African penguins live in colonies on the coast and islands of South Africa. Boulders Beach, in Simons Town is home to a very special land-based colony of penguins. Sadly, there are only a few of these left in the world. There are only around 2100 bird in the colony as their number have decreased over the years. The causes are over fishing, so these guys don’t have food. Also, oil spills, irresponsible tourist activities and other ocean pollution factors.
Also called jackass penguins, they make donkey-like braying sounds to communicate. They can dive under water for up to 2.5 minutes while trying to catch small fish such as anchovies and sardines. They may also eat squid and crustaceans.
African penguins breed within their colonies; they do not travel to give birth. The penguins nest in burrows they dig out of their own excrement, called guano, or in areas under boulders or bushes. Their nests protect eggs and chicks from the sun and from predators like cats and seagulls. Eggs are laid in pairs and both parents help incubate them. Both parents also feed the newly-born chicks. After 2-4 years, the chicks will mature and lay their own eggs.
They can live for an average of 10-15 years, however many do not reach their full life span, and populations have been steadily decreasing. The loss of nesting places due to guano removal has contributed to the population decline as well as a decrease of food due to over fishing and pollution. As such, African penguins are now considered endangered by IUCN’s Red List. This means there is a high risk they may become extinct.
Boulders Beach is a sheltered beach made up of inlets between granite boulders, from which the name originated. It’s been the home to a colony of African penguins since 1892. It attracts thousands of visitors each year. Just a 45-minute drive from the centre of Cape Town. Now, there are over 3,000 of these little guys on/around Boulders, and if you find yourself in Cape Town, it doesn’t take much time or effort to pay them a visit. It’s a fantastic stop off before reaching Cape Point, which is located another 30 mins south. The entrance fee is around R65 per person (around £3.70) and that gives you full access to the National Park, that is managed by Table Mountain. From there, there is a series of boardwalks that takes you right down to the beach, where you’ll find yourself surrounded by African penguins. Although this is the Boulders section of Table Mountain National Park, the beach that is accessed by the boardwalks where most of the penguins like to hang out is called Foxy Beach. Boulders Beach itself is only a short walk from Foxy Beach, but it is more popular as a swimming place for humans than it is for penguins. Regardless, everyone just refers to the area as Boulders or Boulders Beach.
When to visit the penguins
I visited Boulders in December 2017, apparently, it’s one of the best times to visit. However, the locals say that the penguins are there all year round – there definitely wasn’t a shortage of them. Penguins hanging out on the broad walk, in the bushes and even in the car park! The broad walk winds all the way through to bushes and rocks before reaching the beach. Here we were greeted by hundreds, maybe even thousands of penguins. Most of them were lounging on the rocks, others swimming or waddling around the beach. Although you couldn’t get to close to them, they sure wasn’t shy to take your finger off! I could have sat and watched them all day.
There are two main lookout spots on the boardwalk on Foxy Beach; however, you’re unfortunately not permitted to walk on the beach. It wasn’t much of a disappointment since we managed to climb over some rocks, into a small little cove, close enough to touch the penguins (which we didn’t do because that’s frowned upon and we wanted to keep all our fingers). The little cove was full of penguins, you can get up real close to them which makes it a fantastic photo opportunity. If you could brave the coldness of the water, you could even swim with them too!
Although very touristy, we loved Boulders. There are few places in the world where you can have this type of close-up encounter with so many penguins and there’s nowhere else in the world where you can consistently see such large numbers of African penguins. They are now considered an endangered species, and only about 55,000 are left. Cape Town has numerous attractions, but Boulders is easily one of the best.
Tips for visiting
- Make sure you go as early as possible or in low season. It gets busy and impossible to get good photos later in the day. Plus, you will be waiting for hours for a car parking space!
- Make sure you pack your camera, swimming costume, a towel and sun lotion!
- Don’t try and touch the penguins, they are wild, and they will bite you.
- Do not go into closed off areas. No matter how much you want that Instagram worthy pic it’s not worth it. You will also get a R500 fine if caught.
- Make it an entire day outing, there is loads to do in Simon’s Town. After visiting the penguins grab some lunch and then head to the beach.
Do you want to visit the penguins? Follow this link for directions on how to get there