written by Rose Bilbrough
Many know Knysna as a coastal town, with beaches and its iconic Knysna Heads, but in truth is it has so much more to offer. Once you drive out of the coastal region, leaving behind the fresh sea air, and head to the foothills of the mountains, a whole new world opens up, a world of rolling hills with an active farming community, a world of forest and fynbos. This is where history was made and forgotten, where a mysterious elephant roams and reminders of gold diggers and woodcutters can be found.
A ramble along the Rheenendal road, found between Knysna and Sedgefield, brings a whole new world to life. Get ready for some subtle surprises and magic moments en route. From the Rheenendal turn off the road winds towards the majestic Outeniqua mountain range, which lazily slumbers on the horizon and creates a blueish toned backdrop for a few of the stunning vistas along the way. Keep your eyes peeled for a view of the Red Bridge of Knysna. This was the third bridge built over the Knysna River before it became the lone red structure waiting patiently for a visitor to arrive and admire it. In 1916 the low water bridge that crossed the Knysna river was washed away due to floods in the region and so in 1923 the beautiful Red Bridge with its 46m span was opened.
The Rheenendal road leads to the discovery of an industrious community and as you head further inland a variety of farms, shops, restaurants, accommodation, and more pop up. Some that are obvious and others that need to be sought out.
Being a farming community, the area provides the immediate region with a variety of goods that can be found at the local Portland Mini Market (6km from the turnoff), Totties Farm Kitchen (12km from the turnoff) and the Charlesford Farm (On Phantom pass). It’s here you can purchase fresh veg, meats, eggs, honey, soaps, homemade pies, sauces, condiments, fruits, plants and all kind of trinkets that have been made in the area.
Real old-fashioned farm shops, with countryside hospitality and where people still go out of their way to make you feel welcome. One of the restaurants in the area, the gorgeous Totties Farm Kitchen, is open from Wednesday to Saturday for delicious breakfasts, lunches, or a delightful homemade cake and a cuppa. Sundays are buffet days at Totties, it’s then that they serve up a scrumptious variety of gourmet salads, roasts, baked bread with soup and delectable desserts.
The area also boasts some of the best honey in South Africa. The legend of the “Honey Bearers” (or the Outeniquas) that traded over these mountains for 100’s of years, is still passed on by the community. Local Bee Keeper, Owen Williams, relocated to the Rheenendal area from Cape Town and here among the farmlands and fynbos, he established Honeychild. Honeychild offers pure, natural and raw honey – freshly harvested from the fynbos and forests of Rheenendal and Knysna. Owen also specializes in safe, gentle and natural bee removals, helps to relocate problem swarms and offers one on one tuition in the art of beekeeping. Keen for a Bee adventure? Beekeeping for Beginners runs twice yearly in April and November while an advanced beekeeping course runs once a year in March. Educational beekeeping field tours are a true natural venture where you can spend a morning as a budding beekeeper opening hives with Owen and delving into the secret world of bees. This, of course, is done in full safety gear and is an amazing introduction to the lives of the Cape Honeybee and the journey from flower to the honey pot.
On a smallholding, along the Rheenendal road, you will find Heather Hill Herbs Here Jayne and Jamie grow their loving herbs using organic methods to supply the Garden Route area with a variety of fresh green aromatic saplings. From the herb garden, they pack herbs for easy kitchen use and make a range of teas, creams, ointments, and soaps, using only the purest ingredients. For the enthusiastic herb collector, there is also a herb garden to enjoy. Here you can browse and pick up a few plants to take home.
Nourish Soaps – Meet our local soap alchemist, Pauline, who lives on a smallholding and runs her fragranced little operation called Nourish Soaps in the beautiful Rheenendal area. Here she spends her days crafting all the delightfully scented things you see on her website. She describes her happy working environment as follows “I make my products surrounded by birdsong and good coffee” and it openly shows! Pauline supplies local stores in the Garden Route and she can be visited by appointment only.
Hidden among the gems of Knysna is the Veg Table This must be one of the best foodie encounters to be had in Knysna and is well known as a home dining experience. A rustic but charming environment sets the scene for an ambient evening with Brett and his creative food. Personal attention to detail sets the benchmark for vegetarian dining experiences across the whole of South Africa. Brett focuses on the “Slow Food” principle with regard to cooking and is a genius with flavours. Every dish is an explosion of tastes that will tantalise those taste buds. Who knew that vegetables could be this amazing? Ensure that you book well ahead of time as Brett only operates from Wednesday to Friday, evenings only.
Rheenendal is not only a farming community, but it is here, near Bibby’s Hoek that you will find the Goudveld forest. This is a protected area that falls within the boundaries of the Garden Route National Park and holds much of the history of the miners and woodcutters of the early 19th Century. A heavenly place for the outdoor lover. Get lost in the magical wonders of this pristine indigenous forest as you gaze at the majestic giants that grow here while hiking along the set routes of the “Circles in the Forest” walks or exploring the miner’s route at Jubilee Creek. Then simply relax at the lush green picnic spot laid out here next to a bubbling creek. Altogether a perfect day’s outing for friends and family that will leave you feeling refreshed and relaxed.
Rheenendal has some most remarkable accommodation establishments and there is sure to be one that will tickle your fancy. Unique examples are the incredibly fascinating Forest Edge and the exclusively distinct Cliffhanger cottages. Both of these are situated on the edge of Knysna’s lush green forest. They are self-catering, and you can enjoy the simple pleasures of a barbeque amidst some of the most scenic settings that this magnificent Knysna countryside has to offer. Rest assured you will most definitely leave with a different mindset after this cool unperturbed adventure having experienced country living in Knysna’s backyard.
Visit our website for Rheenendal Accommodation options