Get to know the African Penguins at Boulders Beach
Boulders Beach near Simon’s Town has a lot going for it: the ancient granite boulders protect it from the wind and large waves, making it an ideal swimming spot for kids. Because it falls under the Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area, the beach is always clean and safe, and it is rarely crowded. Sure, this comes at the cost of a small conservation fee, but who wouldn’t be willing to part ways with R65 for a day in this paradise?
Did I mention the penguins? The soft white sand and warm(ish) waters are not the only reasons why 60 000 visitors a year make their way along the coast, past Simon’s Town, to Boulders Beach. The local inhabitants – and I’m talking about the little tuxedoed chaps here – know how to pull the crowds.
African Penguins – formerly known as jackass penguins because of their distinctive braying – are the only penguins found on the continent. Colonies can be found from southern Namibia all the way around the South African coast to Port Elizabeth; however, few places offer as remarkable a viewing point as Boulders Beach.
When the penguins first came to False Bay in 1983 from Dyer Island, which is near Gansbaai, there was plenty for them to eat and so the colony grew rapidly. In recent years, however, commercial fishing, marine pollution and habitat destruction have negatively affected the size of the colony. In 1910, it was estimated that there were approximately one-and-a-half million African Penguins; a century later, the aquatic bird was classified as an endangered species. These days there are only a paltry 26 000 breeding pairs left in the whole world!
While Boulders Beach is a great spot to set up camp for the day – your little ones will love climbing over the rocks and playing in the rock pools – it isn’t actually the best area for viewing the penguins. For this, there are three wheelchair-friendly boardwalks that make their way through the dunes and dense vegetation and around Foxy Beach. If you want to get up close and personal with the penguins – just not too close because those beaks are razor sharp! – Foxy Beach is your best bet. At the Boulders Visitors Centre, you’ll find information about the penguins and knowledgeable guides.
While Boulders is obviously more attractive as a destination during the summer months, you should be able to see the penguins throughout the year. However, the birds do spend much of September and October feeding out at sea, so the number of penguins on the beach at this time of year is lower. For a real treat, try to visit in January when the juvenile birds are moulting on the beach. If it’s snapshots you’re after – who doesn’t want a selfie with these snappy dressers? – visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon.