Attractions / Western Cape

The Penguins at Boulders Beach

Updated Monday, 18 April 2022

There’s something very peculiar about standing on a sandy shoreline, basking in the South African summer sun while gazing out across the crystal blue waters of the Indian Ocean, only to encounter a group of penguins waddling past your beach towel on their way to having a dip.

At Boulders Beach, a National Park, just outside Simon’s Town (en-route to Cape Point), nature has been playing the strangest tricks on sun worshipers for some time.

Boulders Beach is home to the ‘Jackass’ African penguin, which has been hanging out along the Southern African coast for… er… donkey’s years, in more recent times living shoulder to knee-cap with the local human population of Simon’s Town.

Penguin Couple

Named “jackass” after their distinctive Eeyore impersonations, they occur in only 27 other sites, including Robben Island, and despite their large numbers at Boulder’s (some 3000), they are very much endangered.

They especially hit the headlines back in June 2000, when some 1,400 tonnes of heavy fuel oil leaked from the bulk carrier Treasure off Cape Town prompting a massive rescue operation. Luckily, an overwhelming number of Capetonians and tourists rushed to the rescue, and during the following months 10 000 penguins were individually caught and treated successfully.

So, on your visit you might wish to donate a few cents towards the marine wildlife charity Sancob, who continue to be instrumental in protecting and raising awareness of the penguin’s plight.

The site is made up of two interconnected beaches: Foxy Beach – where you can view the entire colony from a newly constructed boardwalk, and Boulders Beach – where you can actually swim alongside them, or at least try – they are extremely fast! Practically everywhere you look, behind every rock and bush, you’ll find them standing around, as if waiting for a bus. Children will absolutely adore their antics, and the adults won’t be able to put their cameras down.

African Penguin

Never in your life, and certainly outside of Antarctica, did you ever imagine that you could get so close to such wonderful and curious creatures. There are only a few places in the world that you’d come across a sign warning motorists to be on the look out for penguins hiding out under their cars!

While you are at it, keep an eye out for the resident ‘dassies’, one of the cutest and cuddliest little fury critters imaginable (a bit like an extremely large guinea pig) who can often be found basking in the sun beside the walkways. They seem to love posing for the cameras.

There is an information centre, selling all-manner of penguin merchandise, (jackets, toys, postcards, videos), complete with an adjacent cinema, and I would very much recommend watching at least a few minutes of ‘City Slickers’, an award winning wildlife documentary about the extraordinary penguin / human co-habitation that constitutes normal everyday life for the residents of Simon’s Town (screened continually throughout the day).

Swim with Penguins at Boulders Beach

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