Exploring the enchanted depths of the high forest

Stretching for 177 kilometres between the mountains and the sea, the high forest of the Garden Route is one of Southern Africa’s richest botanical treasures. Slanting shafts of sunlight lance down into magic glades where trunks of ancient hardwoods rise like cathedral columns. More than 80 kinds of trees grow here, from venerable giants soaring towards the sky to exquisite small shrubs with dazzling blossoms and haunting perfumes. Many of the trees produce valuable timber used in building, the making of furniture and craft work. Elephants, leopards, monkeys and many birds have their homes in the forest’s enchanted depths. It is a place of beauty, mystery and, for those who wish to delve deeply into its secrets, a place to learn.

The high forest of the Garden Route is the largest indigenous forest in Southern Africa. Originally it covered more than 110 000 hectares, but fires and the predations of man have reduced this to around 40 500 hectares. This area of naturally growing trees is greatly enlarged by softwood plantations of pine and gum trees.

The name “high forest” refers to the height of the trees rather than the altitude at which they grow. The giant among them is the common Yellow-Wood, which can reach up to 50 metres and live for 1 000 years. In several areas, the forestry department has constructed special paths which take visitors to particularly impressive specimens. One of the most famous is a Yellow-Wood known as King Edward’s Tree, which is 46 metres high with a girth of 9,5 metres and thought to be about 700 years old.

The timber of the common yellow-wood, hard and handsomely coloured, is much in demand for furniture. Selected trees are auctioned before being felled and carted away by the buyers. The hard, pale timber of a slightly smaller species, the real yellow-wood, is also highly prized.

Many a pioneering railway has been laid on the hard, durable sleepers produced from another forest giant, the Black Ironwood tree. Today, railway sleepers are usually made of concrete, but Ironwood is often used for flooring and veneers. In March, the blossoms of the ironwood spread a creamy canopy over the forest.

South Africa’s history also owes much to the Stinkwood tree. Its timber was used to build the trek wagons, surely among the toughest vehicles ever built. This tree takes its name from the characteristic pungent odour of the wood when it is first cut.

Some of the smaller trees, while not so highly valued for their timber, nonetheless enhance the beauty of the forest, displaying attractively coloured foliage and sweetly scented flowers. Among these are the Keurboom, with its fragrant pink blossoms, the Wild Pomegranate, with its clusters of red flowers, and the mauve-flowering Cape Chestnut.

One of the best places for exploring the forest is an area known as the Garden of Eden, 16 kilometres from Knysna along the trunk road on the way to Plettenberg Bay. There is a picnic site with paths branching into the deeper parts of the forest, and many typical tree species are identified by numbers. The Garden of Eden is also a favourite haunt of elephants.

Wild pigs and small forest antelope such as the Blue Duiker can also be seen.

Because of almost permanent dampness of the forest floor, however, most of the wild life consists of tree-dwelling species, including monkeys, leopards, tree hyraxes, snakes and birds.

Many varieties of ferns and creepers decorate the forest, and the Dale of Ferns, is a happy hunting ground for specialists in this field. For all its marvels, Southern Africa has always been short of rain and the regions where forests flourish are comparatively few. This makes the great forest of the Garden Route more precious – a place of rare wonder.

Millwood House Museum

In 1878, an important discovery was made in the area. A gold nugget was found in the Karatara River, near Ruigtevlei. Soon fortune hunters from all over the world arrived at the Millwood Forest in search of gold, and Millwood grew into a bustling town. Millwood was declared a gold field, the very first in South Africa. However, soon not enough gold was being recovered to sustain a growing town, and the mining industry in the area collapsed. Some miners relocated to Knysna, bringing their little homes with them. One of the houses, known as ‘Millwood House’, now functions as a museum.

Brenton Blue Butterfly

Brenton-on-Sea is a small town about 15 kilometers west of Knysna in the Western Cape.

The town is named after Sir Jahleel Brenton who declared Knysna a harbour in 1818.

The area is home to the endangered Brenton Blue butterfly.

The Brenton Blue butterfly is endemic to South Africa.

The wingspan is 24 to 38 mm for males and 22 to 42 mm for females. Adults are on wing from October to November and from February to March. There are two generations per year.

The larvae of the first two instars feed on the leaves and later instars on rootstock. The larvae can be found in holes at the base of their host plant. They are attended to by ants.

