Knysna Timber Route

Knysna Timber Route
Knysna Timber Route


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The forests are home to African Elephant, African leopard, Bushbuck, Blue duiker, Bush pig and other mammals. It has a rich assortment of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects.

Despite the small size of the ecoregion, the Knysna and Amatole forests are South Africa’s largest individual forests. The Knysna forest has been exploited for valuable timber since the 18th century, and the Amatole forests since the 20th century. Currently the forests are mostly within protected areas, although a certain amount of managed timber harvesting is allowed.


The district’s timber history

In the 17th century when the Dutch East India Company established the settlement at the Cape, it was a well-wooded area, but colonisation inevitably took its toll. The fine timber resource was seriously diminished and the local forests inevitably disappeared for fuel, building requirements, heating, wagon and boat building as well as a demand from occasional ships which called in. New sources of wood were hard to find. In 1778 Governor Van Plettenberg travelled eastwards with an entourage to what became Plettenberg Bay. Soon a woodcutter’s post with a timber shed was built for storing timber before shipping it to Cape Town. The first cargo left on the sailing ship Meermin under the command of Francois Duminy in 1788.


During the second British occupation of the Cape, as a result of the examination and enthusiasm of Naval Commissioner Sir Jahleel Brenton of the Royal Navy and with the support of George Rex, British settler, timber merchant and farmer in Knysna, The Knysna was declared a Port of Entry for shipping in 1818. Its timber from extensive forests of hardwoods such as stinkwood, yellowwood, hard pear, etc. could from then on be shipped out directly to the Cape, and food and merchandise in to settlers at the new port of Knysna.


In the 1890’s the Knysna district depended upon its forest industry for it produced little else. The main exports in the early days were wagon wood and planks that were cut in the forest by means of a pit-saw. A log was placed across the saw pit or deep trenches where one man stood underneath and another on top of the log, using a long two-handled saw.


Some of the first turned articles to be manufactured were broom and manure shovel handles which were produced in 1892 by George Parkes at his saw-mill, The Knysna Forest Company, by a machine imported from Ohio. Then followed the manufacturing of chair and table legs that were sold in sets to be assembled at their destination, thus saving package in transit.


During the Depression in the 1880s, the timber industry suffered until the contract for Yellowwood railway sleepers was awarded to Messrs Fox Dunn & Co. This led to the building of the Government Jetty on Paarden Island (Thesen Island), to be followed by the government Creosote works where the sleepers were dipped for preservation.


George Parkes pioneered the export of Boxwood to Britain to be used for the making of shuttles in the weaving industry. Other timber manufacturers soon followed suit.


After World War 1 the main exports were sawn timber, handles and wagon wood, followed by the making of furniture for which Knysna became renowned. Knysna’s handcrafted furniture was made by several firms, such as Thesen & Company, Geo Parkes and Sons, JH Templeman, PG Johnstone, Jonker Bros, Fechters, Kluyts and PJ van Reenen.


Millwood House

Millwood House is typical of many which were built of the 1880’s in the little mining village of Millwood in the forest, about 27km from Knysna.

The house was transported in sections from Millwood to the current site and it is one of the few of its type which still remains. A group of local ladies was instrumental in converting the house to a museum in August 1972, and it was declared a National Monument in 1977. Now under the control of Knysna Municipality, this is where Knysna’s history comes alive. The collection includes a photographic display of the Millwood Goldfields, local transport, early street scenes, personalities, shipping, etc. and a few personal possessions of George Rex, founder of Knysna.


All harvesting done in a sustainable way

Parkes Forest is the name given to the indigenous forest area owned by Geo Parkes & Sons (Pty) Ltd from which they supply the wood to most of the establishments on the Timber Route.


In 1974 the Minister of Forestry proclaimed the forest as Protected under the Forest Act (Act No .72 of 1968) by Government Notice No.1296 of 26 July 1974. The implication of this Act is that no tree can be harvested without a harvest permit from SANParks.


Parkes Forest is no exception – no harvesting is done until SANParks has inspected the trees and a harvest permit has been granted.


SANParks employ forest scientists to carry out the inspection process and to identify trees to be removed, topped or felled. Top quality trees are cut and lesser quality trees are left in the forest. There are strict tree harvest selection criteria to be adhered to and trees are specifically identified for topping or felling based on various observations such as crown dieback, loss of the main shoot, basal rot or stem rot and natural factors such as windfall.


Marketable species include: Yellowwood, Stinkwood and Hard Pear, with a minimum diameter of 40cm. Cut lines from bio-degradable tape are made through the undergrowth, dividing the compartments into strips 15-20 metres apart. The colour of the tape (blue for topping; yellow for felling), indicates the prognosis of the tree involved.


