On the road from Knysna to Cape Town, as the speed limit reminds you to slow down and not rush through the Garden Route, there’s a turn-off to Buffelsbaai, fondly known as Buffs, at the Goukamma River.
If you continue straight the rest of the Garden Route beckons, but if you turn left you’ll find that Elalini Backpackers stands with its arms wide open, ready to welcome you.
As soon as your foot hits the brakes, the laid-back rustic vibe of old buildings, colourful murals and quotes, plus the friendly atmosphere of Elalini Backpackers – which offers dormitories, family units and self-catering facilities – invite you to kick off your shoes, sit back on the stoep, order a coffee and watch as the Knysna Louries flap their red wings from one tree to the next.
Have a look at the video:
Elalini is enthralling, to say the least, and before you know it the meaning of Elalini – place of rest – becomes reality and you lose track of time.
But before you lose track completely, you find yourself on a different track, a track down memory lane as you look out over the rusty train tracks.
A Bit of History
Elalini Backpackers is situated at the old Goukamma Station where the Outeniqua Choo Choo train once blew off steam and hooted its way through the Garden Route. Unfortunately, due to heavy flooding, the Outeniqua Choo Choo has been out of service for more than a decade, but talking and getting nostalgic about is one of my Garden Route rituals. I fondly remember the train during my December holidays as a kid; if we did not go on the train, we waited for the train to cross the Touws River Bridge in Wilderness, and we often put money on the tracks which had us searching for flattened 5c coins after the steam train continued onwards.
I can still hear the train; I still remember walking from one train car to the next and seeing the moving ground below my feet, I remember the thrill of crossing the Kaaimans Bridge, the dark tunnels and the waving strangers next to the tracks along the way.
During the 1928 ceremonial opening of the George-Knysna railway line by the Minister of Railways and Harbours, Hon. C.W Malan, the following was published in the S.A. Railways & Harbours Magazine about the Goukamma stretch of the 67 km Garden Route train journey which one commuter referred to as “forty-two miles of smiles”:
Before the climbing of the hills flanking the shores of the lagoon at Knysna, there is presented to the traveller a perfect gem of rural beauty-Goukamma. Beautiful green hills surround little farms whose boundaries lead down to a placid stream meandering leisurely into the folds of the hills. A small bridge painted red shows up vividly among the welter of greenery, the whole blending to charm the spectator. Immediately above the halt the rails make a great horse-shoe bend in the negotiating of the slopes of the hills, the traveller being enabled to obtain another, and more extensive view of the glorious Goukamma before it passes out of sight behind the cuttings.
And while there have been many changes since 1928 the description of the Goukamma charm is still spot on.
The article goes on, and all I can say is, “Knysna, you should be proud. You did good. You’re doing good”:
We do not know our country well enough,” affirmed the Minister, reiterating the importance of developing tourist traffic. In this regard he appealed to the people of Knysna to establish a live publicity association and maintain a high standard of hotel accommodation. He would do everything possible to help them in bringing Knysna to the forefront.
And while their efforts did bring Knysna to the forefront, I still have to agree with the statement the Minister made 91 years ago: We (still) do not know our country well enough.
Read the rest of the article here, it is a piece of gold.
Elalini Backpackers – The “extra mile” People
Elalini Backpackers, also referred to as “The Village”, exudes a simple and cosy atmosphere for backpackers, travellers and visitors alike. There are dormitories for the budget-conscious traveller, private rooms, family units and self-catering facilities are available, complete with a braai spot, hammocks and a Mexican-inspired Cantina.
And then of course, you should not forget that (it is) Flippin’ Knys at Elalini Backpackers…
Flippin’ Knys is the on-site restaurant, loved not only by those staying a night, but also by the road trippers and locals. And it is easy to understand why cars pull in again and again at Flippin’ Knys; they serve award-winning cheesecake (yes, these cheesecakes have won awards), good coffee and a variety of pancakes with sweet or savoury fillings.
Elalini Backpackers is conveniently located in a quiet area just 12 km outside of the town of Knysna, far enough to avoid traffic and holiday crowds, but close enough to still get into town, go about your day, visit the attractions and perhaps go on an eco- or whale-watching tour with Ocean Odyssey. But if you travel about 7 km down the road from Elalini Backpackers you’ll reach the beach of Buffelsbaai (or Buffalo Bay) which offers kilometers and kilometers of walking pleasure, sandy shores, wow sunrises, great waves for surfing and you might even spot humpback dolphins.
And then, if you head 16 km in another direction you’ll reach Totties Farm Kitchen, which forms part of the Rheenendal Ramble, a route offering visitors mountain biking and hiking trails, the Dalene Mathee memorial, picnic sites such as Jubilee Creek and the old gold mines from back in the day (yes, the things you’ve read in Circles in the Forest are based on actual true events). Plus, from Rheenendal you can continue on the Seven Passes road all the way to George.
Elalini Backpackers also assists travellers and can help to organise numerous tours and adventure activities such as surfing, kloofing, boat hire, forest walks, cycling tours, paragliding, canoeing and because of its ideal location, the list just goes on and on.
On the black board at reception it says “experience, explore, discover, relax, escape, enjoy and dream” while another blackboard reminds you, “You are special to us”.
Elalini Backpackers is the “extra mile” people, and it takes me back to what Minister Malan said 91 years ago, that the people of Knysna should maintain a high standard of hotel accommodation.
Elalini Backpackers, you should be proud. You did good. You’re doing good. You go the extra mile, and you do it with a smile.
To make a booking and for contact details, visit their website at www.elalini.co.za. And if you’re on the road towards Cape Town or Port Elizabeth, make a pancake-coffee-and-cheesecake pit stop at the on-site restaurant, Flippin’ Knys.
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Elalini Backpackers but as always, all opinions are my own.