Great Books to Read When Planning a Trip to Knysna

Image of woman reading book on pier

Before you visit Knysna, hit the library and grab some books to get you even more excited about your trip. Knysna has a fascinating and colourful history that includes the Khoi-khoi, sailing ships, timber harvesting and even a short gold rush! Don’t just read history and guidebooks, read fiction as well. Often, stories can bring a place to life more vividly than a guidebook. Here are a few suggestions, from classics to contemporary non-fiction:

The Knysna Elephants and Their Forest Home
By Margo Mackay

This booklet was published as an introduction to the Knysna forests and its elephants. The romantic forests and the still more romantic elephants capture the hearts and imagination of all who come to know them. Margo Mackay has caught their very essence and shares both her knowledge and love of nature with the reader telling all the facts and the stories and the legends that have evolved around the Knysna forests.

Published 1996 by Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa, Southern Cape Branch, Knysna Centre (first published January 1st, 1983).
ISBN 0620203293

Timber and Tides: The Story of Knysna and Plettenberg Bay
By Winifred Tapson
Illustrated with black and white photos

Image of Timber and Tides: The Story of Knysna and Plettenberg Bay By Winifred Tapson book coverThe book is primarily about the ships that plied to and from Knysna, supplying wood from the forests to Cape Town but also about the pioneers and people that made the town.
Much attention is given to the history of the ships (and their captains and sailors), as well as to forestry, gold mining, elephant hunts, silk spinning, and the colorful immigrants and settlers who created the rich culture of this small town.
Knysna was founded and settled in the early 19th century by George Rex, allegedly the son of King George III and the Quaker girl Hannah Lightfoot, and Rex’s intriguing and mysterious history constitutes a major focus of the book.

Publisher: Juta; 4th Edition (1973).
ISBN: 9780702104558

The Elephants of Knysna
By Nick Carter

Image of The Elephants of Knysna By Nick Carter book coverWritten in 1971, Nick Carter tells the thrilling story of how he completed a survey of the elephants which then lived in the Knysna Forest.

Publisher: Purnell, 1971
ISBN: 360001378



Woudfontein: A Suspense Thriller
By Hannes Haasbroek

Image of Woudfontein: A Suspense Thriller By Hannes Haasbroek book coverWhen Lieutenant Roelf Bester punched the mathematics teacher, Tron Marais, he knew there was trouble… What he did not know was that this trouble would include an increase and a transfer. Suddenly he is now Captain Bester, commander of the tiny police station in Woudfontein, near Knysna. Then Tron Marais is admitted to the Pik Botha Sanatorium just outside Woudfontein, as a possible psychopath. He is sleek and highly intelligent. And he is refining his revenge plan for Captain Roelf.

Published by Penguin Random House, June 2015
ISBN: 9781415207352

The Secret Elephants: The Rediscovery of the World’s Most Southerly Elephants
By Gareth Patterson

Image of The Secret Elephants: The Rediscovery of the World's Most Southerly Elephants By Gareth Patterson book coverThe elephants of the Knysna forest have long been the subject of mystery and conjecture. Over the years they have taken on an almost mythical quality, with many doubting whether they exist at all. In 1994 the local forestry department maintained that there was only one surviving Knysna elephant, the seldom seen female known as The Matriarch. The Knysna elephant was thus described as ‘functionally extinct’. This was the official stance until September 2000 when forest guard Wilfred Oraai encountered and photographed a young bull from a distance of some thirty metres.

For seven years Gareth Patterson covered thousands of kilometres on foot, following ancient elephant paths through the dense Afromontane forest and the surrounding mountain fynbos. He found abundant signs to suggest that, far from dying out, the Knysna elephants are, quietly and secretly, holding their own. The Secret Elephants is the story of these remarkable animals that fought their way back from the brink of extinction without any help from humankind. Well known for his work on the African lion, Gareth Patterson is an environmentalist, independent wildlife researcher and author who has worked tirelessly for more than twenty-five years for the greater protection of African wildlife.

Published by Penguin Random House, May 2011
ISBN: 9780143528012

The Mulberry Forest
by Dalene Matthee

Image of The Mulberry Forest by Dalene Matthee book coverSilkworm farmers from Italy were lured to Gouna in the Knysna Forest to establish a silk industry. The only problem was that mulberry trees refused to grow in sticky mud. Disgruntled immigrants had to battle severe winter rains, fever and a lack of understanding. They were becoming increasingly disillusioned with the government dumping them in the wilderness under false pretenses. The man coming their rescue was a forest person with an unruly daughter and a head full of plans – the headstrong Silas Miggel. He wanted to get them back on board a ship, heading for Italy …

Publisher: Michael Joseph Ltd; 1st Edition (1989)
ISBN: 0140120254

Circles in a Forest
By Dalene Matthee

Image of Circles in a Forest By Dalene Matthee book coverSaul Barnard is a man with a self-imposed mission – to halt the wanton destruction of the Knysna Forest, home of wild elephants and the fiercely independent families of woodcutters. For years he has protected the forest from intruders and has developed a mystical kinship with the spirit of Old Foot, the majestic and indomitable bull elephant. When word goes round that Old Foot is on the rampage, Saul is propelled towards a terrible confrontation that will change his future forever.

Publisher: Knopf (September 12, 1984)
ISBN 9780143027287

Fiela’s Child
By Dalene Matthee

Image of Fiela's Child By Dalene Matthee book coverA child wanders too far into the Knysna Forest …he never returns. Nine years later government officials working on a census find a white child living with a Coloured family in the mountains beyond the forest. They take him away from the stricken Fiela, who has brought him up as her son, and give him back to his ‘original’ family. Stunned and helpless, Benjamin waits for Fiela to reclaim him. But, powerless against authority, Fiela never comes. Benjamin has to grow up before he can go in search of the truth …

Publisher: Longman (27 Sept. 1996)
ISBN: 9780143027584

île de païn anytime
By Liezie Mulder

Image of île de païn anytime By Liezie Mulder book coverExpect a personal voice, mouthwatering visuals, useful insider tips, a specialist chapter on baking and an abundance of no-nonsense, approachable recipes that celebrate fresh, local ingredients.

Chef Liezie Mulder takes us through a day in the life of her iconic Knysna restaurant, île de paÏn. For every time of day, and every craving in between, there is a meal to nourish, delight, energise and celebrate the craft of good cooking.

Published by Quivertree Publications, March 2018
ISBN: 978-1-928209-00-3

… and because our chalets at Under Milkwood derived their names from the famous 1954 radio drama by Dylan Thomas, we thought we’d add that one too!

Under Milk Wood
by Dylan Thomas

Image of Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas book coverA moving and hilarious account of a spring day in a small Welsh coastal town, Under Milk Wood is “lyrical, impassioned and funny” (The New Statesman and Nation). Characters include Captain Cat, the old blind sea captain who dreams of his deceased shipmates and lost lover Rosie Probert, and Sinbad Sailors, the barman who dreams of Gossamer Beynon, whom he cannot marry because of his grandmother’s disapproval… A film version, directed by Andrew Sinclair, was released in 1972.

Published by New Directions, 1954
ISBN: 0811202097