A 37 minute drive on the N2 will take you from your nicely appointed self-catering accommodation at Wilderness on Sea which takes you along one of the most amazingly beautiful and scenic coastal routes found anywhere in South Africa to the Knysna Oyster Festival. Oyster festivals are held all over the world for varying causes and reasons, most dating back to centuries old traditions, and each offering something very location specific to the experience. Wilderness and Knysna have long been hailed as two of the top tourist destinations in South Africa for the sheer diversity offered among sights and things to do all within very short distances, and all within close proximity to Cape Town, the southernmost hub of trade in South Africa, and home to some of the most diverse range of cultures and culture inspired foods and drinks to be found anywhere.
The Oyster Festival is not the only draw to this area, but it is typified as being the one that marks the beginning of the “off season” which is a great time to take advantage of great off-season rates at places you can book in advance like Wilderness on Sea because this event draws visitors from all over Africa as well as internationally on average about 70,000 at just this event alone. It’s important to book in advance to ensure you can get as close to the action as possible, because the festival has much to offer. Also in the area are the Pink Loerie Mardi Gras which happens near the end of April, the Rastafarian Earth Festival which celebrates every aspect of the cultural and religious ways of the Rastafarian lifestyle, and the Gastronomica lifestyle festival in September which promotes organic principles for healthy eating and a nutritionally better life, which matches up well with all the farmer’s markets that dot the entire region from locals offering nearly anything freshly grown in the area you can imagine.
Of all the events though, the Oyster Festival remains the area’s biggest event, and dates back to 1983. Lasting ten days, it features (as the name implies) locally harvested oysters and around 200,000 are consumed during the festival annually. Don’t let the name fool you though, it’s not just about the oysters, though they are certainly delicious and there are events that are structured around the oysters themselves. There’s so many other things to do there that it takes the entirety of the ten days simply to experience it all. There’s sporting events like rugby, golf, bowls, squash, marathons, cycling and scuba diving. The cycling events are known to draw some of the biggest crowds simply due to the amazing backdrop and marathon tours that are offered. Marketed aptly as “The Best Ten Days of Winter”, the festival offers close to 100 events during the week that see changes and updates every year.
Fun for the entire family, there are events centered around children as well, to keep them entertained while the adults enjoy things like fine South African wines and champagnes, hand crafted chocolates and fine whiskeys. Some of the offerings for the little ones include sand art fun, a face painting booth, temporary tattoos and henna hands booth, a hands on beading table, fun cooking activities (often with foods never tasted or seen before), craft activities, the up-cycled herb garden, fresh flower arranging, crayons on canvas art activity, wall mural painting activities, up-cycling art, decorative handmade bags activity, natures portrait art, birds on a wire art, cupcake cooking, and entertainment like Kindersmusik musical vehicle, iLifa show – The Inheritance, puppet shows, Liekieland Bilingual Children’s Production, Biodanza dance with life interactive production, a magician and ventriloquist show, and a juggling workshop. There’s so many things to do, the kids will never be able to keep the smiles from happy faces as they rush from activity to activity.
There are unique events like oyster geo-caching, where you get coordinates only, without any other directional clues and must find the coordinates using either a GPS or other device to find the area, at which can be nearly anything. Traditionally, geo-caching began by simply leaving a logbook that one would sign with their name, where they call home, and the date they were there, but has evolved into places for time capsules, a way to trade out one treasure for another, or an inventive way to organize a treasure hunt altogether. There are also events designed for the disabled, for those wanting to compete and take part in the festival, and things like a navigation drift dive challenge, where a scuba diver attempts to travel underwater from The Heads to Thesen’s Jetty without surfacing, and the Knysna dragons lagoon-mile swim, which is a one-mile swim in open water during the stillest time of the tide. Start and finish point is the Cruise Cafe and the route follows to the Waterfront entrance, circles inside the waterway of the residential area, back out by the harbour entrance and back to the cafe. Open to all categories, and supervised by the NSRI, the event promises plenty of water sport fun for everyone.
There are far more than just sporting events however, like a bridge tournament, a variety of fine dining and arts events and exhibits like the Night of 1000 pictures, a two night showing of photos, paintings and illustrations, sketches and drawings all done by local artists to raise funds for the Knysna Hospice. If you enjoy a good bottle of wine, South Africa is world renowned for some of the absolute best, and can be found in abundance here along with perfect food pairings with cheeses and chocolates. Seafood extravaganzas offer everything that swims,crawls or lives under the sea fit to eat, and for the foodies and connoisseurs among us, the epicurean folks who take joy in the finer foods and points in life, there are fine whiskeys like Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, and champagnes that pair nicely with the exotic foods from the area’s many cultures. Being completely indulgent to your senses never felt quite so good.
Named for the oysters, they remain the main attraction and you can find them served raw, cooked, fried, on a braai, or nearly any other garnishment you can imagine. With over 30 Tabasco hotspots, you’re sure to find one with an oyster you’ll absolutely love. Full of plenty of music ranging from traditional, gospel, comedic, and many more, there are so many things to do at the festival that it suits every type of personality from every single age group and spanning every single culture. Few events can boast such a feat. To find just a portion of the 2015 events see here. Keep in mind that it is but a tiny snapshot of the massive amount of delights to be found here.
Be sure you book well in advance, because with the draw this festival brings worldwide, you’ll want to be there in one of the choicest spots possible to get the most out of this one of a kind event in a place that is equally unique in every way. Call ahead and ensure you’re sorted and be ready to enjoy a trip during what won’t seem like any “off season” you have ever seen before.