Travelling on a student budget | A week backpacking in Knysna

Some of you might know that I decided to do something a little bit different and go on my first solo trip for my 25th birthday. Not only was it a much needed break from the daily toil of my MSc project but it was also a celebration of the inception of this blog. You see I had the idea to start this blog on my 24th and with the help of a few amazing individuals I was able to see it come to fruition. So I wanted to reward myself a little for actually doing it 😁

Travelling on a student budget isn’t always the easiest and I’m very much cognisant of the fact that not all students are able to afford such a luxury, but I think what I've learnt from it all is that you can always adjust your travels to fit your budget and I’m just going to share with you some of the ways I achieved this.

View from the East Head

Believe it or not I had been saving for this trip since January, and would save about R1000 at the end of each month. This meant that my budget for the entire trip was a little over R5000. Yep, just R5000 for a week in Knysna sounds absolutely ridiculous and looking back I can hardly believe I pulled it off.

I realized that accommodation and transportation would cost the most and so those were the first few things that I focused on. To get to Knysna from Jo’burg there are 3 options I considered:

1. Drive – no way in hell was I going to drive that distance (although in hindsight I wish I had)

2. Plane- the price of the plane tickets from Jo'burg to George is actually reasonable but I just couldn’t stomach that a cab from George to Knysna cost more than the actual plane ticket so,

3. Bus it was. Although the journey was long (like loooooooooooong) I took a bus that left at night which meant that I woke up to the most beautiful sunrise overlooking the scenic garden route terrain.

The nice thing about taking a bus is that the bus stop is just a few meters away from the Knysna Waterfront and probably less than 1km away from the backpackers that I had stayed at. I had planned to take an uber to the accommoda- oh wait, no ubers in Knysna. Alright, no biggie there’s still Bolt. Erhm, think again. I learnt a little too late that while Bolt technically is in Knysna, fat chance in actually getting a driver 😅.

And so with a heavy heart I accepted that I had to pay R100 for the cheapest meter cab I found online to drive me 1km up the road to my backpackers. This “meter cab” ended up being a taxi, as in "itekisi", as in public transportation- I just kept thinking to myself "How the hell am I paying so much for a taxi to drive me up the road!?" (Please note that although I say I was back packing, I didn’t pack light so couldn’t exactly walk the distance with my gigantic luggage and tripod in tow).

The garden at Shepherd's Tree provides a great sanctuary for the academically overwhelmed AND has cute bunnies hopping around to keep you company.
The garden at Shepherd's Tree provides a great sanctuary for the academically overwhelmed AND has cute bunnies hopping around to keep you company.

The only thing that made me feel better was how quaint and absolutely stunning the place was. I stayed at Shepherd’s Tree Backpackers. The entrance lead into a beautiful 2 story building with a Café, thrift store and novelty shop on the ground floor with the actual bedrooms upstairs. The café was a great place to grab an affordable, genuinely yummy breakfast each morning. The views were nothing short of breath-taking. In the distance you could see a bit of Thesen Island and the Heads in the background.

Now, although I had a list of things I absolutely had to do once I got there, I didn’t plan out a strict itinerary because I really just wanted to go with the flow (as with everything else I do in life) and see what my energy gets drawn towards. So I was very open to experiences I hadn’t planned on my list which worked out pretty well as, Philoméne (Phil for short) – the manager of Shepherd’s Tree- invited me to join at a Mexican restaurant.

Eating in Knysna at Oakes on Main
Eating at Oakes on Main

The restaurant was located at Oakes on Main- a charming little shopping center where artists create beautiful pieces outside their little shops. Naturally, I had try a little something from each café/restaurant I saw. A slice of cake here, a quesadilla there, a pancake etc. Don’t judge- I was on holiday! 😂

I also got the opportunity to just talk with Phil and really connect with her. She’s such a talented individual- she’s the author behind The Widening of the Womb and Other Stories by the way, and just hearing some of her insight and perspectives just made me realize a few things.

Firstly, the pandemic really has starved us of the ability to form true human connections but I’m hoping that with more people getting vaccinated this will quickly become a thing of the past. Secondly, and most of you probably already know this already, in a world that has never been so interconnected we’re actually failing to make meaningful connections- even without the pressures of the pandemic.

This beautiful moment between two absolute strangers whose lives just happened to intersect and yet somehow transcended the surface-level fluff people usually engage in when meeting someone new, is a moment I will forever cherish. Phil, if you happen to read this, thank you.

Bonfire in Knysna
Bonfire, anyone?

After eating, Phil showed me around the Knysna Waterfront before we headed back to Shepherd’s Tree where I met my parabatai- a soul I just naturally gravitated towards, and whose friendship has become so dear to me. I didn’t expect just how similar we both were. We both came from the same places, navigated the same spaces and somehow had just never met until this opportune moment.

In a way, I’m glad this is how we met because in my mind Juwairiyyah will always be the free-spirited traveler I met the day before I turned 25. Together with other guests at the backpackers, we sang all night around a bonfire, drank some homemade limonchello Juwairiyyah had brought back with her while travelling through the Berg, and -at midnight -this amazing group of strangers sang me happy birthday as we came together over slices of cake.

