South Africa’s wildlife is known to be big, fierce and dangerous, but some of Africa’s animals are actually quite cute. The penguins at Boulders Beach near Simon’s Town have been a hit with tourists since the colony was established in the 1980s. While these cuddly creatures can be loud and smelly, their charms are hard to escape and they are now one of Cape Town’s main attractions.
The African penguins at Boulders Beach seem to have a bit of a split personality. While on land these flightless birds wobble around on stubby legs and create photographic motifs somewhere between romance and kitsch when they cuddle up together. It is not until the penguins dive into the waters of False Bay that their true element becomes apparent. Suddenly the clumsy birds turn into black and white torpedoes that hunt small fish and escape the area’s apex predator – the great white shark.
Visitors can either drive past Simon’s Town and follow the signs to Boulders or take the scenic train ride to the Simon’s Town station, which is about two kilometres from the penguin colony. Once you get to the car park on Seaforth and Gay Road, you quickly realize that you are on a track thoroughly beaten by many overseas visitors before you. The walk to the visitors’ centre and the entrance to the beach is fringed by curio sellers offering anything from postcards to wooden hippos.
Boulders Beach is part of Table Mountain National Park; hence there is a conservation fee. The R40 for adults and R15 for children might seem a bit steep, but since TMNP protects the natural environment in Cape Town your money is going towards a worthy cause. Once you’re through the gate the information centre will tell you everything there is to know about the African penguin. Wooden walkways take you down to the beach, where you will get close enough to touch; but however cute these birds may look, they do bite. Try not to disturb the penguins and take nothing but photos. The penguins are most active in the morning when they can be seen darting through the water and losing all elegance as soon as they set a foot on dry land.
If you want to be really stingy, you can skip the visitors’ centre and continue along Kleintuin Road. The road turns into a wooden walkway that takes you through indigenous vegetation with quite a few penguins resting behind a small fence. The path takes you to a car park overlooking a beautiful little swimming beach.
However, the best way to see the African penguins is in their true element. The aforementioned swimming beach lies just south of the penguin colony and for a nominal entrance fee you can swim in the birds natural habitat and might encounter them right next to you in the water. A sea kayak tour from Simon’s Town is another great way to see not only penguins, but also seals, dolphins and whales.
- R40 per adult, R15 per child
- April – September 08:00 – 17:00
- December – January 07:00 – 19:30
- February – March 08:00 – 18:30
- October – November 08:00 – 18:30
Images by Simon Cox