The butterfly was discovered in 1858 by Roland Trimen and was not seen again until 1977, when Dr Jonathan Ball found a population at Nature’s Valley. This population died out during the 1980s but in 1991 Ernest Pringle of Bedford located another colony at Brenton-on-Sea. A housing development was planned for this site, but this was prevented after a highly publicised campaign to save the species from extinction. This resulted in the procurement of the land on which the butterfly breeds and it is proclaimed as a Special Nature Reserve in July 2003.

The butterfly is red listed as critically endangered. The Special Nature Reserve at Brenton-on-Sea is managed by Cape Nature.

European settlement

The first Europeans arrived in the area in 1760, and the farm Melkhoutkraal was established on the eastern shore of the Knysna Lagoon. Stephanus Terblans, the first European farmer to settle in the area, was given a loan permit to farm here in 1770.

Upon moving to Knysna George Rex, a British-born entrepreneur credited as being the founder of Knysna, acquired the loan rights to Melkhoutkraal in 1804 and later, in 1816, to the farm Welbedacht, which he renamed Eastford. He gave 80 acres of Eastford to the Colonial Government, on which the Royal Navy established the township of Melville.

In April 1817, the transport brig Emu, belonging to the Cape Town Dockyard, was the first European vessel to enter the Knysna heads. She struck a rock, now known as Emu Rock, and was holed. Her crew ran Emu ashore to prevent her sinking. In late April HMS Podargus arrived to render assistance. After surveying the area, Podargus sailed safely into the Knysna and retrieved Emu’s cargo.

The next major settler in Knysna was Captain Thomas Henry Duthie, who married Caroline, George Rex’s daughter, and bought a portion of the Uitzigt farm from his father-in-law which Rex had named Belvidere. The construction of a small Norman-style church was commissioned by Duthie on his property, and was consecrated in 1855. The settlement’s population grew slowly, and Englishmen such as Henry Barrington and Lt. Col. John Sutherland, who established the settlement of Newhaven on a portion of purchased land, settled in the area. At the time, Knysna was a field corsetry of Plettenberg Bay within the Magisterial Division of George. In 1858, Knysna became a separate Magisterial Division, new stores and accommodation facilities were opened, and Knysna became the new commercial centre of the region.

On their way to New Zealand, the Thesen family who were travelling from Norway fancied the little hamlet of Knysna so much that they decided to stay, bringing with them their knowledge of commerce and sailing. Soon, timber was being exported to the Cape from the vast areas of forest surrounding Knysna, and a steam sawmill and small shipyard were established. Later, these were relocated to Paarden Island, later known as Thesen Island.

Just outside of Knysna is a small town known as Brenton-on-Sea. This town offers plenty houses and vacant land for sale. To view or to buy land here, call Sophie on 082 572 2729.

Goukamma Marine Protected Area

The Goukamma MPA was proclaimed in 1990 and is 10 kilometres west of Knysna. It has a coastline of approximately 16km that extends east from Buffels Bay to Platbank and one nautical mile out to sea.

The Goukamma MPA supports a mixture of warm temperate species, including many that are endemic to South Africa’s south coast. The Goukamma estuary is one of a small number of semi open closed estuaries and functions naturally with no artificial opening or closing of the mouth.  The fact that it has a large catchment area for the length of the river makes this estuary somewhat unique.

The MPA is an important breeding area for the rare African black oystercatcher and many other sea birds that frequent this area.

Globally-threatened sea turtles, including loggerhead, green, hawksbill and leatherback, also visit these shores. Many other marine mammal species have been sighted in this MPA, including various types of dolphin, whales, sharks and seals.

Goukamma MPA consists of approximately 5.5 km of sandy shores, 5 km of rocky shores and 3.5 km of mixed rocky/sandy shore. It has important offshore reefs which provide habitat to commercially important species, such as hake and endemic fish species, such as red steenbras. Furthermore, the offshore soft sediment areas close inshore between the offshore reefs is important areas for east coast sole.

Length of coastline protected:
16 km

Area of ocean protected:
32 km²

Objectives:

  • To conserve and manage biodiversity and natural processes representative of Southern Cape terrestrial and marine ecological systems;
  • To improve the reach and quality of biodiversity management;
  • To create environmental awareness;
  • To expand and secure the conservation estate;
  • To provide appropriate opportunities and facilities for recreation;
  • To promote social and economic opportunities and sustainable utilisation; and
  • To effectively conserve our cultural heritage attributes.

Sophie’s Properties

Brenton-on-Sea is a beautiful town just outside of Knysna. It offers scenic ocean views its residents. Would you like to own a house in Brenton-on-Sea? Say no more… Contact Sophie on 082 572 2729 today!