Those who know me well, know that I’ve always had the misfortune of writing exams on my birthday so I’ve never really gotten a chance to celebrate my birthday on my actual birthday, and to finally celebrate it with an amazing group of individuals was invigorating (although I did have the slightest tinge of sadness in my heart as I couldn’t share the moment with those closest to me). Nonetheless, it's still one of my favourite birthdays to date.

Knysna East Heads
Fighting with the wind for a good photo

The next day we went to explore the Knysna Heads and leisurely walked around while taking in the amazing scenery Knysna had to offer. We grabbed lunch at 34 Degrees South. Sat for hours having a heart-to-heart before heading to the Knysna Gin distillery for Gin tasting and learning a bit about how gin (and beer, which they also make) is made. In the spur of the moment, Juwairiyyah and I decided to get tattoos together. We choose Dark Star Tattoos as they had experience working on skin of colour and were both really happy with the results. Somehow we ended up finding ourselves on the small cliffs of the very rocky (and probably dangerous at night) Coney Glen beach, dancing to the waves thrashing against the rocks under the light of the full moon.

Needless to say, we woke up very late the next morning and decided to go grab lunch at Thesen Island. We decided to eat at Tapas and Oysters while we waited for the boat cruise we had booked. But, as our luck would have it, a lovely lady from Magic Lagoon Charters walked straight towards us and told us they would be taking their 102-year-old vintage Mahogany boat out for a spin and asked if we felt like joining. I mean, it’s not every day you get to eat your lunch on a stunning boat, so of course we had to say yes! The boat went all the way out to just before where the mouth of the Heads opens out into the ocean and I remember just sitting there in awe wondering how such a beautiful place could exist in our country.

Boat cruise in Knysna
Aboard The Coquette

The moment we got back to the harbor we had to rush to the boat cruise we had actually booked (Ocean Sailing Charters). Which was such a vibe! Our skipper was this cute 19-year-old who let us blast our music and stopped the boat to let us jump in the sea for a little swim. In our underwear. Because in the rush to eat on the Coquette we forgot our costumes 🤦‍♀️

I know, I know. You’re not supposed to swim after getting tatted, and definitely not in the ocean. But we were having such a good time and YOLO right? If it makes you feel better my tat healed perfectly so no harm no foul.

Now, in all this excitement I hadn’t been able to eat so naturally I was very hungry by the time we were done. And so I started snacking on the food I had ordered earlier. I know what you must be thinking: “Nooo Nosihle, you can’t eat your leftover seafood after it’s been sitting in the blazing sun all day, you’re smarter than that”. You would think I would be smarter but it seems all logic and common sense gets thrown out the window when you’re having fun.

As you can probably guess, my stomach shoooowed me and I was totally K.O-ed for the rest of the night and more than half of the next day. Even the weather was overcast and so I really had no option but to spend that time in bed. I did manage to eventually force myself out of bed and head out for more scenic views and a visit to the local museum.

Knysna Museum Spanish Flu Pandemic
A framed Notice at the Knysna Museum. Seems not too much has changed since

We then had one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had and I wanted to cry because I literally couldn’t stomach more than a few bites as I was still feeling sick. I ended up having to head back to the backpackers to just rest and give my body time to recover.

The following day I catered to my artsy-fartsy self and went gallery hopping and thrifting before finally saying goodbye to the amazing little town and the beautiful people who inhabit it. There’s something innately beautiful about travelling alone to a place you have never been before. You learn a bit about yourself and realise that as humans we’re all just seeking meaningful connections and travel is one of the ways through which we are able to do so. Also, humans are inherently good and for the most part kind-hearted as well.

Knysna Fine Art Gallery
Immersing myself at the Knysna Fine Art gallery

I took this trip in June and we had just come out of Level 4/5 lockdown so not a lot of people were travelling for leisure. But I was able to do so while adhering to all Covid-19 regulations. When we think of travel we all want to explore other countries but I’m glad the pandemic forced me to look inward and find this gem in our own back yard. So hopefully this will inspire many more of you to travel locally.

Okay, so for the part most people are actually interested in, the budget breakdown:

Accomodation (4 nights)- R900

Return Bus fare -R870

Return Gautrain to Bus station in Joburg- R100

Meter cab in Knysna – R100

Transportation in and around Knysna- I got lucky in that Juwairiyyah had brought her car along and so I only had to contribute towards petrol otherwise I would have spent a lot more on transportation going from place to place. The Shepherd’s Tree is within walking distance from the main town center which makes things easier but for heading out to the Heads, for example, you would probably need some sort of transportation (they do hire out bicycles so that could have been possible as well). I rate budget about R500 for transportation if you don’t have a car with.

Boat cruise – R390

Art galleries and museums- free

Exploring Knysna Heads- free

Tattoo – R400

Gin tasting and a bottle to take home- R310

Food & Drinks – R2000

Overall I had a really good trip. I was able to celebrate life and the great things it has brought to me. I made memories I will forever hold and I explored the beautiful country we live in, while adhering to Covid regulations. If that is not motivation to travel more in our country, then I don’t know what is.

Travel and be merry!

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