Knysna and Dolphins: Eco-labelled Marine Boat Cruise

South Africa and the Garden Route in the Western Cape Province are amongst the top dream destinations of most people. Knysna, a small town on the Garden Route, that sits between George and Plettenberg Bay, is one of the shining stars because of the picture-perfect lagoon, the ocean, and the enchanting forest.

One of the best things about South Africa is her wildlife. Everyone wants to see lions, rhinoceros, giraffes, zebras, and leopards in their natural habitat. Obviously, despite persistent rumours, you wouldn't meet zebras and lions on Bree Street in Cape Town. In most places in South Africa, even in and around town centres, you'd see exotic birds, the kind of you never even knew existed, as in flamingos, sunbirds, and penguins. Then there are troops of chacma baboons, who live also close to the centres of towns, some often even visit the locals. Vervet monkeys are mostly found in towns that are near forests, and you’d see them sitting on a fence munching on fruits and leaves. Then there is Cape Fur Seals, and in Knysna, only minutes from the centre of town, you can see dolphins.

Eco labelled marine boat cruise with Ocean Odyssey in Knysna in South Africa.

You would need to watch the ocean from a cliff or jump on a boat and go on a short ride through the Knysna heads and further on onto the Indian Ocean to see them. Imagine, that the pod size along the Garden Route is on average 120 dolphins. That is overwhelmingly impressive, and absolutely the sort of wildlife spectacle one dreams to experience on vacation. I go on a boat tour and see lots of dolphins and a baby dolphin.

One fantastic thing about travelling is that one can so easily learn about the biodiversity of places, about its wildlife and nature. I researched boat tours to go on a dolphin tour and I soon found the one. Ocean Odyssey is an eco-labelled (Blue Flag) sustainable boating tourism operator. When you choose to go out onto the ocean with Ocean Odyssey, you can be sure that they meet and maintain a series of stringent environmental, educational, safety, and accessibility criteria. With their work Ocean Odyssey attracts tourism and with that they create jobs in the community.

The company and its employees have a clear understanding of the impacts their operation has on the environment, they receive training on the local environment and/or sustainability issues at least once a year. Environmental education is seen as an integral part of their work, and Ocean Odyssey makes every effort to reduce negative impacts on the economic, social and natural environment. They organise beach-clean-ups and work with local producers and designers. When you arrive at their shop, which is also the meeting point for your tour, you will be able to buy locally designed and made toys, clothing, jewellery, accessories, books, decor, pottery and lots of whale and ocean-inspired products. I love companies who make the world a better place and drive change.

The Knysna Lagoon with a view of a bridge and towards the Knysna Heads in South Africa.

When in Knysna – Go on an epic marine adventure

On the short ride towards the Knysna heads we learn about the sea horses of the estuary; South Africa’s only endemic seahorses live in the seagrass beds of the lagoon. They are listed by IUCN as endangered. Their biggest predator are humans. Overfishing, habitat loss and being forced to entertain humans in aquariums, gives sea horses a hard life. We can't blame our ancestors for this one. Studies suggest that the population of the Knysna seahorses may have declined by 50% in the last 10 years. As we learn, it is illegal to disturb the seahorses in their natural habitat... and the boat cruises ever so slowly through the seahorses' home. If you see a seahorse in the wild, please tell the people at iSeaHorse about it. They can't wait to hear from you.

Minutes later. There you are, on a boat, in the Indian ocean. 70,560,000 km² of saltwater right in front- and all around you. Look to the left and you see Australia. Look straight ahead, there is Antarctica. You might even see Asia over your left shoulder, whereas Madagascar might hinder the direct view.
Panoramic view of the Knysna Lagoon in South Africa.

Don’t Forget to Take Your Vitamin Sea

The boat rocks gently through the ocean, despite a swell of about up to three metres. Don't worry, the skipper is going to explain to you how you can stay in your seat. And you are wearing life jackets also. It is a magnificent feeling to see the land from the oceanside. Yellow-ish cliffs rising towards the big blue sky, bathing in foamy water of the ocean. The smell of the ocean is rich and refreshing. The air by the sea is low in pollutants, the perfect time to inhale the maritime aerosol, rich in salt. The wind dishevels your hair. In that moment, everything else becomes insignificant, one is in the ocean, in the Indian Ocean. On a boat. The view is breathtakingly beautiful. The sun shines so intensely that it warms you thoroughly. Every passenger gets a good dose of vitamin sea.

