The abundance of public holidays in April and May provided some great opportunities to explore Table Mountain National Park. Wild‘s digital journalist, Rebekah Funk, ventured out to Boulders Beach and spent some time with South Africa’s beloved penguins.
It felt like summer – parents liberally applying sunblock to their children’s cheeks and wading into the cool False Bay shallows. My friend Becky and I had taken the train out from Cape Town’s southern suburbs, the scenic journey snaking along the coast through Muizenberg, Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek, and disembarking at Africa’s most southerly train station in Simon’s Town. While many drive to Boulders Beach, we decided to take our time and walk through Simon’s Town along Willis Way. We’d packed a picnic lunch and stopped to eat near the well-known statue of the navy dog, Just Nuisance.
When we reached Boulders Beach, we headed straight for the penguins (with a Wild Card entrance is free). The SANParks ranger told us most of the birds had hunkered down for winter, opting for the leafy hills surrounding the beach rather than the sand itself. Sure enough, we saw the little black-and-white-tuxedoed birds as we wandered along the boardwalk, mostly hidden behind fenced off shrubbery. A few, however, seemed to take an interest in us humans passing by – posing for photos and poking their beaks through the fence at gleeful children.
These so-called jackass penguins (named for their signature braying call) are an endangered species. Only 18,683 breeding pairs currently remain in South Africa’s wild, according to numbers from the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB). Partnering with Table Mountain National Park, the organisation works to save, research and protect the penguins at Boulders Beach and other breeding locations stretching from Namibia to Port Elizabeth. They support successful breeding by building nest boxes for the penguins, which often face challenges such as loss of habitat, pollution, and a dwindling fish supply.
The hot weather meant that Becky and I soon longed for the beach. We bid farewell to the penguins and ambled down to the water’s edge. Being a public holiday (Family Day), the sheltered swimming cove was busy with families, tourists and sun seekers like us. One adventurous penguin had ventured into the water, braving overly-excited kids in an attempt to cool off. Luckily, parents were quick to tell their children to not touch or chase the bird – good advice as the penguins have sharp beaks and can bite if provoked!
While many are drawn to Boulders Beach and Simon’s Town when the weather’s sunny, locals say the area’s best months are actually during winter: while the rest of the Cape Peninsula is cold, wet and windy, the area faces north and is sheltered from the majority of the north-westerly winter winds. So if you didn’t get a chance to get out to that side of the world during the summer, pay Boulders Beach and its penguins a visit in the coming months!