The Heart of the Garden Route must be somewhere here among the lakes of Wilderness, hidden in the emerald green of the Goukamma valley or lurking in the waters of the lazy Knysna Lagoon. This is South Africa’s most popular holiday refuge, where pleasurable pursuits include paddling up the Touws River, trading softly through the Knysna forests in search of elephants, cruising serenely across the lagoon to the Knysna Heads, exploring the forest streams where gold was panned – and where gold may still be found.
The name of the Kaaimans River, translated literally, would mean ‘cayman’ or ‘alligator’, suggesting that the river was once home to many crocodiles. The name is, however, more likely to be a corruption of Keeroms (turn around river). Three rivers join here, within just a few hundred metres of the coast – the Kaaimans River, the Swart River and one of its small tributaries – and each of the three runs through a steep-sided ravine. In the old days farmers and traders travelling by ox-wagon found it extremely difficult to cross the rivers, the Kaaimans in particular, and the track they followed twisted and turned around on itself many times – perhaps the origin of the unusual name.
Before reaching the sea the rivers form a small, romantic lagoon, notable for its unusually dark water and for the picturesque rocky walls of the narrow gorge that has formed where the Swart River twists away westwards from the Kaaimans. On the steep western bank of the lagoon there are several quaint holiday homes dating from the turn of the century, whose occupants still have to row across the water to reach their front doorsteps.
At the seaward end of the lagoon the opposing forces of outflowing river water and inflowing tides have formed an attractive sandy beach (scarcely visible as you drive past on the N2), and at the mouth there is a raised tail bridge, mounted on tall pylons, which carries the famed Outeniqua Choop-choo across the water twice a day on its round trip between George and Knysna. A short distance upstream there remains an old causeway, accessible from the N2, which crosses the Kaaimans just above the point where the Kaaimans and the Swart Rivers join. This leads to a small spit of land between the two rivers where members of the George Skiboat Club maintain a launch ramp under shady trees.
As you travel eastwards on the N2 you cross the Kaaimans on a broad, curving bridge, then you climb the coastal headland that forms the eastern bank of the lagoon. As you round the headland there are two parking areas alongside good view sites. Looking westwards from here you have a fine view down over the lagoon mouth and the rail bridge. Looking eastwards you are treated to a splendid vista: the holiday refuge of Wilderness, the Wilderness lakes in the distance, and along the coast as far as Walker Point.