Of heads and hearts

Of heads and hearts

Originally published in Wedding Album magazine


A faint buzzing emanating from my beach bag tells me it’s time to turn over to avoid becoming a lovely shade of Tourist Red. I lazily stretch out one hand to silence my phone, then roll over and peek at my man, sprawled beside me. The utter relaxation on his face must surely mirror my own.

We are lying on Noetzie Beach, 10 minutes east of Knysna, bordering the Sinclair Nature Area. Private castles dot the green hill leading down to the shore, their turrets and crenellations adding a fairy-tale aesthetic to the scene, and right now we’re sharing this pristine stretch of sand with just a few fat seagulls.

On the other hand, yesterday saw us charging up and down the beach at nearby Brenton-on-Sea with a frisbee, trying not to get in the way of the paraglider arcing just above the sand. The previous morning included a long walk on family-friendly, blue-flag Buffels, watching toddlers and Jack Russells prance about equally delighted in the small breakers.

That’s the thing about Knysna. It caters to a variety of tastes. At first glance, it may appear to be just another sleepy Garden Route town – albeit one with the distinction of an 18 km2 lagoon – but the more you explore, the more you realise is hidden in its byways and precincts.

It was the oysters that settled the matter of Knysna’s diversity for us. Any visitor to the town must sample its famed molluscs as a matter of course, and indeed you’d be hard-pressed to find a menu on which they don’t feature. We ate oysters perched at a waterfront dive, complete with checked tablecloths and local youngsters trying and failing to order beer. We ate them with silver service at Zachary’s, the fine-dining offering of the exclusive Conrad Pezula Resort & Spa, where chef Geoffrey Murray has been credited with bringing haute cuisine back to the Garden Route. We had them accompanied by the spray of a speedboat that whipped past our far more sedate Knysna Charters lagoon cruise.

Served with a crisp local Chardonnay and fascinating commentary by our captain, Steven, the latter may have been my favourite. There are many vantage points from which to view the silvered surface of Knysna’s iconic body of water – with a cocktail at Sirocco on upmarket Thesen Island, for example – but it’s hard to beat being on the lagoon itself.

Herons stalk the sandbanks, fishermen cast their lines from the lighthouse and the dramatic Knysna Heads rise up like massive sandstone guardians protecting the lagoon mouth.

The eastern Head is the built-up, holiday-town glamour side (complete with the deservedly popular East Head Café), while its western twin is dominated by the Featherbed Nature Reserve. Ferry tours to this untouched, verdant wilderness give visitors the chance to spot the blue duiker, the iridescent Knsyna loerie and the black African oystercatcher, one of the rarest coastal birds in South Africa.

But it’s the heads themselves that call to the adventurer in me, the alluring danger of navigating our way through their treacherous and unpredictable waters and out to sea. Or maybe it’s actually the other way around. Maybe everyone out there is desperately trying to find their way back in – to the gentler shallows of the Knysna Lagoon and the welcoming hearth of a town that is so much more than the sum of its diverse parts.

Back on Noetzie, firmly in the grip of the kind of tranquillity that comes only with lying on the beach by day and eating oysters by night, my man cracks open an eyelid to squint at me through the bright morning sunshine.

‘Let’s stay here forever?’

It’s a joke, a sincere proposal, a hopeful plea and a passionate declaration all rolled into one. Of course, you’d expect love to be in the air on a romantic getaway, but now we’ve both gone and fallen for our surroundings too.

As far as mistresses go, Knysna is very welcome in our hearts.


Romantic things to do

  • Sign up for an artisan bread-making course at the legendary Île de Païn, arguably the most popular bakery and brunch spot along the Garden Route.
  • Spoil yourselves silly with a couple’s rasul at Simola Spa. If the candlelit mud, steam and rain treatment doesn’t take away the last of your wedding-planning stress, a dip in the relaxation pool, with its view of the lagoon, will.
  • Book a table for two at Firefly Eating House. A tiny seating capacity, scarlet fairy lights and the most exquisitely presented spice-centric dishes make for a memorable shared feast. The delicately infused home-made ice cream is sublime too.
  • Wander hand in hand through SANPark’s Garden of Eden just outside Harkerville, where a circular boardwalk leads you through ancient and towering yellowwoods, ironwoods and ferns while insects whirr in the undergrowth and frogs hold lengthy conversations with one another in the pools and streams.
  • Visit Mitchell’s Brewery for a lovely informal beer tasting, then head home with a case of their deliciously potent Old Wobbly clinking in the boot.
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