shisa nyama (but definitely NOT a barbeque, a barbie, or a ghastly NZ sausage sizzle!)
There is also something about the light here. “Santorini Blue”... I don’t know if that’s an actual colour, but it seems to describe the hue of the highveld sky on a winter’s day to perfection. We live in “big sky” country – whether blue, or orange in sunset, or dark grey and rent by lightening, or velvet black and filled with stars that seem close enough to touch – the sky is ever present. As is the moon. I am always aware of the moon, from a sickle moon to the full fecund globe that is full moon. Silver light gilding thorn trees, juxtaposed against dark shadows on the savannah, is not a sight one easily forgets.
The caw of the ubiquitous, raucous Hadedah in suburbia, the burbling call of a rainbird (Burchell’s Coucal) when a thunderstorm is on its way, the beautiful Diederick’s Cuckoo announcing the arrival of spring, the screech of a Barn Owl, or the evocative call of the Fish Eagle. Jackals calling as the sun goes down, a lion’s roar quite literally making the air reverberate, or the chilling whoops of the hyenas. The cacophony of barking geckos that start up as the sun goes down over Deception Pan, or a veritable orchestra of frogs around a pan in the summer months. Cicadas shrilling on days so hot that the air shimmers, or a nightjar calling in the dead of night in the bushveld.
Days of withering heat often followed by the lightest cool breeze, just as the sun is setting. A gentle little wind, which plays with your hair like an absent-minded lover, reminding you that the cool of the night will soon be with you. Walking in the bush very early in the morning, the sun’s rays catch the dew on spiders’ webs, reminding you that life, both seen and unseen, is all around you. Trout fishing as the sun peeps over the horizon in Dullstroom, so cold that the water droplets freeze on your line…
The colours of this land are not subtle either. The blood red of the coral tree, the green metallic glint of sunbirds, the striped black and white hide of the zebra, or sapphire blue of a kingfisher. The miles and miles of yellow and orange daisies in Namaqualand in September, or pink and white swathes of cosmos along the roads in April. The lilac and turquoise of the roller, the tawny hide of a lion or the emerald green of a little dung beetle that makes its appearance in the summer months. From the golden dunes of the Namib to an unimaginable number of greens in the Knysna Forest. All vivid and arresting.
Talk to me of Morrungulo or Tsodilo Hills, the great Drakensberg, Platteland dorps and the great Karoo. The warmth of Sodwana Bay or the icy kelp forests of the Atlantic Ocean. Of wine farms and fynbos in the Cape, to meerkats and diamonds in the north. Show me our people, in so many hues, with brightly coloured traditional costumes – and even brighter smiles.
All of this creates a frisson of excitement, passion each and every day, a vivid, immediate sense of being alive that I have found nowhere else….
These are my people. This is my land.
Because I am, at the very core of my being, a child of Africa! ❤️