We would pretty much stick to the N2 Highway for most of today’s trip passing through the agricultural plains and towns of Heidelberg and Riversdale before we made it back to the coast and our first stop of the day – Mossel Bay.
Between Two Capitals
We had reached the half way point of the Garden Route -> 400km west of Cape Town and 400km east of Port Elizabeth. Mossel Bay was named by the Dutch sailors who added the mussels and oysters on the shore to their limited diets as they sailed for the Far East.
It’s modern history starts in 1488 when Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias landed and discovered a spring. While his shore leave was cut short by locals and stones, his discovery led to the site being labelled in future navigational maps as Aguada de Sao Bras (The Watering place of St Blaize) as is the current day northern suburb of Mossel Bay so named.
Vasco da Gama also reached the area in 1497 and if truth be told engaged in the first commercial transaction between Europeans and Indigenous people when he bought cattle from local Khoi tribesmen.
(You will remember references to Dias and Da Gama in our previous post about The Cape of Good Hope)
Since then it has served as a port shipping everything from wheat to 800,000 kilos of ostrich feathers per year during the 19th / 20th Centuries. Since the late 1980s the harbour commerce has switched to Offshore Oil and Gas with the discovery of the first fields in 1969.
We spent an afternoon walking along to the point, stopping to take photos of the landscape and the sand statues before making our way to the harbour to sample some of that seafood the Portuguese sailors raved about all those years ago.
Kaai 4 Braai served up some amazing African Barbeque fish and chicken burnt to perfection as we ate and watched the world go by in the bay and across Dias Beach.
After lunch it was back on the N2 and eastward bound to Knysna and the only hairy section of road as we wound our way down the Swartrivier Gorge.
Between Two Ferns*
We would be staying down in Thesen Island, connected to the main town by a humpback bridge and situated to the south of town. It was right in the heart of the estuary so we would have easy access for water sports later. Thesen Island was the location of a vast sawmill and shipyard in the past but now hosts a collection of restaurants, apartments, houses and a bustling dockland.
In the midst of all this was an old power station. This would be our hotel – The Turbine Hotel . It was really funky inside with a lot of the paraphernalia and instruments of it’s previous occupant incorporated into the decor.
The estuary called Knysna Lagoon. The estuary feeds into the Indian Ocean through a narrow passage guarded by “The Heads”. To end that first day we decided to go on a boat cruise around the harbour and learn more about the area from our guide.
We learned how treacherous “The Heads” were and how the British Navy named them the most dangerous harbour entrance in the world. That moniker well earned thanks to the numerous shipwrecks that dot the seabed.
We spent a lot of time close to the Featherbed Nature Reserve on the western side. Most of the Reserve is privately owned and currently owned by Mining Magnate – Cobus Smit who purchased it from the Smith family in 2008.
For wildlife we discovered the Knysna Loerie, the Blue Duiker, and the rare Black African Oyster Catcher.
We also shared the lagoon that day with a veritable flotilla of other vessels – from the double decker restaurant boat called John Benn to the Paddleboat Cruiser straight out of a silent movie.
East is East
The next day we took a small spin around the lagoon to the East Heads to get a closer look at that Lighthouse we saw. It is also plays host to the amazing East Heads Cafe. We had to wait 20 minutes on a table but it was worth it and we took that time to explore the head in the interim.
It’s a dog’s life!!
We spent the rest of our time relaxing at the hotel and checking out the waterfront area and some more of it’s history as we passed a small grave with a familiar name on our way to the SanParks Ranger’s office (in order to rent a kayak).
Bondi, a pedigree bulldog was presented to the crew of HMS Verbena in 1928. From that day on, Bondi was the ship’s mascot. Bondi died on duty in Knysna on January 30, 1931. His grieving shipmates buried him in the land beside the jetty and marked his grave with a brass plate.
Since 1931 all Royal Navy vessels visiting Knysna have kept up the tradition of tending to that grave and paying homage – a tradition since kept up each year by the South African Navy during the annual Knysna Oyster Festival.
Knysna was a great place to unwind after a grueling road trip. We sampled some good food and wine and had a few easy days relaxing. That and we managed to get a Kayaking Trip in and remembered to bring the GoPro 🙂
*The Khoikhoi word for “ferns” is Knysna 🙂