What Knysna may have lacked in sunshine and dry ground on the last weekend of the 2012 Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival was made up for by an atmosphere of town camaraderie and die-hard sportsmanship.
Inset: Knysna locals living it up at the Pick n Pay Flavours of Knysna restaurants on Wednesday, July 11 with Graeme Harding (second from right), station commander for the NSRI, enjoying the company of beautiful ladies. (Photo: Elle Photography.)
Even though everyone was aware of flood and snow warnings over large parts of South Africa for last weekend, a record-breaking number of 8 100 athletes with unstoppable enthusiasm nonetheless insisted on registering for the Pick n Pay Cape Times Knysna Forest Marathon and Half-Marathon on the Friday afternoon before the run.
And even though the rain came down in torrents during the night, many of those still showed up at 03:30 the next morning to participate in what they knew would probably turn out to be the 'forest paddle'. Had the event not been cancelled for the sake of runners' safety (many trees had fallen over the trail and conditions were very slippery), it would have been a colourful spectacle - as it is sure to be next year!
Despite all these challenges, restaurants, accommodation venues, local businesses and festival event managers reported an increase on last year's figures and the organisers have declared the 29th festival a booming success.
Shaun van Eck, Knynsa CEO agrees: "The professional way in which the Forest Marathon cancellation was handled is a testament to all of the parties involved and the way they prepared scenarios beforehand. The Knysna locals were amazing on Saturday and contributed to the soothing of any disappointment."
Less than 10% of runners booked out early and its speculated this contributed to the greater turnover from runners in restaurants and pubs.
Festival manager Nicci Rousseau-Schmidt of Knysna PR said that local businesses, restaurants and accommodation owners reported an increase in turnover for the period during the festival. She said that thousands of visitors had made the picturesque town their holiday destination of choice this winter, descending on Knysna to participate in the 100 sporting, lifestyle and culinary events on offer at the festival - flood warnings and all.
Instead of the severe cold front, which brought with it extremely cold conditions and strong gusting winds and high rainfall figures during the final weekend of the 10-day festival, diminishing the festival cheer, it seemed to have made those set on attending just more determined to have a really good time.
The conditions were such that for the first time in 15 years the South African Navy's SAS Umzimkulu was unable to enter the Knysna Heads due to large swells. The HANSA Waterfront Rush, the Vintage Car Rally, stalls and entertainment had to be cancelled and the Knysna Oyster Festival Music Extravaganza was moved rescheduled from Saturday to Sunday and took place at the BMW LoveLife Centre. Not to be bullied by the weather, the Vintage Car Rally organisers instead decided to sell food from Loerie Old Age Home and was soon sold out.
"Once again the Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival proved to be a huge success. Notwithstanding the foul weather, thousands of people enjoyed the activities on offer. We are particularly pleased to be involved with the event which raises significant money for Rotary in the region. Through our LikeBike campaign we will be donating eight bikes to The Knysna Sport School," said Bronwen Rohland, marketing and sustainability director of Pick n Pay.
On the sporting front the Pick n Pay Weekend Argus Rotary Knysna Cycle Tour reported that over 6 000 cyclists took part in the races that took place over the first weekend of the festival. Both the Salomon Featherbed Trail Run presented by GU and Totalsport Xterra presented by Rehidrat Sport had the greatest number of entries to date with entries from all over South Africa. A highlight on the festival's sporting calendar, The Big5 Challenge, had almost double the number of entries of the 2011 event.
Participating Tabasco Hotspot restaurants have all reported an increase in turnover compared to last year's festival. They also reported an increase in customers' mid-week, which traditionally has been a quiet time for restaurants, and a massive increase in oyster consumption. Accommodation venues, especially self-catering homes were fully booked during the weekends with almost full midweek capacity reported.
The festival this year also boasted several new events which included the Pick n Pay Flavours of Knysna in which restaurants prepared their signature dish for guests to sample while competing for the top prize. Other new events included the Knysna Wine Festival and Night Market, the Junior Kom Braai Competition in which children aged between eight and 14 donned their aprons and braai tongs to compete for the title of best 'braaier'.
Also new to the festival this year was the introduction of a user- friendly festival app which replaced the traditional information booklet for on-the-go information for festival goers. The Pink Drive, a mobile mammography truck offering mammograms at a discounted rate, was also a new and welcome addition to the festival. Proceeds raised went towards offering free testing to women in local Knysna communities.
Rousseau-Schmidt was also glad to report that James McCarthy, Eden District Municipality's health inspector, and the festival's health consultant, Dr Ingo Venneman, confirmed that the three-year-cycle of gastro-related illnesses during the festival had been broken.
"They were in contact with pharmacies and hospitals and there were hardly any instances reported. And according to the restaurants they sold loads of oysters! They attributed this success to the attitude of the private sector and how all the restaurants came on board and worked with them. Where changes or alternatives were required, it was done immediately. It is an achievement that we are very proud of."
This year the festival hub moved back to the centre of town in Waterfront Drive which ensured that access to all events, restaurants and local businesses was within walking distance of each other.
Van Eck applauded sponsors, event organisers and Knysna Tourism for the success of the 2012 festival. "The Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival is a vital event that boosts winter occupancies and generates income for local businesses. This is a unique festival and I am so appreciative of all involved. The festival remains an amazing example of what a largely volunteer-based effort can produce and all should feel very proud." Next year the festival will happen in the middle week of the holidays to allow runners an extended stay.
"The festival gives us a wonderful model to implement in our efforts to regenerate our Knysna economy, being a visionary consumer-led strategy which is implemented by a skilled team, supported by amazing local volunteers who buy into the vision and really make the difference. It is objective-driven, free of personal agendas and focuses on delivering sustainable results for the local community," beams Van Eck.
For further information visit www.pnpoysterfestival.co.za or call Knysna Tourism on 044 382 5510.