You have to like the line they use to advertise the Knysna Oyster Festival: “The best 10 days of your winter” – because that’s exactly what it is.
This 2015 Festival marked the 32nd running of the event, which takes place every year in July, and which was founded originally to attract visitors to the Garden Route at an otherwise quiet time of year.
In the early days, the Festival was coordinated by a committee of volunteers – or, perhaps more correctly, by a volunteer chairperson who worked with the nominal help of a few others. I was one such: I chaired the committee in 1987, and I took 3 months leave from work to do it. Of course I didn’t run each individual event – that was (and still is) the job of the owners of the events: the Knysna Cycle Tour, the Knysna Forest Marathon, the Bowls Tournament, and all the others – many of which have become enormous (and even iconic) over the years.
Today, though, the Knysna Oyster Festival has become far too large for amateurs like me, and it’s now managed by a professional company (Worldsport) on behalf of naming sponsors Pick n Pay – but it remains the single biggest event of the year for the town and for Knysna Tourism, our destination marketing organisation.
The South African Navy has been involved with the Festival from the earliest days, and the town and the sailors have developed a number of traditions together: the annual parade in Main Street; the work party that cleans and polishes the commemorative plaque on the memorial to the ship’s dog, Bondi, who died on a visit ashore in the 1920s (long before the Festival was even thought of); and – perhaps most dramatic of all – the annual entrance of the visiting ships into The Heads, which is always accompanied by a flotilla of small boats that belong mostly to locals.
Although you can watch the ships coming into the Estuary from atop the Eastern Head – and you get the best view from up there – I decided this year that we should take our boat out and be part of the action. So I invited those members of the family who had the time, and also a friend (Ypie Kingma, who runs Knysna Country House with her man, Erik Ekkelkamp – and who supplied both the image above and the pastries and hot chocolate that staved off the cold of the morning), and we set sail at about 6:30 (still dark!) to watch the mine-hunter SAS Umzimkulu ‘cross the bar’ at exactly 7:30.
After so many years, it’s a thrill every time you see it. (Watch my video below and you’ll agree.)
But it’s also a powerful reminder that while our baby – the Knysna Oyster Festival – has grown and matured beyond what I think we ever dreamed possible, a large part of it remains true to its roots as an event first and foremost that celebrates our sheer love of our town.