Saturday, February 11, 2017

Thesen Island - Knysna - Eastern Cape - South Africa

On Friday 3rd Feb, after our canoe and hike we were back on the road headed to Thesen Island in Knysna. The 45 minute drive wasn't so eventful and we arrived at the small, modern and upmarket Thesen Island not long after midday.  We picked up our keys from Thesen Harbour Town Office (TH1) and made our way to our self-catering apartment TH5.  It was a lovely looking room and well placed in terms of getting to the local restaurants and attractions.

Self-catering apartment at TH5, Harbourtown, Thesen Island 
That evening we visited the nearby Tapas and Oysters restaurant.  It was the liveliest place we had been to to date, full of locals and live music to accompany great food at the best value we had seen to date.  The portions were large and the hardest thing was deciding what to choose.  They had a great selection of beers and all in all the place had a 'younger' vibe in comparison to a lot of the other restaurants we had visited. There wasn't much more we wanted to do that evening, as we were having a relatively early start the next morning to visit the Wild Oaks Community Farmers Market (7.30-12.00 noon).

Ribs and onion rings at Tapas and Oysters, Thesen Island
On Saturday the 4th Feb we headed to Wilds Oaks which is a Saturday market in a small nearby town called Sedgefield, during our stay in the area.  We wanted to experience as much of the local produce as possible and whilst we had been eating our fill in the unprecedented number of quality restaurants around Cape Town and along the Garden Route, this was a great chance to indulge and get a feel for the variety of produce on offer.  We also needed to do some souvenir shopping and we were getting towards the end of our trip, and there were other markets serving this purpose next to the farmer's market so the timing and logistics were absolutely perfect.  Whilst we had seen a lot of trinkets on our travels, we wanted to try our best to find something authentic and ideally locally produced.

Me buying some Ostrich Pate at Wild Oaks Farmer's Market

Home-made chocolate at Wild Oaks Farmer's Market
Wild Oaks is a fairly large but easily manageable setup with everything you need to get you started in the morning with various stalls offering breakfast options.  There were businesses selling coffee, traditional cooked breakfasts as well as wraps, hot dogs with local sausages, Cape-Malay cuisine, pitas, many gluten free options etc. We opted to start the day with oysters and a glass of wine, naturally.  Then it came to stocking up, small businesses were selling local cheeses, biltong, honey, chocolate and cakes, dried fruit, fresh fish, pates, breads and more, most of which you could try before you bought.  There were also other products like soaps and fresh produce where many locals were doing their weekly shop.  Street entertainers were playing music, including a minstrel band and there was even a human statue near the entrance.

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After having our fill, we walked over to the souvenir style Mosaic Market to check out their wares.  There were lots of items on offer such as the wooden handmade bowls, woven table cloths, artwork along with smaller handmade ornaments and keyrings.  We spent the whole morning eating and shopping, one of the highlights was meeting the owners of a local clothes business called Collywobbles who design and produce their own clothing line.  We had a good chat with them about their fun and funky designs and picked up a couple of T-shirts each.  Other things we took home from the day were an African Salad Bowl with tongs, a wire-bead cockerel and snake and some souvenir keyrings, some food items and full bellies.  There was a girls school choir singing traditional songs which we stopped and listened to for a bit before dropping some money in the donation box for them.

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That evening we went back to Knysna and dined in a seafood restaurant called 34 South, which really exceeded expectations.  Whilst my dad told me it was never a good idea to order seafood on a pizza, I would lapse into doing this every year or so only to be disappointed.  This time however proved to be the exception!  The standout food however was the sushi, which again was great value and used fresh ingredients all washed down with a bottle of wine of course.

