Cape Town - In 1926, an Irish doctor, obviously recognising a prime piece of real estate, began building a mansion for himself on one of Knysna’s hillsides, overlooking the lagoon.
Despite its glorious setting, the doctor must have had a longing for his misty homeland. So he named his place Garry-ard, based on Irish Gaelic for garrai (garden) and ard (high), filling the spacious gardens with rampant roses.
It seems that around this time the railway bridge over the lagoon was being completed.
Years passed, so did different owners, including a group of hippies who moved into the derelict property in the 1970s. Then, in 2002, along came Wicus and Velda Grobler. He is South African born, she English, but the couple now live in the UK. At any given opportunity, though, they return, and when purchasing the grande dame of yesteryear, they cast a canny eye over the house’s huge double garage above a wine cellar, further up the hillside. Wheels whirred and clicked with potential, and the Groblers began converting this into the glorious Garryard Cottage, reached by driving ever upward along a winding road, which curves through a small woodland.
The spacious open-plan upstairs living area leads on to a deck with a superb view. From here all of Knysna unfolds. Beyond the lagoon, waves can be seen creaming between the famous Knysna Heads.
Here I sat for hours each day, watching the mood change over the lagoon, the play of light and clouds, the variety of boats floating, sailing or high-tailing it across the tranquil waters. As dark fell, pinpricks of light slowly emerged until the town lit up like a distant sparkler.
Of course, nobody just sits indolently on a deck, so what creature comforts can they expect inside Garryard Cottage, which has a cool blue and white nautical theme?
Interesting pieces of driftwood; small wall vases festooned with tiny flowers; a wall hanging showing happy, cavorting whales; a spray of peacock feathers; a big wooden fish hanging on the wall; blinds with sea themes, fringed by cream-coloured curtains, all add character.
The upstairs toilet features a small fishernet. It’s all tastefully artistic. A large black and white picture of Knysna in 1928 has a prime position; and how different the popular seaside town was in those days.
Every mod con the holidaymaker requires is there: washing machine, tumbledrier, flatscreen TV, portable Weber gas braai on the deck; air conditioning, and fully equipped kitchen. A steep, circular staircase leads down to the two bedrooms. The mattress in the main bedroom was so comfortable it was difficult to leave the feathers in the mornings, especially as you can lie in bed and look out over the same view as seen from the deck above, just from a slightly different perspective.
The two bedrooms share the bathroom, where a swing-glass partition on the bath/shower continues the nautical look with a couple of colourful fish decals.
The deck is sheltered on both sides by indigenous trees. Others flourish in the garden running down to the main house (which is rented on a fulltime basis to a local resident).
You park in the street, this is considered safe, with a 24-hour armed response for the property.
Those heading for Cape Town might also like the fact that they get a discounted price at Garryard Cottage if they check into 5 Camp Street cottages in Cape Town as well.
Knysna has a multitude of things to do, but be aware that you could need a wallet filled with high denomination notes – though the cottage is reasonably priced.
If you want to immerse yourself in days gone by, a walk through the indigenous forests around the old Millwood mining village is a must. History tells that a James Hooper was searching for gravel for ostriches when he spotted a shiny piece of gravel, asked a chemist to take a look at his find and it turned out to be a tiny piece of gold. The race for the metal in the Knysna forest was on.
Thesen Island boasts several waterside restaurants; there are any amount of boat trips, including a popular one to Featherbed Nature Reserve; bikes and kayaks for hire; deep-sea fishing charters; skydiving; black water tubing; scuba diving; the Bloukrans bungee jump, an elephant park, walks in the Diepwalle Forest; a wheelchair friendly walk to see the Big Tree; the extensive beaches of Brenton-on-Sea; the Noetzie castles, to name just some of them.
l Some contacts:
Garryard Cottage 021 423 8261; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.5campstreet.co.za
Featherbed Nature Reserve 044 382 1693
John Benn Ferry Trips 044 382 1693
Knysna Elephant Park 044 532 7732