Sea and sand are always an integral part of my holiday and the beaches in Knysna (a seaside town located on the Garden Route of South Africa’s Western Cape) do not disappoint. I would have been thrilled with just one Knysna beach, instead I got six; each one completely different from the one before.
I loved each one for different reasons, but for me Brenton-on-Sea was the winner of the best beach in Knysna for me (if only this was a paid job)!
We stayed in Knysna for a blissful three weeks (my second visit to the area) renting a house in Pezula. I fell in love with South Africa on our last trip which was an epic two week long road trip taking in Kruger, the Garden Route, wine lands and Cape Town. We had a wonderful time, but as part of my drive to slow down my travel, we wanted to have a more laid back holiday this time.
Parking at Beaches in Knysna
Directions to each beach are included; I do not have a natural sense of direction but found South Africa incredibly easy to navigate and didn’t get lost once; definitely a rarity for me!
Parking was also incredibly easy to come by and we didn’t find a single place where you had to pay to park (which unless you are on your own drive, is virtually mandatory in the UK).
In some places, there are car parking attendants that help you park your car and then “guard” it. Whether this is necessary or not I don’t know and I suspect as a visitor we wouldn’t have a clue how likely are car is to get broken into unless it actually happened! I do know that crime is higher in South Africa, that every parking attendant was smiley, friendly and helpful and that my car was not broken into when I got back, so were more than happy to tip.
Apparently the standard is 2 to 5 ZAR for parking attendants which is unbelievably cheap when you convert it to GBP or USD. We generally tipped more; these guys are trying hard to make a living, I suspect earn very little and the bump up to 10 or 20 ZAR has very little impact on us and a lot on them.
Knysna Swimming Beaches
One note on lifeguards and marked safe swimming zones, I would often find reference to them on the boards welcoming you to the beach and when researching them online beforehand, yet I did not see either on any of our trips to the beach. We visited in their high (although not peak) season at the end of January to the middle of February across a mixture of weekdays and weekends.
On every beach we went to there is a pink life buoy with instructions and emergency numbers to call should there be any issues in the water.
Be very careful with swimming. I am a reasonable swimmer and was not comfortable swimming anywhere except Buffalo Bay and Brenton Beach. The rip tides are notorious for being particularly brutal during this stretch, so please do take care. I generally watched the locals, if they aren’t swimming, you probably shouldn’t either.
I have listed the Knysna’s beaches below in order from East to West along the coast.
Pin For Later
This isn’t your run of the mill beach; with an incredible forest backdrop and six “castles” jutting out of the cliff face, Noetzie Beach in Knysna is fairly spectacular. Set in a secluded cove, the sand is soft and fine and the waves crash onto it in a fairly dramatic fashion.
The Noetzie beach castles are actually holiday homes (five of which are available to rent) and look rather foreboding perched on the edges of the cliff face. They were never intended to be castles, but as they were built, one of the owners became inspired to add turrets and live out their royalist fantasies! Clearly the neighbours then decided to follow suit….
We spent a couple of hours here and only saw two other people the entire time, although I am sure it must get busier during weekends. The beach is good for families as there is a river estuary leading into the sea that is safe for kids to play in, but the sea itself is quite rough and was classified as “dangerous” on the information board in the car park.
How to Get to Noetzie Beach
Driving out of Knysna on the N2 towards Plettenberg Bay will take you under a pedestrian bridge, take the next right.
As you pull off the N2 the road becomes a dirt track which then winds its way towards Noetzie Beach for around two miles. You will pass two entrances to Pezula Private Estate (one on your right first and then one on your left), keep going until you reach the car park at the end of the road.
How long it will take you to get here is dependant on what kind of car you drive as this road can be slow going if you are not in a 4×4 (although still easily enough done), but I would say it could take anything from 15 to 25 minutes from central Knysna.
The car park has some great signage giving an overview of the Noetzie Conservancy and a map of the beach, which is accessed from either of the two footpaths leading down from the car park, one bringing you out on the East side of the beach and the other on the West.
It is less than a five minute walk down via either path, but it is quite steep. The left hand track is just a slope and the right hand one is mostly steps, with a slightly precarious looking handrail.
Facilities at Noetize Beach
There were no water sports rental facilities.
Dogs are allowed on the beach, but only East of the river, which shouldn’t be a problem as most of the beach is that side anyway.
There are public toilets about a minute before you reach the beach on the left hand path from the car park (the one without steps), but I can’t say I’d recommend going anywhere near them, they are filthy.
Word of warning; when a South African describes a journey somewhere as a gentle stroll, believe them at your peril. These people have been brought up in some of the world’s most fabulous and diverse landscapes under weather from paradise, they know how to do the outdoors. Us Brits are much more delicate.
We like a stroll and love a beach, so combining the two sounded like an excellent idea. It is a 2.5km “stroll” there and 2.5km “stroll” back along the same path. The beach is supposed to be in a beautiful little secluded cove and very quiet (not surprising on that front). You’ll notice I said, “supposed to”. We never made it. We almost had to have an emergency airlift out of there.
