Could it be? Are there penguins in Africa? Absolutely! They are often referred to as South African penguins, and you can find them at Boulders Beach in Cape Town.
A Quick Guide To The South African Penguins At Boulders Beach
What Are South African Penguins Called?
They are commonly known as the Cape penguin, South African penguin, African penguin, black-footed penguin, or the jackass penguin (because they make donkey-like braying sounds to communicate). The biological name is Spheniscus demersus.
How To Get The Best View Of The African Penguins?
While Boulders Beach is best known for the penguins, there is also Foxy Beach, which is a short walk (via boardwalks) from Boulders Beach. If you want to get up close and personal with the penguins, make your way to Foxy Beach.
There are three wheelchair-friendly boardwalks that make their way through the dunes and dense vegetation around Foxy Beach. Here’s where you will see their little nests and habitat.
Be careful not to get too close—–penguin beaks are razor sharp!
Where Do South African Penguins Live?
They create burrows in sandy soils, depressions under boulders or vegetation, crevices between rocks, and in man-made nests. (As you walk down the boardwalk between Foxy Beach and Boulders Beach, you will see many man-made nests). Their nests are lined with seaweed, rocks, shells, bones, vegetation pieces, and feathers.
What Do South African Penguins Eat?
African penguins forage in the open sea, where they eat sardines, anchovies, squid, horse mackerel, and herring. The penguins normally swim within 20 km (12 miles) of the shore.
A penguin may consume up to 540 grams (1.19 lb) of prey every day.
Is There An Entry Fee To See The Penguins?
Yes. Because Boulders Beach is part of the Table Mountain National Park, they charge a daily conservation and entry fee.
At the time of this writing, (December 2020), the entrance fee for foreigners is R170 for adults and R85 for children. For South African citizens, it is R40 for adults and R20 for children. (These prices can be verified via South African National Parks.)
Can You Touch The Penguins At Boulders Beach?
Some of the penguins will come within touching distance, but visitors are not allowed to touch them. Boulders Beach forms part of the Table Mountain National Park. It is also a no-take zone in a Marine Protected Area.
You are advised not to touch African penguins because they have sharp beaks which they will use to defend themselves if they feel threatened.
Can You See South African Penguins Year-Round?
The South African summer (December – February) is prime time to visit Boulders Beach in Cape Town. This is when you’ll see the most African penguin action.
African penguins can be seen throughout the year. However, between September and October (South African Spring), the birds spend a lot of time feeding out at sea, so there are fewer penguins on Boulders Beach.
For the ultimate treat, try to visit in January when the juvenile birds are molting on the beach.
For great pictures, try to get there early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the penguins are most active.
How Do You Get From Cape Town To Boulders Beach?
Boulders Beach is in Simonstown.
You can get there by train. You will need to get a train from Cape Town station to Simon’s Town. It is beautiful and scenic via train, but if you have children, it can be a hassle. Also, South Africa’s railway system is not as advanced as it is in other countries.
If you have children, getting there by car might be your best option. It’s an equally beautiful and scenic drive past Chapmans Peak and Kommetjie. The drive is approximately 30 minutes.
Can You Swim At Boulders Beach?
Yes. Be sure to pack your swimsuits (or as South Africans call them – your swimming costume or cozie). It’s a popular family-friendly swimming beach.
Boulders Beach has ancient granite boulders that protect it from the wind and large waves, which makes it ideal for kids and families (and penguins).
Children can climb over the boulders, explore the rock pools, play in the soft, white sand, or swim in the warm(ish) water.
The beach is always clean and safe because it falls under the Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area.
Also, it is rarely crowded because they charge a conservation entry fee.
South African Penguins On The Streets
It is not very often that you find the penguins out on the streets. Here’s a little peek at three penguins on South Africa’s empty streets during the Covid national lockdown.
Our primary purpose for driving to Simonstown was to see the penguins. We got so much more out of that adventure!
- The drive from Cape Town to Simonstown is beautiful and scenic. Definitely get your camera ready;
- Depending on the route you take, you are likely to pass Constantia, which is wine country. It’s very pretty – you may be tempted to stop on your way;
- We spotted a few baboons on the mountain, so keep an eye out for them (but don’t feed or approach them);
- Someone had to go to the bathroom before we made it to Simonstown – there are malls and lots of opportunities to stop. We ended up getting food too, which was great!;
- Simonstown is quaint and pretty – you may enjoy walking through and/or shopping there;
- Boulders Beach is delightful! We did not know we’d be able to swim, so we didn’t pack swimsuits. We will definitely do that next time because it’s a great beach! It’s small, not crowded, the water is warm(ish), and the children really enjoyed it.
- Be careful while driving or when you leave! Penguins may be under your car, (as you can see in one of the pictures below).
The drive across the mountain. (If this image feels weird, keep in mind South Africans driven on the left side of the road).
Did you know that penguins mate with one partner for life?
These are the man-made nests they nest in.
Beautiful Boulders Beach in Simonstown.
We didn’t know about the beautiful beach, so we didn’t bring any swimming costumes. We let the kids play anyway, then we went to Woolworths (South Africa’s version of Target), and bought some dry clothes.
They had so much fun (playing in their underwear).
Too much fun! Exhausted driving back.
FEATURE IMAGE: Craig Howes