Visiting the penguins in Boulders Beach is a highly recommended and must do attraction when in Cape Town. Who would expect to find penguins in Cape Town or in South Africa? I always imagined seeing penguins surrounded by lots of ice and snow. The African penguin is the only species of penguins that are perfectly acclimatised to the warm climate of South Africa and Namibia. And where else in the world can you expect to see the unique sight of penguins in a warm climate on the beach?
Get up close and personal with the African penguins in Cape Town
The African penguin in South Africa
The African penguin is the only species that breeds on the mainland of Africa. They are also named Jackass penguin, due to their donkey-like bray. These penguins are flightless aquatic birds, who stay and breed with the same partner for many years. Most of the penguins are living on penguin islands which are located close to the shores along the coast, from Port Elizabeth to right around to the southern part of Namibia. Just a few colonies also breed on the mainland, one of which is Boulders Beach in Simon’s town.
The Penguins in Boulders Beach
The first penguins came to False Bay in 1983. They were probably attracted by the clear water of the Bay which provided plenty of food for the colony to grow to currently around 3000 birds. The ancient granite boulders on the beach, hence the name Boulders Beach, provides shelter for the African penguin from the strong winds and large waves that occur frequently. Boulders Beach forms part of Table Mountain National Park, which belongs to Sanparks.
The penguins attract a lot of visitors to Boulders Beach every year. Most visitors come as part of a tour to the Cape Peninsula and Cape Point as one of the many things to do in Cape Town. Various boardwalks are connected with parts of the beach from where these waddling birds can be viewed. In this section you are not allowed to walk on the beach, you have to stay on the boardwalks. This is good since everyone can get a good view of the penguins from the various sections. Also, when walking over the wheelchair friendly boardwalk, you can see penguins hiding in the bushes or even under the wood.
On some of the beaches bordering Boulders, you can get closer to the penguins since walking and even swimming is allowed there. These penguins are currently so tame you can easily get as close as 1 metre from them.
Best time to see the penguins in Cape Town
When is the best time to go and visit the penguins? I would say all year round. At Boulders, the breeding time for this colony is from March until May. You can see the penguins sitting on their eggs in their nests, or with the fledgelings. We went beginning of May and we saw birds still sitting on their eggs, new borns as well as young birds nearly the size of their parents. You can still recognise them by the greyish coloured feathers they still have.
During the mornings there will be fewer tourists since most will arrive at the end of their day tour on the Cape Peninsula. In the evening, there will be more people, but the light is better and more penguins are coming back to the beach after a day of hunting in the sea. Also during the breeding season, the penguins will feed their babies in the afternoon.
All in all, no matter when you go, there will always be some (or lots) of penguins around to observe and they will be very entertaining.
Have you ever seen penguins in the wild? Where was this? Share your story with us.
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