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The Magic of the Knysna Forest – Camping at Diepwalle

The Magic of the Knysna Forest – Camping at Diepwalle

There is something truly magical that lives in-between the oxygen particles in forest air. Because you can’t see it, it’s hard to put your finger on. But as soon as you start to breathe in the air, a sense of peace and oneness with the world overcomes you.  This ethereal sense of wellness becomes more concentrated the larger the trees and the bigger and older the forest.  Which is why we chose to start our year deep in the middle of the Knysna forest.


The Diepwalle Forest Camp is located in the Knysna Lakes Section of the Garden Route National Park. It consists of ten elevated wooden camping decks, each with a little covered lapa, a built in braai and electricity. Four of the decks are also fitted with dome tents with two single beds as well as a fridge. Despite lots of enthusiastic effort, I am not yet a very happy camper, so we opted for one already tented deck for Ralph and I and a bring-your-own-tent camping deck for the kids.

Our camping deck tucked away in the forest

When we arrived at the camp, we were absolutely delighted with the charming deck pathways which wind through the tall trees and lead to the secluded decks suspended above the forest floor. We chose the deck furthest from the car park, tucked away all by itself with a spectacular view of the forest.  A light rain started to fall and we were so grateful both for the much needed rain and for the dry area under the roofed lapa. We spent our first night braaing and chatting and fell asleep to the gentle pitter patter of rain on the canvas roof of our dome tent. The rugged permanent tent, proper beds, electrical lighting and the fridge elevated my camping experience all the way from toleration to delight.


We woke up to a serenade from the  Knysna dawn chorus – a symphony of bird sounds from every direction.  Unzipping our tent door we lay in bed watching the forest wake up around us – first the birds, then the patchy sun twinkling though the leaves and then the little insects hunting for breakfast.

The view from our deck

The day was cloudy and cool and perfect for exploring on foot. There are three circular hiking trails that all start and finish at Diepwalle camp. On the advice of the guide at reception, we headed out on the Black Elephant Trail – according to him a “moderately easy, relatively flat” 9km route with some ancient Yellowwood giants along the way. Technically, the hike was supposed to take us 3-4 hours to complete but as soon as we trudged off the road and into the wild, we could not help but stop again and again to marvel at all the incredible wonders of nature that peppered the path.

The start of the Black Elephant Hiking Trail

We were the only people we saw along the way and we kept our eyes peeled for the elusive Knysna elephants inbetween the towering moss covered trees, the giant leafy ferns, lichen covered rocks and logs laden with interesting fungi.  A couple of Knysna Loeries hopped along the canopy high above us, following our slow progress with interest, but we made so much noise hugging the trees, photographing the scenery and chatting amongst ourselves that if there were any elephants about, they would have moved off long before we reached them.

Natural wonders along the way

The hike was incredibly rewarding, but felt a lot longer than 9km (my pedometer said 13km) and if this was the relatively easy route, I realised I did not have a chance of even trying to convince our teenagers to accompany us on the moderate to difficult routes the next day.

Near the end of the Black Elephant Hiking Trail

Sure enough when I eagerly suggested the White and Red Elephant Trail over breakfast, I was met with four resounding no’s giving me no choice but to go with the flow and do something less strenuous. We had picked up a self-drive map from reception when we checked in and decided to head to a few of the 10 landmarks in the “Rooted in Time” route.

One of Knysna’s giants along the Rooted in Time route

First stop, “Dal van Varings” (Valley of Ferns). At the Northern edge of the forest, this is a valley that comes straight from the movie set of Jurassic Park. The ancient trees are gnarled and twisty and the ferns are beyond impressive – thick and huge and plentiful. We absolutely loved the short hiking trail which really was relatively flat and very easy.

The Valley of Ferns – what a magical place

Opposite the exit was the entrance to Spitskop View Point which the map said was “an experience you will never forget”. It also said “A very steep climb…driving can be technical. Not for the faint of heart!” so we had pre-agreed not to try and put our town car through this country challenge (especially considering our recent stuck in the sand and mud episodes). However, could we in clear conscience not even give it a try? There were no signs warning 4×4 only and we had come all this way….


The road was narrow and made of gravel with the steeper patches covered in rough concrete. We were doing fine until we came head to head with someone coming down on the steepest and narrowest section. This is where it gets technical – there was only one lane and the vertical drop from the side of the road was leg numbingly high. We played a quick mental ching-chong-cha with the other driver. His 4×4 beat our Kombi, meaning he got to reverse up the steep path, proudly exhibiting his driving prowess while we sighed in relief that it wasn’t us having to drive backwards down the cliff. Once at the top though, the views were definitely worth the nail biting driving terror.

Views forever from Spitskop

We ended up exploring all the sites on the Rooted in Time map and concluded that this was a fabulous way to get a good taste of the Knysna forest and imagine for yourself how it was to be one of the first people to have lived under its magnificent canopy back in the day.


On our way back to camp, we were delighted when a honey badger trotted out right in front of us – stopping and having a good look at our car before joining its mate in the bush. We had never before seen one so close and so well. To round off a perfect day, as we returned to our forest deck, with a flash of red feathers a Narina Trogon landed literally right in front of us. These shy, elusive birds are incredibly rare to spot and we were over the moon to have such a close up encounter.

The elusive Narina Trogon

Thank you to SANParks for putting so much thought into creating this magical place for us to come and experience the forest. Thank you for the glamping decks, fabulous maps, information boards and pristine facilities. I can’t recommend this experience highly enough, and we are truly blessed that this is right on our doorstep and affordable for the average South African family.

Such well managed, pristine facilities – well done SANParks!

Fact Sheet:

Diepwalle has 10 camping decks, of which 4 have fixed tents with beds, basic mattress (no bedding) and a bar fridge. The other 6 accommodate a three-man tent, come with braai and dining areas, and have electric points. Tents and mattresses are available to rent and communal ablutions have hot showers.

The tented decks are R440 and the camping decks R200 (for 2 people, additional adults are R88 and children R44, maximum of 4 people per deck) per night (Prices as at January 2018).

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