Outeniqua Yellowwood Pedocarpus falcatus Medium-tall to very tall tree: under most favourable conditions reaching a height of 30 to 45m and an average of 600 to possibly 1000 years. Trunk long and straight, cylindrical, but often strongly fluted in old giant trees. Bark dark brown, scaling off in large flakes. Crown usually high above the forest canopy, decorated with beard lichen or, near the coast, covered with masts of wild grape. Abundant as a giant tree in moist forests and as a tall tree in medium-moist forests. Small in drier types. Protected species: National Forests Act, 1998


Witstinkhout Celtis africana Small to medium-tall tree, 8-15m. Trunk often fluted. Bark whitish, smooth with transverse ridges, becoming blotchy with age; in dry forests and scrub-forest near the coast, especially along Groenvlei as well as at Keurboom and Groot River estuaries.


Stinkwood Ocotea bullata Medium-tall to tall tree; on the most suitable sites reaching a height of 25 – 30m. Trunk long and cylindrical, but developing strong flutings and plank buttresses at maturity. Often several-stemmed from a large old stump. Bark of young stems grey with white and orange patches, smooth with transverse ridges and corky spots; becoming dark brown, rough and flaky with age. Crown dense, rounded. Abundant in wet mountain forests, but taller in the moist type; less numerous and slammer in the drier types. Protected species, National Forests Act 1998


White Pear Apodytes dimidiata Small to tall tree, up to 25m. Trunk long, sinuous and fluted on drier sites, straight and cylindrical on moist sites. Bark whitish, with grey, pale brown and orange coloured patches, persistently smooth and fine transverse ridges. Old trunks often develop water shoots. Crown small, but always dominant, usually drapes with birch lichen. Common in dry and medium moist forests. Less numerous but taller in moist type.


Hard Pear Olinia ventosa Small to tall tree, 8-25m. Trunk long and cylindrical, but conical and with strong flutings in old trees. Bark dark grey and fissured in squares and rectangles in the more common form, but reddish brown and flaky in another form (being apparently an old age form of big trees). Crown large and spreading. Abundant in dry forest types, less numerous but a tall tree in medium-moist forests, absent in moist and wet types.


Ironwood Olea capensis Medium tall to very tall trees, 15 – 35m. Trunk long, straight and cylindrical. Bark grey, striated, sometimes with corky spots. Occassionally trunks are found with thick corky rings of “crocodile skin”. Old trunks show often a large black discolouration (due to slime flow from a bark wound). Crown very large and heavy, supported by long and steeply rising main branches, and dominating the upper canopy. A principle tree of all dry and moist forests. Practically absent in scrub-forest types.


The natural choice

Furniture made of solid wood has a timeless and classic beauty which lasts a life time. It is extremely popular and sought after due to its versatility, durability and matchless beauty.


Well known South African wooden furniture maker, Pierre Cronje, said that as a natural material, wood has a story to tell. It has a character of its own – something which the skilled craftsman can harness. Nature provides an array of colours, textures and materials that enhance creative design possibilities.


Furniture plays a practical and decorative role in our daily lives and is essentially the background against which we live, work and play. For this reason, your choice of furniture and flooring will influence almost every aspect of your life.


Even if styles vary over time, a classical piece will become a family heirloom passed from generation to generation - an investment which requires little care. As if the beauty, comfort and lasting quality of wooden furniture is not enough incentive to acquire a piece, it also appreciates in value over time. In fact, the more character it has, the bigger the appreciation in some cases.


Knysna has been the preferred choice for wooden furniture for many years and you will find some exquisite pieces in the area - go out and explore!


The Giant keepers of the Knysna forest

The Knysna forest elephants are part of the history of Knysna - part of the mystique and magic of the forests where they have roamed for hundreds of years. They are unique, not in the biological sense, but because they are the southernmost elephants in the world and the only free ranging elephants in South Africa.


They used to roam the forests from George to Tsitsikamma, but nowadays SANParks trackers say they move mostly between Gouna and the Diepwalle/Harkerville area. The main items in the elephants’ diet are ferns, trees (principally the alien Blackwood from Australia, the Cape Beech and the Candlewood) and a variety of fynbos plants.Population dwindled from about 400-500 in 1870 to 20 in 1920 to a possible three today. Sightings are rare, the most recent being in 2011 in the Farleigh forest.

Interesting facts:

Fresh Knysna forest elephant dung, when found, is sold for about R300 a heap to community members who use this to cook a soup which is believed to have miraculous health benefits.

The elephants favour well-defined paths when moving from one area to another. These paths are usually along ridges and always cross valleys and river beds by the easiest route. The skill of the elephants has been invaluable to foresters who have frequently followed elephant paths when making tracks and roads. The road through Bloukrans Pass followed an elephant track.


In 1920 only 20 animals remained. Major PJ Pretorius received permission to shoot one Knysna elephant “for scientific research” to determine whether or not these elephants belonged to a separate species. The hunt went terribly wrong and after the hunt it is said only 15 elephants survived.


Sources: The Elephants of Knysna, Nick Carter; The Knysna Elephants and their forest home, Margo Mackay.

Forest Stewardship Council™

FSC™ is an independent, non-governmental, not-for-profit organization established to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests.


Natural forests throughout the world are threatened by global demand for forest products which will not only continue, but also accelerate. Much of the world’s remaining natural forests still suffer from illegal exploitation, poor management and conversion to other land uses, commonly resulting in severe degradation or complete destruction. It was these very concerns that led the to establishment of FSC™ in 1993.