Knysna Forest: Hiking with the Ghosts of Elephants


Once upon a time, thousands of elephants used to roam freely around the forests in the Knysna area. The nomadic aboriginal peoples lived harmoniously with the elephants, having little incentive to harm them or their environment.  Once the European settlers began to move in they began hunting the elephants and their numbers exponentially diminished. As far back as only 1870 there were only an estimated four hundred elephants left. Today there is only a very small handful of elephants left, most likely less than ten, although their number is not known for sure since they are almost never seen.  Today very little is known about the Knysna elephant, since it is very difficult to study an elephant that you cannot find. 

The Elephant Hiking Trails pay remembrance to the graceful beasts that used to roam these forests.  While were staying in Plettenberg Bay we took a day trip to go on one of the hikes.

There are three different Elephant Hiking Trails you can choose from:

Elephant 1 (Black) 9km, easy, circular route, start at forestry sation.
Elephant 2 (White) 8km from forest station or 6.5km from Diepwalle picnic site, easy, circular route.
Elephant 3 (Red) 7km, moderate, circular route, start at forestry station.

We chose the Red trail because the kind lady working at the forest station told us that she thought it was the most scenic and that it also had some hills to climb. 

The trail is a bit difficult to follow at some points but if you make sure to just keep a lookout for the red elephant signs and not stray from them then you should be fine. 

The hike was amazing. Except for a few small groups of people we encountered during a section where two different trails crossed, we were all alone in the forest.  Although the chances of seeing an elephant are pretty much zero, it was easy to imagine that one could be carefully watching you while hidden in the bush. We unfortunately didn't encounter any animals (unless giant bugs count) but we did hear the elusive loerie (aka the go-away bird) crying out at us, warning all of the other forest animals that they had company. 

600+ year old tree
There were even some nice sliced carrots for us to snack on...kidding!

Giant centipede eating a tiny mushroom!
Permits for the hikes cost R19/person and are obtainable from the Diepwalle Forestry Station where the hikes start. If the office is closed you can issue yourself a self issue permit from the wooden box under the tree in front of the offices. Also make sure to check out the small museum next to the station which goes into much more detail on the history of the Knysna elephants and other animals that can be found in the forest.

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  1. ah, so gorgeous! I wish that I could have done this!

  2. It was definitely a magical experience :)