We were sad to say goodbye to the lovely forest cabin, but the looming prospect of getting up close and personal with orphaned elephants, was enough to drive us towards our next destination – Knysna.
10:30 am = Leave for Knysna Elephant Park
11:00 am = Tour the elephant park
2:00 pm = Arrive at Brenton-on-Sea
4:00 pm = Find laundromat in Knysna
6:00 pm = Go swimming
7:00 pm = Dinner at The Olive Tree
We drove off to Knysna around 10:30 am after running some quick errands in Plettenberg Bay. Knysna Elephant Park was a very quick drive from Plettenberg, in fact it was closer to Plett than it was to Knysna, but that’s not saying much considering Knysna itself was only half an hour away. We arrived at the elephant park a bit early for the 11:00 am tour, so we decided to wander around the visitor centre and read a bit of the history of the area. Apparently the area used to be full of thousands of wild elephants but between poaching and habitat destruction as a result of land development, the population was down to only 3 by 2003. They believe there may still be some wild elephants around the area, but it sounds like no one is holding their breath. The elephant park is home to a variety of orphaned and rescued elephants from across South Africa. Some of the residents were there because their parents had been killed by poachers, others had come because they would have otherwise been culled off in Kruger National Park (it’s unfortunate to think that National Parks have to get rid of stock because they are TOO abundant). We had purchased a bucket of mixed fruit / veggies to feed the elephants and awaited the arrival of the next trolley. We were herded together to watch a short video about the Dos and Don’ts of the site before being ushered into the elephant’s overnight quarters. The pens themselves were quite small, but the elephants only went into the large building during the night as a way to prevent poachers from coming in and killing them. We were then loaded onto a trolley and taken to the large grassy field where the females were mulling about (the males were kept separate, otherwise they would just spend their day getting frisky with the ladies). When we arrived the previous group left and all of the elephants started to line up behind a barrier in anticipation for the coming feast. We then took our buckets and started to offer food to the many trunks that reached for handouts.
Before we knew it, our bucket was empty and we had hardly any photos to show for it. It didn’t really matter though because once all of the food had been dispersed, each little group of visitors paired up with one of the guides and we went from elephant to elephant, touching them and taking photos.
Touching an elephant is a very strange experience. I was under the impression that elephant skin would be very soft and blubbery, when in fact it is very coarse and rough. What’s more, you often don’t get close enough to notice, but there are large coarse hairs that stick out every which way from the skin, adding to the bizarre texture. We met two females that were both pregnant, one was the daughter and the other the mother and as strange as it seems to have a mother and daughter pregnant at the same time, the most bizarre part was that they were impregnated by the same male (thankfully not the father in this case). As it turned out, our tour guide had a very strong accent (go figure) and he kept referring to ‘bobos’ and we couldn’t figure out what he was talking about. Finally Dan realized he was trying to tell us that the females had large breasts as a result of being pregnant. Dan made some usual vaguely inappropriate joke and the guide insisted that he touch the ‘bobo’. Well I guess the guide wasn’t actually expecting him to because when Dan did, our guide died laughing, thankfully I have photographic evidence of the event:
According to Dan, unlike the rest of the elephant’s tough hide, the bobo proved to be incredibly soft to the touch. After about a half hour of intimate elephant time, the next group was arriving and already the elephants had begun to line up behind the barriers. We were told we could stay as long as we wanted but there was a routine and rhythm to the swapping of groups so we decided to go with the trolley. Jessi wasn’t overly pleased and wished we could have stayed for longer. I was satisfied with our time and figured there was only so much time that could be spent petting an elephant and as the day progressed there would be more and more visitors and that would make it more difficult to get some private time as a group.
We knew it would be too early to check in to our overnight chalet, but we were interested in having a look at the area we would be staying in. We had booked a couple of chalets in an area close to Knysna called Brenton-on-Sea because both the accommodation and view looked so amazingly picturesque (http://www.abalonelodges.co.za/brenton/index.html). It was a bit tricky trying to figure out where to check-in but we eventually found the office. We ended up booking two separate chalets because we were given information about the double storey log cabin and the adjacent double cabin but then we decided it was too expensive and opted for a couple of cheaper options. Now that I look back, we were fools and really should have booked the two storey, considering the price difference was only like $20. We were happy however to be staying there because this was the view that awaited us:
After checking in, we were disappointed to find that our cabin was pretty big and beautiful from the outside, but inside it was pretty much just a single room with a bed, microwave, mini fridge and desk crammed into it. There was a medium sized bathroom as well and that was it. The original cabin we were going to book would’ve come with a whole kitchen and living room so we were definitely kicking ourselves for not sticking with our initial booking.
