“Oysters will always be on the Knysna Oyster Festival programme,” enthuses Colleen Durant, general manager of local tourism organisation Visit Knysna. “Visitors can select from a number of outlets, and our restaurants have pivoted to now offer takeaway oyster options.”
A fine place to find them is 34 South in the Knysna Waterfront, where wild oysters harvested from the Cape shoreline are served simply on crushed ice and lemon. More adventurous palates can look out for the Asian oysters dressed with garlic, soya sauce and rice wine vinegar, or the oyster ceviche, where fresh oysters are diced and marinated in lime juice with red onion, tomato and coriander.
Alongside the bivalves, the array of outdoor races and challenges were another highlight of the festival, and this year have shifted to become virtual events.
Take the Knysna Forest Marathon — with 10km, 21km and 42km options — for example. In previous years the start line would be packed with competitors, while this year gives runners the opportunity to run the race virtually, in your hometown, or along a handful of suggested routes in and around Knysna.
Likewise, the Virtual Rotary Knysna Cycle Tour teams up with Rouvy to feature three stages, each about 25km, for riders to experience a ride through the Garden Route in their own space.
“The flagship events are virtual, but we’re encouraging people to come to the greater Knysna area and participate in these in their own space and time,” says Durant, adding that the festival is also offering esports gaming — the Knysna Cup Challenge — alongside geocaching and a self-drive “Treasure Trail” to get visitors out and exploring.
In the spirit of social distancing there’s a new impetus on outdoor adventures too, from forest trails to nature walks.
But don’t forget the viewpoints, says Durant: “It’s not just the Knysna Heads, there’s Cloud 9 in Sedgefield, there’s Kranshoek, the whale-watching deck above Buffalo Bay. There are so many places that give you magnificent views of the area.”
Knysna is also looking to reclaim its reputation as a hotspot for the arts, with a clutch of public installations on offer. While some major pieces — including a striking Rasta Priest statue in the local Rasta community — have had their launch delayed due to the latest lockdown, festivalgoers can still discover everything from painted surfboards on the Buffalo Bay beachfront to outdoor mosaic works in Sedgefield and Brenton-on-Sea.
“You could keep yourself busy here for weeks,” says Durant, and extended stays are what authorities are hoping will sprout from festival visits. Instead of simply working from home, Knysna’s tourism authorities are encouraging locals to Work From Knysna, or #WFK.
“Our operators and accommodation providers have really recognised the value of the domestic market, and if you haven’t been to Knysna now is a great time to come and discover all that’s on offer,” says Durant. “We also see this Knysna Oyster Festival Limited Edition as about travelling for good. By coming to the festival you’re helping to keep our small businesses alive. The tourism industry has taken such a knock in the pandemic, and if ever they needed our help, it’s now.”
Since it first launched in 1983 the Knysna Oyster Festival has been a mainstay of the Garden Route’s annual calendar. For many years it was a lifeline for the local tourism industry, drawing in hungry visitors during the traditionally quiet time of the year, when the Cape’s wintry weather kept overseas tourists at bay.
Overseas tourists? Remember them?
Once again, the festival is proving to be a lifeline, reminding domestic travellers of all that the region has to offer. Though the Garden Route’s tourism-dependent economy has taken a beating during the pandemic, local operators certainly aren’t about to roll over.
This year sees the 2021 Knysna Oyster Festival Limited Edition given something of a makeover, while continuing its evolution towards an all-encompassing community event rather than a branded corporate affair.
However, the festival still delivers on all the ever-popular touch points — oysters, exercise and outdoor adventure — while keeping Covid-19 protocols top of mind.