After our stay in Hermanus we hit the road to Knysna with a short detour to Swellendam to spend a night at a campsite. As usual, we arrived at night and installed our little tent at “The berry farm”.
Awakened by the ducks at 6am (which had disturbed us all night) and by the heat (38 degrees on average during the day), we had breakfast by the lake and jumped in the pool which had a beautiful view. A quick lunch, a tour at a local cafe in order to use the wifi (to find where to sleep!) And we were leaving for Knysna.
We really wanted to enjoy this city of 37,000 inhabitants. You know, this is the city that hosted French footballers at the World Cup! Bad memory!
This city has a lot to offer, it is covered with forests (80 000 ha). Knysna means “where the wood is.” The wood is still exploited and sold. You can also watch the whales, practice different marine activities (paddle, kayak, fishing …) and discover and hike several mountains and forests. Finally, Knysna is surrounded by many exceptional animal parks (elephants, felines, snakes, monkeys, birds).
Upon our arrival on Friday afternoon, we went straight to the Elephant Park. A magical moment. We spent 260 rand (15 € per person) to feed them and walk with them in the wild.
The park was established in 1994 and was the first in the country to collect orphaned elephants. Elephants are collected at a young age when they are abandoned or in poor health. When the elephant are adults, the park releases them into the wild (ten were released last year). The walk with them is only done at three specific times of day so it does not affect their daily life. Since its creation, the park has more than forty elephants.
We were lucky and had our own guide, Zenzo, and our elephant Sally, 15, who eats 250 tons a month. We had the opportunity to walk and talk with Zenzo to understand the park’s goals and get details about the elephants’ lifestyle.
We really enjoyed this park because the animals are treated with respect and are in their natural environment. Here are some amazing facts about these animals:
- Their feet are very sensitive, and they pick up vibrations up to 16 km around.
- They can suck 10L of water at once with their trunk which contains more than 100,000 muscles (no bones!), weighs 100 kg and can lift 350 kilos.
- Their tusks can grow up to three meters and weigh 150 kg.
- They can eat 136 kilos a day.
- The female carries her baby for 22 months and protects them for a lifetime.
- Males wander alone while females stay in groups with the oldest leader.
- They can live up to 90 years and weigh up to 11 tons at 4 meters. Their brain weighs between 4 and 5 kilograms.
- The number of elephants has decreased by about 60% due to poaching (a $ 17 billion market)
Then we took a break at the Waterfront, a nice place from where you can go diving or whale watching. There are also several small shops and restaurants.
For the sunset, we went to “The Heads”, an incredible viewpoint of the hills and the sea.
After this dreamy afternoon, we went to our new couch surfer, Danél.
Our new family
We discovered a house full of life, a smiling and welcoming family (3 children, 3 dogs and 2 cats). Welcomed with wine, music and a wonderful pasta gratin. Danél is 19 years old and she set up the Couch Surfing in her family. Indeed, since April 2018 she has welcomed travelers like us. All weekend there were six travelers, a lot of people in one home. We were meant to spend only one night at their place but ended up spending four nights!
Unfortunately, we could not take full advantage of Knysna, our famous money transfer had still not arrived (13 days of waiting …). On Saturday we went to visit “Thesen Island”, a small luxury island with beautiful houses where locals can access their house with their boats using a private entrance from the sea. There are also bars and shops. But we just enjoyed the view with a beautiful sunset over the hills. When we returned to our host a fun vibe was present, we had a wine and wrap party, it was a great evening. On Sunday we decided to go for a hike, Danél, two German travelers and us. But when we got to the entrance of the nature reserve, the security explained to us that because of the fires of last year, sadly many nature reserves were closed to the public.
Knysna suffered a severe drought in June 2017 which caused catastrophic fires in the forests. A big part of the city had to evacuate. Many people died and their houses burnt down. A fire also started while we were there. On Monday the fire from the forests had spread and the city was in turmoil. The sky was between a grey and orange and some ashes were fluttering in the air. We went back to The Heads’ viewpoint to admire this most awesome and terrifying phenomenon that was invading the city.
On Tuesday, it was time for us to move forward on our journey. Very sad to leave Knysna without being able to fully enjoy it, we decided to use our last resources for an activity and camping. We went to “Monkey Land”, the first multi-species sanctuary of roaming primates in the world. A place where more than 700 monkeys of different species lives, in freedom and harmony. For 200 rand (12 euros per person) we could walk in the forest with them. These are orphaned or sick monkeys that are collected in this park. As there are no barriers, they can leave when they want. It was a fun moment that we really enjoyed.
We could not do the other activities that Knysna offers, such as, going to the Jukani park (where you can see lions, panthers, cheetahs) or the birds (enter a huge aviary and be surrounded by birds). But we can still say that the advantages of these parks are that animals are treated respectfully and in their natural environment. Thus, we lived an incredible experience as we were spending time with the animals in their natural habitat.
Then we camped at Plettenberg Bay, a small town 20 minutes away from Knysna. The best campsite we had, in front of a beautiful lake. Unfortunately, there was a lot of wind and rain in the evening (good news to stop the forest fires). We were so cold! (10 degrees in the night).
We left the campsite for the beach as we had to wait and check if we had received our money transfer. We just had enough money to sleep one more night in the campsite and not enough to go to the next stop. We spent more than 3 hours waiting on the beach …
5 pm : no money. So, we had to use our back up plan that we tried to avoid since the beginning of the road trip, withdraw on another bank account the little amount of money that was available and be overdrawn. And we went to the next stop, Port Elizabeth!