34 South, Knysna, South Africa
Sunday 5th Feb was our 'Animal Insurance' day.  That is, we were due to visit a game reserve in the upcoming days and we wanted to make sure that we saw some of the local animals with more certainty, just in case we weren't able do during our game drives.  First stop was Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary, which was a hour's drive away and actually closer to Plettenberg Bay.  It was kind of like a mini nature reserve, providing a home for rescued and sick monkeys.  They run tours every half and hour and you have an opportunity to be among them in their own environment rather than looking at them through cages.  The monkeys are able to roam free and the guides spread seeds, fruit and nuts throughout the sanctuary to encourage the monkeys to pursue their natural foraging behaviour.  The tours are around 45 minutes long, but the monkeys are never to far away and we were able to see local vervets as well as foreign species such as gibbons as well as lemurs.

Ring-tailed lemur at Monkeyland, Plettenberg Bay

Gibbon at Monkeyland, Plettenberg Bay
The company also has a bird next door called 'Birds of Eden', the largest free flight bird aviary in the world, as well as Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary which is home to some of the big cats, both endemic and rescued from other parts of the world.  As we were short on time, we opted to visit the latter.  Because it was close to midday, many of the animals were quite lethargic and the 'pens' they were in were more or less small enough so that you could see most animals, even if it was just a leg stuck out from behind the tree.  Again, you are partnered with a guide for a tour around the facility and it's great to have somebody explaining the plight of each animal as well as information about where they are native to and how they came to be in the sanctuary.  Whilst it still felt a little small, they were definitely doing their best to ensure that the animals they had were being looked after and it was all in all a positive experience.

Lions at Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary
Our final 'Animal insurance' visit was to Knysna Elephant Park where it is also tour based.  We opted to purchase 'feeding buckets' for the elephants at a small extra cost.  After a short video introduction, we boarded the all-terrain-vehicle for the short drive to where the elephants were roaming freely.  The elephants were conditioned to know that the truck contains people with tasty snacks, so they casually wondered over to the feeding area where the guides gave us some more information about how to feed them as well as do's and don'ts for safety.  Within seconds, the elephants were lined up against a railing in an orderly fashion, trunks at the ready to receive food.  With the utmost delicacy, upon presenting the food they would gratefully take it off us with their trunks and bring it to their mouths to chomp down on.  Kate had the alpha female of the group who was quite forthcoming with the food and patted the trunk of my elephant out the way to get to my food as well.  As much as I tried to make sure only my elephant got the food destined for her, she was persistent and on a couple of occasions her trunk came out of nowhere to snatch the squash, carrot or apple that was destined for another!

Feed me! Knysna Elephant Sanctuary
The food was gone in no time, and when the elephants realised this they wandered off and continued to graze in their usual format of wrapping the long grass in their trunks and tearing it out of the ground, often with the help of using a foot as a level, then bringing it to their mouths to eat.  We were able to casually follow them around in groups of four, each with a guide who would answer questions about the elephant as we patted them or just simply observed them going about their business.  Overall it was an excellent experience in a great setting, the elephants seemed happy and healthy.  There is even a lodge that you can stay in with a communal area that overlooks an indoor heated area for the elephants to watch them sleep at night!

Kate patting an elephant at Knysna Elephant Sanctuary
Our day wasn't over yet though, we were scheduled to take part in a sunset tour of the Knysna lagoon and Knysna Heads on the John Benn.  The boat also serves as a restaurant and shortly after we boarded we ordered (as you probably guessed), some oysters although this time with a bottle of sparkling wine!  This is a great way to experience the lagoon and there is some well-placed (i.e. not overbearing) audio commentary at various points in the cruise.  There is a small outside area where you can experience the elements if you so wish, but all in all it's great to just relax and soak up the scenery as you negotiate the lagoon and get close to the heads.  It's a good idea to get there early as we did in order to make sure that you get a table next to the window, or if it's a mild evening, out on deck.

Oysters and bubbles on the John Benn

The Knysna Heads seen from aboard the John Benn
That evening was our last evening in Thesen Island, so we celebrated by dining on some moules-frites at Siroccos restaurant which was full to the brim with locals enjoying the seafood, great steaks and other delicious food on offer.

We went to bed after a long and satisfying day and got some much needed rest as we would be doing a four and half hour drive the following day to Amkhala Game reserve for our very first safari, but not before doing our very first skydive!

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