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Featherbed Nature Reserve
Featherbed Nature Reserve is one of Knysna’s most popular tourist attractions. It’s a privately-owned Reserve that’s situated on the Western Head of the Knysna Lagoon - ‘The Heads’ being the two massive headlands that embrace the Lagoon and form its only entrance to the sea – and the only way the public can access it is by boat. The Featherbed Company operates a number of cruisers and ferries – and a luxury sailing yacht - on a regular schedule. Their MV ‘Spirit of Knysna’ serves Featherbed’s daily, 4-hour eco-experiences. She departs at 10:00 a.m. from the jetty at the Cruise Café restaurant (just off Knysna’s Waterfront Drive), and guests are treated to a 30-minute, guided cruise across the Lagoon to the Reserve’s Forest Restaurant.
From here, 4x4 land trains ferry you through the Reserve to the top of the Western Head - at which point you can choose whether to walk down and back to the restaurant along the coast (an easy 2.2 km trail), or to return by vehicle. A superb buffet lunch awaits you after your trail, and after that, the return cruise is a relaxing and often somnolent affair!
Featherbed Nature Reserve was established by the well-known educator and television personality, William Smith, during the 1980s. Mr. Smith believes that conservation should pay for itself, and the Reserve is an example of how this can be done: it’s been self-sustaining for many years exactly because it’s been opened to the public.
Mr. Smith is the son of another well-known South African personality – Prof. JLB ‘Fishy’ Smith, the ichthyologist who is perhaps best known as the man who identified the first coelacanth for Western science. A display case at the Forest Restaurant contains a half-size replica of the original specimen (coelacanths can grow to 1.8 metres in length), as well as some of the old man’s fishing equipment, and copies of various books which he wrote.
The vegetation at Featherbed Nature Reserve is a mixture of dune fynbos (Cape macchia), and scrub forest. The dune fynbos is characterised by aromatic, small-leaved shrubs such as the heaths (Erica spp.) and buchus (Agathosma spp.), and by bulbs, and the iconic forest aloe (Aloe arborescens). The climax species of the scrub forest is the Milkwood (Sideroxylon inerme) which is a long-lived species indeed: in fact, the specimen under which the Forest Restaurant has been built is thought to be about 600 years old. Bird watching on the Reserve is good, too – look out for the endangered African black oystercatchers which nest on the rocks at the water’s edge. A few rehabilitated Knysna Loeries live in an aviary at the Forest Restaurant.
Featherbed Nature Reserve has a breeding herd of bloubokkies (blue duikers) – which are probably the smallest of the sub-Saharan antelopes. You can see some of them in a camp next to the Restaurant. The Forest Restaurant boasts a curio shop, and a conferences and functions venue, and is available for weddings and other events by special arrangement.
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