African Penguin a Must-see in Cape Town
The African Penguin is a must-see when visiting Cape Town, South Africa. The African Penguin is also called the Jackass Penguin because of its donkey-like braying that mostly happens at night. In my little Renault Megane, I drove from the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town into the Deep South. At Muizenberg, one drives along the charming coastline of False Bay. Although slightly overcast, surfers were on the easy waves enjoying the therapy of water, wind, and waves. As I entered Kalkbay, I stopped. Not far from the shore a Humpback Whale frolicked and breached as if playing for an audience of one. Although a common occurrence in Cape Town this time of the year, one just cannot get enough of this majestic mammal. I was tempted to continue to watch my private show (or so I thought) but decided to focus on another tourist attraction: The African Penguin
Boulders Beach was chosen by Jackass Penguins as home
Boulders Beach established in 1983 is on the south side of Simon’s Town and about 46Km from the center of Cape Town and is accessible by road or by train. The Simonstown train station marks the end of the track and is an easy walk to Boulders.
Aptly named, many large granite boulders are strewn on the beach. These granite boulders are estimated to be over 500 million years old. Boulders Beach, also known as Boulders Bay is part of the Table Mountain National Park and administered by SAN (South African National) Parks.
Boulders Beach Neighbourhood
Boulders Beach is next to Simon’s Town, home of the South African Navy. Many guesthouses, hotels and B&B’s are found in and around Simon’s Town. A great majority of houses in the area are holiday homes owned by locals and some by foreigners. Restaurants abound in the area and are mainly supported by tourism. Beaches are another attraction shielded by the great granite rocks. The beaches are ideal for swimming or just lazing on the rocks and shore. Further south is Cape Point, the most South Western point of Africa. Simon’s Town, Boulders, and Cape Point form a full day-trip trio.
Rules and Guidelines at Boulders
- No alcohol allowed
- No smoking and fires
- No water sports like canoes and kayaking allowed. Boulders bay is under the South African Navy regulations
- Boulders Beach is a ‘No-Take Zone’ meaning that marine life may not be removed.
- Report injured animals
- Do not harass penguins
- Do not litter
- Do not remove plants
A visitor’s center is under construction (October 2017) but SAN parks could not comment on the date of completion.
To the right of the entrance is a toilet facility which is wheelchair friendly. Separate toilets are provided for men, women, and families.
Two elevated wooden paths with side fences lead to a common beach to view penguins. While one comes very close to the penguins, the separation prevents physical contact. The path to the left of the entrance is wheelchair friendly (a bumpy ride due to the lateral wooden slats on the pathway) and assistance is needed up and down a bridge. The path to the right of the entrance is not wheelchair friendly and also challenging for the physically disabled. This pathway has several steps and inclines.
Jackass Penguins get to see many tourists
A third viewing point is 5 to 10 minutes away on a charming new pathway called Willis Walk to the neighboring Foxy Beach. There is another ablution block on Willis Walk. One comes very close to the penguins especially during the breeding season on this path. A green wire fence is the only separation between penguin and doting admirers. Penguin couples are often seen outside their provided fiberglass nests. Penguins are faithful to their partners and it is common that they mate for life. Foxy Beach is also protected by SAN Parks and requires a ticket for entry.
Entrance fees and opening hours
The current entry fees are R75 (US$5) for adults and R40 (US$2.50) for children under 12 years of age. One ticket provides entry to Boulders Beach and to Foxy Beach.
Opening hours vary according to the seasons of Cape Town
|February – March||8am – 6:30pm|
|April – September||8am – 5pm|
|October – November||8am – 6:30pm|
|December – January||7am – 7:30pm|
Boulders Beach Visitor Centre can be reached at +27(0) 21 786 2329 during the above hours.
A History of Jackass Penguins at Boulders Beach
Before 1984 little was known of Boulders Beach until a lone African penguin couple came to shore. They did not lay any eggs until the following year, but this was the start of the now world-famous ecotourism site. This pioneering couple is responsible for the growth of the penguin population at Boulders Beach. Many penguins were born at Boulders but a large number also migrated here. By 1997 there were more than 2350 adult penguins in the colony which was more than 1% of the entire African Penguin population. At Boulders, African Penguins find protection and get the necessary help from the SAN Parks services. The benefit to South Africa is the immense income from tourism that not only supports hundreds of families and businesses but also makes operation at Boulders self-sustainable. According to San Parks-Boulders Beach, October 2017 alone tallied 90,682 visitors.
Being on the mainland, the Boulders colony provides an ideal and easily accessible setting for the study of the African Penguin.
Jackass Penguins and their neighbors at Boulders Beach
The residents of the area came before the penguins arrived and enjoyed the peace and quiet of an idyllic beach life. After 1984, Boulders attracted the attention of SA Nature Conservation, International interest groups and of course, tourists. At the time the African penguin was classified as a vulnerable species. Penguins often waddled across the main road and up the hill to find suitable nesting sites, forcing residents to become ‘Penguin Aware’. Local residents had little appreciation for the raucous braying and of course the rapidly changing conditions of their quiet lifestyle.
SAN Parks had to walk the narrow path towards a happy space for both people and penguin. Many surveys were undertaken to adequately address the tension. One of such was done by Sarah Lewis (2011) for her Master of Science thesis. Conducted 25 to 26 years after the first penguin couple arrived, much has changed. She found that the tension had eased since some original homeowners in the area of Boulders had moved away and the newer residents moved there with full acceptance of the situation. Many houses were empty most of the year and only used during vacation time. In short, tourism had proved useful to the community and local businesses. The braying and burrowing of the penguins that make it out of the camped-in area are still annoying. The newly installed eco-friendly fence and walkway contain the penguins and funnel tourists in a controlled manner. Nevertheless, neighbor relations are an on-going challenge for SAN Parks.
The African Penguin (also known as the Jackass Penguin)
Cherry Kearton in his work Penguin Island (1960) said, “The Penguin’s natural element is the sea. He cannot walk with any elegance or convenience, nor can he fly, but he can swim almost as swiftly as the shark and the fiercest storm has no terrors for him.”
There are 24 African penguin colonies of which 3 are on the mainland and the rest on islands around South Africa and Namibia. Adults grow to a height of 50cm (1.64ft) and weigh up to 3.7kg (8.15lb) with a 10-24 years life-span. The main threats to survival include humans, commercial fishing, sharks and oil pollution. According to Phil Hockey (The African Penguin: a natural history 2001), there was a decline of more than 90% in the African Penguin population in the last 100 years.
On May 26, 2010, the African Penguin status was reclassified from vulnerable to endangered in the Red Data Book of South Africa. This reclassification was spurred on by the marked difference in penguin population from records in 1956 and in 2009. These records highlight a decline of 80% in just over 50 years.
This is tourism with a purpose. Come over to Cape Town. Visit Boulders Beach or one of the other African penguin colonies to become part of saving an endangered species!