The coastal town of Knysna on South Africa’s Garden Route has a fascinating past, with woodcutters, mariners, fishermen, adventurers, and even ancient nomads, making their home amongst the forests and fynbos and alongside the magnificent lagoon.
Some of this rich history can be explored in the many museums available to visitors. Here are just a few of our favourite places to take a walk back in time in Knysna.
Spread over five historical buildings, the Knysna Museum displays interesting information on everything from the indigenous timber industry, to the town’s turbulent maritime past, and even looks at the legend of the Knysna elephants. Here you’ll find The Old Gaol, the oldest municipal building in Knysna, Millwood House and Parkes Cottage, houses built of yellowwood at Millwood Goldfield in the 1880s, the wood and corrugated iron of the 1900s general dealer at Parkes Shop, and on old labourers’ cottage at Pitt Street House, each with their own collection to share.
Forest Legends Museum
The Forest Legends Museum is located at the Diepwalle Forest Station, just off the R339 between Knysna and Uniondale. It occupies a historic building in the forest and its three rooms are dedicated to the woodcutters of the 19th and early 20th Centuries who harvested the indigenous forests, the plants and wildlife of the area, and the Knysna elephants. There is even a complete, mounted skeleton of a male elephant that was discovered near the Garden Of Eden in 1983. Stop for a while and also enjoy the museum’s tea-room where you can have a cup of coffee and freshly baked cake.
Drive south on Long Street towards the lagoon and you’ll find the NSRI Museum at the traffic circle at the end of the road. This is the museum of the NSRI Station 12 in Knysna, which serves the area from Gericke’s Point in Sedgefield to Harkeville between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. Here you can learn some weird and wonderful stories of the countless sea rescues of Knysna and view the historic rescue craft Alex Blaikie.
The Motorcycle Room
This unique museum is located in Thesen Harbour Town in Knysna. This private collection includes old classics, vintage enduro bikes, motocross and superbikes, as well as a wide variety of custom builds. Every bike in the room has a story and the museum staff will be happy to take you on a ‘wild ride’ as they share these adventures. You can view the restoration and rebuilding bays from the museum floor.
San Ambroso Agricultural and Historical site
This museum was originally erected as a Roman Catholic church in 1891 for the silk spinners of Gouna. The museum tells the history of the thirty-two silk spinners from Italy who emigrated to Knysna in the 19th century to try and establish a silk industry in the forest. However what no one realised was that the indigenous mulberry is not related to the white mulberry, on which the silkworm survives. The church was built ten years after their arrival with a design reminiscent of their home in Italy which they were never able to return to.