Once we were settled we started to pack some of our stuff and remembered that much of our clothing was dirty and wet from our excursion to Robberg Peninsula the day before. We decided to go and find a laundromat in Knysna to remedy that. Knysna was very small but in a cute oceanside tourist town kind of way. We wandered around trying to find the laundromat that was listed on google, but to no avail. We asked some local shop owners if they could direct us but they didn’t have the greatest english. Finally we were told there was one not far on the main strip. By the time we arrived, there was only an hour to finish the load so we opted to have it washed but not dried. While waiting for our laundry we decided to walk around Knysna a bit. We found a cute little business district with food stands and shops where we spent our time wandering. It was a beautiful, hot day so we picked up some ice-cream to snack on while we walked. We also made our way over to a restaurant called The Olive Tree (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Olive-Tree-Knysna/176278789108821) which I had read about in my travel book to see if we could make a dinner reservation. They were able to slot in our reservation for 7:00 pm so we picked up our laundry and headed back to our chalet to hang our laundry and kill some time.
The water was so inviting that we couldn’t resist taking a dip, especially to cool off. We didn’t anticipate just how strong the waves were or the fact that there was a pretty wicked rip current as well. We stuck together pretty closely, although realistically, we were kind of dumb for venturing out as far as we did. I enjoy swimming and love to be in the water, however, I am by no means a strong swimmer and being the tiny blip of a person I am, I was mercilessly thrown around by the waves. Jessi also enjoys the water and loved the waves, but of the three of us she is the weakest in terms of swimming capabilities. Which leaves Dan, ex-swim competitor to save our sorry butts, which he had to do more than once today. We were also trailed by these 2 kids (aged ~11 and 14) who seemed to be following us wherever we were in the water. It was annoying and strange but then I realized that their parents (nowhere to be found as usual) had obviously told them that they were only allowed to swim in the ocean if they stuck close to us (obviously assuming we were capable adults that would save them if need be). Well thank goodness we didn’t have to, because as we already established, Dan had his hands full with us damsels in distress. It was tiring but fun and we all had a good laugh at each others misfortunes, especially if a wave sideswiped us when we weren’t paying attention. We came back, showered, changed and prettied ourselves for our dinner reservation.
One interesting thing that I read about South Africa, was the fact that as a foreigner it was important that you take advantage of fine dining opportunities. Apparently the chefs in SA are fantastic, making delicious high quality dishes with local products for a fifth of the cost in Canada. Why, I still don’t really know, assumedly it has to do with the economy, but we were thrilled at the news. It’s no secret that Dan loves food. Like, if he could he would marry food, no question in my mind. I love food too, but as a vegetarian, fine dining doesn’t really have the same appeal, especially with South Africa being notoriously meat-oriented. When we arrived at The Olive Tree we were the only people there and the owner kindly welcomed and seated us. We were confused because there didn’t seem to be any menu around. She told us that because they changed up the menu virtually everyday depending on what they had, they wrote their menus on a chalkboard. She then wheeled over this giant chalkboard that had at least 20 meal options and insisted on reading them aloud and describing both the method of preparation and all of the succulent, mouthwatering ingredients in full detail. Dan was visibly salivating and Jessi was very impressed too. It was definitely a different method than we were used to, and made us want to order everything! Unfortunately (but not surprisingly) for me there was only one option, which I am pretty used to, in fact, it’s not really all that different from a high end restaurant in Canada really. Dan and Jessi took a long time to decide as the meals all sounded superb. Sadly the only photo we took in this restaurant was this one:
It was pathetic, since these are the expressions that Jessi loves most for us so we were intentionally posing like fools. I really hate that I didn’t take photos of all of the amazing meals we ate because not only were they unbelievably delicious, they were pretty much works of art too. To fully appreciate the food at this restaurant you will have to take a look at their photos on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Olive-Tree-Knysna/176278789108821?id=176278789108821&sk=photos_stream) and although some people may scoff at the idea of not having a menu before going, I think it’s part of what makes this restaurant so amazing. You can go here over and over and over and you never know what to expect, but every dish is a masterpiece and unique to that occasion. The price tag? Around $12 CAD per person. That’s right, twelve dollars. Obviously, I highly recommend The Olive Tree.
We then returned home, incredibly full and very much content. Another beautiful day in Africa.