In 2009 three national parks; Wilderness, Knysna and the Tsitsikamma, combined to form The Garden Route National Park, which is now a single protected area with approximately 120 500ha of incredible wildlife and exceptional vegetation.
Knysna is sheltered by the country’s largest indigenous forest. The year-round rainfall encourages feathery ferns, herbs, lichens and fungi. With a temperate forest, varied vine species and unique fynbos; Knysna boasts an incredible diversity of habitats. In the forest there are some of the most exquisite trees such as yellowwood, stinkwood, white alder, Cape chestnut and ironwood, which creates an almost impenetrable forest canopy.
In Knysna you will find majestic milkwood trees on the banks of the Lagoon. This area overflows, not only with unparalleled landscapes but includes many rare and protected animal species for example the Dwarf Chameleon and the Brenton Blue Butterfly. The Knysna Seahorse, found only in the Knysna Lagoon, is another fascinating and highly endangered creature and is the rarest seahorse in the world!
Some distinctive birdlife to look out for includes the colourful and famous Knysna Turaco (Loerie), the Narina Trogon, the Knysna Woodpecker and the African Black Oystercatcher. Other species to spot is the Green Wood-hoopoe, Tambourine Dove, White-starred Robin and the Olive Thrush.
The lagoon and open estuary of the Knysna River provides a wonderful place to view birds, particularly waders, such as the Grey Plover and Marsh Sandpiper, in the summer months.
The rare blue duiker, one of the smallest antelope species in the world, occur in the surrounding forests and the Cape clawless otter hunts along the rugged coastline. Bushbuck, vervet monkey’s, bushpig, porcupine’s, caracals and leopards may also be encountered in the forest.
Not only are the lakes and vleis beautiful to look at, they are also the spawning ground for a number of fish species like the Knysna halfbeak, the Cape stumpnose and the spotted grunter.
From June to November visitors to the area can see dolphins, porpoises and whales wallowing and playing out at sea. The Humpback and Southern Right whales visit here between May and September to breed in the warm waters.
In the 1800’s herds of elephant lived in the forests surrounding Knysna. During the 1900’s the majority of the elephants were killed off by ivory hunters. These days your best bet of seeing one is at a private park or reserve, although rumours still abound that elephants continue to roam the forest.
In the early 2000’s elephants were spotted and recorded, but no-one is sure how many are still around, and whether any breeding is occurring to repopulate the famous elephants of Knysna. Research continues around these elusive animals, as somehow miraculously, it is thought that they have found a way to live free in their forest domain as the only unfenced population in South Africa.
Knysna is also home to plenty of smaller animals in the form of frogs. Treefrogs, the Southern ghost frog and the rain frog, all add their voices to the area.