Rock formations in the Indian Ocean in Knysna in South Africa

I wish You (and I) could swim… Like dolphins can swim

David Bowie, Heroes, right. Dolphins, naturally curious and playful, oftentimes swim near the boat. The engine is switched off. There is silence, apart from the one or another excited squeal of a delighted passenger.

What I love is that we on the boat wouldn't chase the dolphins, and as we watch the dolphins, the skipper would let a large enough distance between the boat and them. On several occasions, and it is only short moments, the dolphins stretch their snouts out of the water, towards the sun, then they jump, they can easily jump up to five metres out of the water. At first one can see their dark upper body, split seconds later, their greyish-white belly appears too. Within the blink of an eye the magical spectacle is over, and they dive back down into the ocean.

We on the boat, wait once more for another pod of dolphins to appear. The anticipation is high, everyone stares into the distance, scanning the swell, intensely and concentrated. With each wave that rolls by, the boat bobs up and down. There is one moment when all passengers seem equally mesmerized by the sight of a hammerhead shark that swims directly next to our boat. Silence and awe... only until the dolphins appear once more jumping over the waves.

A large pod of Bottlenose Dolphins in the Indian Ocean in Knysna in South Africa

Freedom - Just Living is not Enough

It is marvellous, and heart-breaking at the same time, to see the dolphins so carefree and happy surfing on the waves. Dolphins live in the ocean, and they don't want to be in held hostage by humans. In theory South African Bottlenose Dolphins can reach over 40 years of age. Threats are, once more, humans. Pollution, human consumption, shark nets (in South Africa and Australia shark nets shall protect surfers, kayakers, and swimmers from sharks), aquariums, zoos, theme parks, and dolphinariums. Tourism also plays a negative role, since not all operators care enough for the dolphin’s wellbeing and do not work in line with an ethical code of conduct (since they simply don’t care about animal welfare and nature protection). While I have these grim thoughts, I scan the water in front of me, and I see a dolphin mother and her calf jump out of the water. The world is a magical place, if only we humans would let it be. If I see this, I wonder how can we not do all we can to protect what we have?

Bottlenose Dolphin mother and calf in the Indian Ocean in Knysna in South Africa

What you need to know before you jump aboard the eco-boat

How to get to Knysna

You can reach Knysna along the N2 from Cape Town. It is a drive of about six hours. Break up the trip with spending some days in Swellendam and the De Hoop Nature Reserve. From Port Elizabeth it is a three hours long drive to Knysna. From Plettenberg Bay it is a short drive of 30 minutes; you can easily plan the boat-tour as a day trip from there. 

Safety on board the Ocean Odyssey

Guests will be given a safety briefing by certified guides and will have to put on life jackets before boarding the boat. Guests are advised to not go on the tour with an empty stomach. Eating isn't permitted during a tour (please ask for details when booking).

Wi-fi on the boat

This was a joke. Who needs to be connected to the internet in moments like these?


Best time to take an eco-boat tour in Knysna

Knysna is a year-round travel destination, it gets rarely cold, temperatures are seldom lower than 16 degrees Celsius (not even in the “depth” of winter, in August). Whale watching season is from July to October; odd sightings are possible as early as April/May. If you visit in the time from December to February, please book the tours well in advance, summer can be busy, no wrong, summer is a busy time.

Bring a windproof jacket to wear on the tour (just in case).

A pod of Indian Ocean Bottlenose Dolphins in Knysna in South Africa.

Ocean Odyssey Overview

TH44 Long St, Thesen, Harbour Town, Knysna, 6571, South Africa.
GPS coordinates 34˚02’30,3”S | 23˚02’41,2”E
The eco-boat tour costs ZAR 760 per Person. All other prices depend on the tour, please visit the website.
Type of tour
Wildlife. Nature. Eco-marine adventure. Once-in-a-lifetime
From 1.5 hours, departs daily
Not recommended for children under the age of 2 years

Visit Ocean Odyssey for more information and many more tour ideas. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

From Berlin with love

Ocean Odyssey supported my research trip to South Africa. All thoughts are based on my own experiences and feelings.