Stroll, Walk, Death Hike
There were no clues that this was to be the case at the beginning of the walk (death hike) either. It starts by meandering along Pezula Golf Course, beautiful views, birds singing and gentle slopes, la la la.
We even passed a couple that looked to be in their 70s proclaiming what a beautiful place Sparrebosch Beach was and how much they enjoyed the walk. We think they were playing some sick joke whereby they hung around behind trees and walked out whenever some unsuspecting people after a gentle stroll walked past to encourage them further.
South African Scenery
One thing I will say about this stroll (death hike); the scenery is something else, but this is South Africa and they know how to deliver on this. You pass a waterfall, walk alongside a gentle stream and are under cover in the forest so it is quite shady and pleasant (lulling you into a false sense of security).
However, it is steep, with lots of steps and very uneven ground and some places with some quite big drops to the side. There is also a bridge with a fallen tree on it that is difficult to get around without getting scratched to high heaven. We went down into the valley, back up, down again and then back up another hill, out of the tree cover into the rather hot sunshine. When we got to the ridge we completely lost the path.
Whenever we asked someone where we had gone wrong here, they looked a bit confused and just said we had to “scramble down” and the beach was right there. Rock climbing gear would have been needed to get back up I swear.
We had a variant level of fitness in our strolling party and so turned back here as we were very conscious that by continuing, we were just delaying the half way point. We retreated to the safety of our villa and swam in the pool instead.
While I am being slightly dramatic here (gentle stroll, my ass), maybe not the best thing to do with the elderly, young kids or indeed anyone that doesn’t have a reasonable level of fitness. Let me know how it is if you get there!
Related Post: South Africa Travel Tips: Everything You Need to Know
How to Get to Sparrebosch Beach
Turn off the N2 onto George Rex Drive towards the Knysna Heads. Turn left onto Wilson Street and then right at the roundabout, follow the signs to Pezula Golf Estate and Sparrebosch.
When on Pezula Golf Estate (you will know you are there by all the security and gated complexes), continue on the main road (Lagoon View Drive) following the signs (not that you would be able to turn off due to said gates) until you see parking just after some tennis courts on your left.
Coney Glen Beach
Nestled at the foot of the Eastern Head, Coney Glen Beach in Knysna is in a small cove with lots of rocks for scrambling over and exploring (there are boardwalks in a couple of places to make this easier). The stretches of sand are minimal, but it has braai facilities (or BBQ to the rest of us), so this is a place to relax and explore rather than walk.
Be very careful with the water here, it’s rough and the entrance to the Heads is not an area to be swimming in. There are some little coves created by the rocks where you can take a quick dip to cool off, but don’t try and swim out into deeper waters.
Come here for a beer and to watch that stunning sunset, the view is something else.
How to Get to Coney Glen Beach
Turn off the N2 onto George Rex Drive towards the Knysna Heads. As you reach the foot of the Heads you will see signs for Coney Glen, follow them and you will end up on Coney Glen Drive which deposits you in the car park next to the beach.
Related Post: A Complete Guide to Plettenberg Bay on the Garden Route
Facilities at Coney Glen Beach
There are no toilets, water sports or shop facilities here.
I saw no signs that dogs weren’t allowed, although I didn’t see any on the beach.
Bollard Bay Beach
Set in the residential area of Leisure Island, Bollard Bay Beach is absolutely perfect for kiddies as you are in the Knysna Lagoon rather than the sea and the water is warm and shallow. You can actually walk quite far out and the water hardly gets above ankle height!
The beach runs the entire length of the island facing out towards the Knysna Heads, giving lovely views and a good stretch for a beach walk.
How to Get to Bollard Bay Beach
Turn off the N2 onto George Rex Drive towards the Knysna Heads. Take a right onto Armstrong Road which crosses the lagoon to reach the island. As you reach Leisure Island, head straight on onto Kingsway Road until you reach a huge roundabout, this is the hub of the island where the only cafés and shops are located. It is the sleepiest “hub” I’ve ever been to!
Take the second exit on the roundabout to rejoin Kingsway Road, keep right onto Founders Road until you reach Cern Drive, which runs the length of the beach. There is parking on a grassy bank half way down this road (where the ice cream truck is).
Or just do what we did and drive around for a bit until you see the sea, honestly, it’s a teeny tiny island and very peaceful and pretty, so it’s quite enjoyable getting lost, albeit very briefly!
Facilities at Bollard Bay Beach
This is the perfect spot for a bit of water sports (not surfing due to the lack of waves), the equipment is stacked up just off the beach and when we were there, it was unattended but a number to call was left in case you wanted to hire any of the equipment.
We didn’t see any specific signs stating dogs weren’t allowed and some online research suggested there are no restrictions on having them there. We saw a couple on the beach when we visited in the middle of the day so from that assume it is fine.
There are no toilet facilities and it is about a half a mile walk inland to visit one of the two cafés on the island (Bodega and Nadine’s Corner). It is a pleasant and easy walk though; completely flat and with very minimal traffic on the roads. There is also sometimes an ice cream van parked on the grassy bank just behind the middle of the beach.
