Bowled Over At Boulders

Cape Town has some impressive beaches, some even being awarded the enviable blue flag status, but there is one beach that combines sun, sand and sea with a tiny creature that has people enthralled when they come into close contact. We are speaking of Boulders Beach in the quaint seaside and historic town of Simonstown, conveniently on route to Cape Point.

Boulders Beach gets its name from the large and 540 million year old granite boulders, that are striking in their appearance and wind sheltering in their natural functionality. Small rock pools and little bays dominate the area.

This beach, with its wind sheltered bays and safe sandy shores, is home to a breeding colony of tuxedoed little birds, the African Penguins. They are in fact, endangered but approximately 2000 of these African Penguins make this beautiful part of Cape Town their nesting ground. Interestingly, the African Penguins had another name, they were once called the "Jackass" Penguin because of their donkey-like call but it was decided to rename them in a more appropriate sense.

This colony is only one of a few in the world and because of this and the distinctive natural beauty, Boulders Beach has become a famous and popular tourist destination. Naturally, Boulders Beach forms part of the Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area and a nominal entrance fee is charged to gain access. The Boulders section of the park consists of three white sand beaches, one penguin viewing area and three boardwalks.

The boardwalks were built with the African Penguins in mind, they allow keen visitors to wander the winding walkways and get as close as possible to the tiny creatures but keep them safe from inquisitive fingers and allow them the freedom they need in their natural habitat. It's strongly advised that the penguins not be touched or fed, their appearance is cuddly but their beaks are sharp and they can nip.

It's rare for Boulders Beach to be overcrowded even though it is a great hit with kids, not only for the African Penguins as the waddle hilariously around the beach, but the gentle and warm ocean swimming experience. Boulders Beach also has offerings of superb accommodation, a restaurant, so close to the sand you can feel the spray of the ocean, and cafe's. To be on the safe side of time, schedule at least an hour or two for the penguin viewing, a little while longer for clambering on boulders, rock pool exploration and swimming.

Fast African Penguin Facts:

  • The African Penguin is listed in the Red Data Book as an endangered species
  • In 1910 the population stood at approximately 1.5 million, only 10% of that number remained at the end of the 20th century. The uncontrolled harvesting of penguin eggs and guano scraping, almost drove the species to extinction. As time continued, oil spills, overfishing, habitat destruction and climate change were also largely part of the problem
  • The African Penguin can swim at an average speed of seven kilometres per hour and can stay underwater for up to two minutes
  • Their distinctive suit of black and white is a vital form of camouflage - white for underwater predators looking upwards and black for predators looking down onto the water
  • Although African Penguins breed throughout the year, the main breeding season starts in February, most of them then stick to the vegetated areas and burrows
  • They are a monogamous species and the lifelong partners take turns to incubate their eggs and feed their young
  • Peak moulting is from October to December, after which they head out to sea to feed and return in January to mate and begin nesting from about February to August
  • During moulting season they often look sad, stressed or starved
  • The best time to photograph them is early morning and late afternoon as they leave to go to sea or come back from feeding

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