Backpacking South Africa: Snorkelling with Seals and Visiting Knysna

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Backpacking South Africa volume 3: Knysna and Plettenberg Bay

With Mossel Bay, Victoria Bay and Wilderness under my belt, my next stop on the Garden Route was Knysna. Which is spelt with a silent ‘k’ and pronounced ‘nice-ner’.

I ended up having three nights in town. The Baz Bus that I’m taking doesn’t run two days a week so I often end up having to stay one night or three in a place, when I feel like two is ideal. This wasn’t one of those times and was actually my own fault as I went for drinks on my first night, felt a bit rough the next day and decided checking out just 24 hours later was overly ambitious. Three nights it was!

I’d arrived from Victoria Bay, where I’d been miles from any shops or restaurants and had had to befriend strangers at the hostel and hope they’d feed me. I’d subsequently eaten a lot of bread and snacks so headed out for a good eat… I found Chinese food and this view at the waterfront, so I was happy!

The night out was my first on the Garden Route – usually people just drink at the hostel. A Norwegian guy, Stian, who’d been at my last hostel, an English girl, a French girl and I found a bar with pounding music, a makeshift bar where the drinks were less than £1, and there were a few locals playing pool. It wasn’t a wild night out but it was good to have a dance for the first time in a while.

The next day I didn’t achieve a whole load – apart from heading to the waterfront, eating some incredible seafood from my favourite South African chain restaurant, Ocean Basket, and reading my book.

The following day I was more productive and cycled to the Knysna Heads to see the view. This was described by the hostel as a ‘very nice ride’ although a lot of it turned out to be uphill and on the highway where I was forcing drivers into the middle of the road around blind corners…

So I’m not sure WHY they thought it was a nice ride (maybe they just wanted people to pay to hire their bikes?) but anyway, I made it – and only had to get off to push a few times (okay, a lot of times).

Sadly, it was a bit rainy and overcast but the views from the Knysna Heads were cool and I rewarded my frantic pedalling with a cappuccino at the cafe at the top.

There wasn’t a lot else I wanted to do in Knysna. It was a sweet city but not as outdoorsey as most of the Garden Route which is pretty much where the attractions out here lie… However, a couple in the hostel told me they’d been on a fantastic seal snorkelling trip which they’d travelled to by car and was actually in Plettenberg Bay – where I happened to be heading next.

This was exactly the kind of thing I wanted to do! I’ve not done loads of activities so far in South Africa – I’m not massively into sports but have pretty much tried most things at one point or another on my travels, just to confirm I’m bad at that too, so I’m now not TOO bothered about things like abseiling and rafting.

I also don’t really need to see more animals – I hit the jackpot in the Serengeti (where I saw this guy) and I think anything else would be an anticlimax now.

However, being underwater is one of my favourite places to be and not somewhere I’ve spent time in Africa – so it seemed like the perfect option.

The following day I headed to Plettenberg Bay, checked into my hostel for the next few nights and signed up to swim with the seals the next morning.

So much fun! I was briefly put off by a grumpy, know-it-all guy in the hostel telling me this area has one of the highest Great White populations in the world, and seals are their main food source so it was dangerous and I shouldn’t just go.

Don’t you just hate it when you tell someone something, NOT asking their opinion, and they actively kill your vibe? I am now laughing in retrospect that not only did I still do this alleged very dangerous thing, I was quite literally dressed as a seal in a dark wetsuit. Yolo!

I headed to the waterfront where the office was, donned the wetsuit (it’s super cold in the water in this region so shark bait or not, it was a necessity!), flippers and a mask and snorkel, and we headed out to sea on a small inflatable boat. We could easily see, hear and smell when we were at our destination as about a thousand seals were lounging on the rocks, diving into the water, making their distinctive bleating sounds and generally stinking of fish.

Despite all this, I thought they were super cute. We jumped into the ocean and they swam up to us, curious and not remotely shy. I was extra appealing to them as I was holding my GoPro stick which they must have thought was food because they kept playfully trying to eat it. I didn’t know seals had visible teeth but for most of the experience they were inches from my face – so apparently they do.

Despite the fact it was cold, I could have probably splashed around with the seals for a lot longer than half an hour.

I spent my lunchtime sorting through my GoPro photos and trying to screenshot the best ones – a tricky job as the seals moved SO fast!

YouTube video

This blog is getting looong (congrats if you’ve made it this far) so I’ll save the rest of my Plettenberg Bay adventures, including the most amazing hike I think I’ve ever been on, ’til next time. Adios!

Thanks for reading!

Read my other South Africa backpacking diaries:

See you next time for more adventures,


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