Related Post: A Complete South Africa Packing List (plus a free, downloadable checklist)
Oh my god is this beach beautiful. I am going to go as far as saying it is the most stunning beach I have ever been to and as someone who’s self professed favourite thing to do in life is to watch the sunset with a glass of wine on a beach, I’ve been to a fair few.
On my last trip to South Africa, we had only been to Knysna’s Western Head to visit the Featherbed Nature Reserve. We didn’t actually think there was anything else there except one lonely palace-like villa at the very top; all the locals said that the Eastern Head was more popular and better located as it gets the sun.
But there is somewhere there that gets the sun on the Western Head; a magical little holiday town with views to die for on the opposite side of the Head to the Knysna lagoon, Brenton-on-Sea.
As you find your way up onto the peak of the Western Head on your drive there, stop at the lookout points; the first one you pass (Margaret’s Lookout Point) on your left looks out over the lagoon and the second one is on your right overlooking the sea. Just beautiful.
The views get even better as you curve round the ridge and start to descend the other side, the beach is just so gorgeous. We also saw huge schools of dolphins on two different visits here so keep your eyes peeled, they are easier to spot when you are at a slightly higher vantage point.
The walk down to beach takes only a couple of minutes and then there is a 7 km stretch of sand in front of you where you can walk all the way to Buffalo Bay (see below). There are sand dunes with lovely fynbos growing all over them that give the beach a gorgeous backdrop.
Top Tip: if you want some shade, turn sharp left as you reach the sand after the boardwalk to access the beach, there are some craggy outcrops of rock perfect for setting your deckchair up in that are nice and cool, but still with beautiful views.
How to Get to Brenton Beach
Head to Brenton-on-Sea beach by driving towards George on the N2. As you exit Knysna by crossing the bridge over the estuary, take the first right signposted to Phantom Pass and Belvidere. Follow the road round to the right almost immediately after making the turn to cross under the N2. Just follow that road until you reach its end right above Brenton Beach, parking is on your right.
Facilities at Brenton Beach
There are no water sports on offer here, the waves are epic, so swimming isn’t really an option either beyond a splash around in the shallows. We saw no one out below waist deep and there were lots of rip tide signs.
The rules around dogs here are a bit complicated due to it being a Blue Flag beach; they are allowed on the beach in the designated areas outside the swimming zone except between the hours of 9:00am and 5:00pm for the months of December and January only.
I am assuming that this swimming zone is clearly marked during these months, I couldn’t see any evidence of these during our visits, however our first visit to this beach wasn’t actually until the beginning of February.
There are public toilets that are useable and Island Café which is perfect for a post beach milkshake and snack.
Buffalo Bay Beach
Set in Goukamma Nature Reserve, Buffalo Bay Beach is an interesting place and not quite what I was expecting. The furthest beach to travel to, it is about a 20 to 25 minute drive just outside of Knysna. The reserve is stunning and our first view of 14 km long Buffalo Bay was on the right; a beautiful, deserted and wild beach with the estuary feeding into it.
Continue along the road and you reach the end of the peninsula, where on the left is the beach that connects to Brenton. Here is also the actual town of Buffalo Bay (or Buffelsbaai) which had the vibe of one of those British sea side towns that is twenty years past its hey day. I also didn’t see a single person there. Not one. Total ghost town.
The beach that connects to Brenton is the one you can swim in and is lovely with much calmer water. I swam quite far out and didn’t encounter a single rock or piece of seaweed and still wasn’t out of my depth.
A guy from Durban also drove up behind us and pointed out a whale chilling close to shore. Cue great excitement and half an hour of staring before we realised it was a rock.
Buffalo’s Bay Beach is such a great location, but the area itself looks like it is in dire need of some investment. Based on spending just an afternoon there, I wouldn’t look to stay in this area.
How to Get to Buffalo Bay Beach
Go west on the N2 towards George. A few miles out of Knysna you will see signs for Buffelsbaai and Goukamma Nature Reserve on your left. Turn and take that road which will take you all the way to the beach.
Facilities at Buffalo Bay Beach
There are a row of shops and restaurants that were completely deserted of customers (might be something to do with there appearing to be nobody in the town?). We went in the shop for water and noticed lots of empty shelves, freezer units that have clearly been broken a while and it just seemed generally in need of a bit of TLC.
As Buffalo Bay is also a Blue Flag beach, the same rules apply as for Brenton Beach above in regards to dogs.
No sign of any water sports and there are public toilets at the beach that are useable.
Final Thoughts: Knysna Beaches
You’d be hard pressed to travel the Garden Route and not spend some time by the water, but try and fit some time in and visit one of these fantastic beaches in Knysna, each one offer something a little bit different to the last. For those that love a beach day, I don’t think there is time better spent!
– Book accommodation in Knysna with Booking.com, Agoda or Hotels.com.
– Check flight routes and prices with Skyscanner. The nearest airport to Knysna is George, which has lots of flights from South Africa’s major cities everyday (it’s a domestic airport only).
From the UK, British Airways fly from London Heathrow to Cape Town and Durban (three times a week to each) and Johannesburg (twice every day).
– Click here to buy your Lonely Planet Guide for South Africa.
– You can check out my full list of tried, tested and recommended Travel Resources here.