Spotlight on Knysna
This is the place to go if you want to opt out of the rat race. Knysna’s temperate climate, gorgeous surroundings, sophisticated restaurants and good hospitals, make it an attractive retirement and getaway town.
Judging by restaurant reviews, the good folk of Knysna are not in a hurry to impress out-of-towners with the speed of their service – it’s more important for them to serve mouth-watering food that visitors will never forget. Things in Knysna are slow – and that is why people move there.
Knysna is known for its elusive forest elephants, artisanal cheeses and the Knysna Heads – two large headlands that became infamous due to the loss of boats and fishermen passing through the treacherous and unpredictable waters around The Heads. Knysna, apparently named after the Khoikhoi word for ‘ferns’, is built on the northern shore of a warm-water estuary, the Knysna Lagoon. ‘The indigenous Knysna forests are the largest complex of closed-canopy forest in Southern Africa, and you can explore them on foot along walkways,’ explains Seeff Knysna Principal, Suzi Bilyard. ‘They were the inspiration and setting for award-winning author Dalene Matthee’s four ‘forest’ books and the subsequent movies, including Fiela’s Child and Circles in a Forest.’
Conveniently located 72 kilometres east of the town of George on the N2 highway, and 25 kilometres west of Plettenberg Bay on the same road, Knysna is one of South Africa’s most popular holiday spots. The Heads give Knysna’s 55 000 residents many opportunities for commerce and leisure. ‘The eastern head houses a look-out with spectacular views of the lagoon, Leisure Isle and Knysna, while the western head is a privately owned reserve, the Featherbed Nature Reserve,’ says Bilyard.
Knysna once earned the title of ‘Best Town in South Africa’ and the name has stuck. The residents of Knysna are not always happy when the town is invaded by holiday-goers, but for many, a holiday is the impetus to retire here.
It’s a haven for people wanting to escape the big city, but they are warned not to move there unless they are independently wealthy or able to support themselves, because jobs are in short supply. However, the interest from buyers in commercial properties indicates that the local economy is thriving, says Ling Dobson, Pam Golding Properties (PGP) area principal in Plett and Knysna.
She also notes that Knysna’s industrial area has become something of an ‘old car’ mecca. The town’s annual Jaguar Simola Hillclimb drew an attendance of over 22 220 and people come from all over the world to buy cars from classic- and vintage-car expert Norman Frost, says Dobson.
R / V resident’s view
Trent Read, international art dealer and owner of Knysna Fine Art
I moved from Johannesburg to Knysna when I heard my son was on the way – and I did not want him to grow up in a shopping mall. It’s a tough place to make a living, but it is a happy, gentle, healthy place for kids – and people. My clients are foreign visitors from New York, or people who also have a home in Plett. I am lucky that my gallery is one of few that has an international network. My favourite eateries are Pembrey’s, Zachary’s and Île de Païn. I have not regretted moving here. The town works, it is clean and when you complain, the authorities listen. It is crowded during the holiday season, but outside of the season, the beaches are deserted and it is just the most extraordinary place.
Chris du Plessis, semiretired journalist and copywriter
In Knysna the crime stats are low and there is hardly any violent crime. Most of it is opportunistic. Here you have recourse to the law and people answer the phone. It is a pretty town with very good infrastructure – there are two hospitals and three good schools. There are two airports – one in Plett and one in George. Property is still unbelievably cheap. You can get a four bedroom house for R1,2 million. We are all here for the quality of life. Not only do we have the sea, but we also have the forest where you can cycle and hike. I do a lot of canoeing, and I am fitter now than I was at 40. Here you have the time to make very good friends, many of whom are also ‘refugees’ from the big city. I love the old ‘hippy consciousness’, which includes yoga and a lot of breathing.
Knysna at a glance
6 495= Number of freehold properties
2 837 = Number of estates
1 061 = Number of sectional-title properties
R2,3 million = Average price of freehold home
R1 million = Average price of sectional-title home
30% = Recent buyers aged 36 to 49
10% = Recent buyers aged 18 to 35
0% = Recent buyers aged 50 plus
Where to eat, drink and shop…
The most famous bakery on the Garden Route is Île de Païn, where bread is fresh from the wood-fired oven. Zachary’s at Conrad Pezula Resort and Spa offers innovative foodie-type fare, while Die Gieter Deli is a marvellous spot to savour traditional South African farm-style cooking in the forest. Pembrey’s is an owner-run bistro, where ingredients are sourced fresh every day. The annual Knysna Oyster Festival attracts thousands of visitors. People are advised to come early to snap up organic produce at the Harvest Time Saturday Market.
Who’s buying and what are they paying?
Knysna’s image, says Peter Southey, the Rawson Property Group’s franchisee for this area, is one of affluence and it has, to an extent, been defined by such upmarket developments as Thesen Islands, and Pezula and Simola golf estates. At Thesen Islands today, he says, apartments can cost R3 million and homes on the water with over 200m2 of floor space can sell for R15 million.
At least 50% of the potential property buyers investing in Knysna are planning to retire to or spend holidays in the town, and there are reasonably priced new projects coming on stream, he says. ‘They will include retirement properties with frailcare, as well as standard lifestyle properties without retirement facilities – and are therefore suitable both for retirees and younger families.’ Right now, says Southey, two retirement developments together offering some 100 opportunities are already on the market. Two further projects are about to be launched, bringing the total number of new units available at Knysna by 2015 to about 300. These schemes are offering homes from R1,75 million to R5 million.
According to Seeff’s Suzi Bilyard, ‘Apartment prices start at just above R500 000 for an older two-bedroom unit. Older three-bedroom houses start at around R950 000 in the town, but range upwards of about R3,8 million closer to the water in areas such as Thesen Islands. Top-end luxury homes, though, can range to just over R20 million, especially in Pezula.
‘The great news for buyers,’ she says, ‘is that property prices have remained relatively flat over the last five years and it is still very much a buyers’ market, with plenty of excellently priced property on the market.’
Chick Ramsay, principal of Huizemark, sums it up: ‘In the last seven years, Knysna has been a microcosm of what’s happened in Florida and Spain, driven to great heights in 2005/’06 by owners of second homes but after the global economy took a big knock, it took a while for the market to tick again. Now local buyers, particularly younger families, are coming into the lower priced properties. And there’s no place better to bring up kids than here, with the lagoon, mountain, forests and sporting facilities. There are excellent schools, including Knysna Primary, as well as the private Montessori and Oakhill schools, all of which are getting better and better. Oakhill has just set up magnificent playing fields and there’s a new residential development being built around it.
‘Knysna never stops – there’s always a social buzz and events run through the winter. It’s what I call a “10-minute town” – it never takes longer to get anywhere, whether you’re heading for the harbour for an ocean cruise, need to see a lawyer, take the kids to school or play golf.’
- Rawson Property Group: rawson.co.za
- Île de Païn: iledepain.co.za
- Zachary’s: zacharys.co.za
- Die Gieter Deli: knysnariversidelodge.co.za
- Pembrey’s: pembreys.co.za
- Knysna Oyster Festival: oysterfestival.co.za
- Harvest Time Saturday Market: harkervillemarket.co.za
- Pam Golding Properties: pamgolding.co.za
Text: Andrea Vinassa
Photographs: Daron Chatz, supplied