“In some places you see hill rising behind hill, like billows on the sea, each fainter in the distance, an each clothed with dark, glossy evergreen woods. In others, you have glens where lofty trees of giant growth, heavy with lichens, support their living roof of leaf-clad branches high overhead, whilst a tangled wilderness of underwood, itself composed of trees and tree-like creepers, fills the space between…”
So did the Duke of Edinburgh describe the Knysna forest during his visit to the region in 1867. Large tracts of this forest still exist within a few kilometres of Knysna, remaining virtually untouched by man. To walk through the depths of this forest is to all but lose yourself in a still, dark, grey-green world, the home of the last few Knysna elephants and of a wide assortment of birds, whose striking calls occasionally rupture the almost tangible silence.
To experience the forest at first hand, follow the 20 kilometre Elephant Walk from the Diepwalle Forestry Station – reached from the R339 towards Uniondale.
The full walk is divided into three great loops, each of more or less the same length, so you may, if you wish, undertake only one third of the full distance. The route leads past the giant King Edward VII Tree, a massive Outeniqua yellowwood, and takes in several picnic sites. Along the way you can appreciate the rich variety of species the forest contains – Cape Beech, Knobwood, Blackwood, White Pear, Bladdernut, White Stinkwood and tree Fuchsia. Although the odds against seeing an elephant are high, walkers have glimpsed them along this route.
A second, shorter trail, known as the Terblans Walk, leads through the Gouna forest several kilometres west of Diepwalle (reached by driving from Diepwalle along the side road known a Kom-se-pad). The walk, with a natural swimming pool en-route, is circular and only 6,5 kilometres long, but you could take a whole day to enjoy the forest at your leisure – and you are more likely to spot an elephant in this remoter part of the woods.