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One of the highlights of my holiday in South Africa was going down to Boulder's Beach to visit the penguin colony. The beach is part of Table Mountain National Park but is actually a fair drive out of Cape Town in False Bay. It is best accessed with private transport, but you can get organised tours from Cape Town.
There is a special boardwalk area on Foxy beach, which is one of the best places to see the penguins, which costs ZAR40 (£3.50/$5.35) plus you will need to pay the same again to get onto Boulder's beach. The beach areas are open daily from 8am or 7am in summer (between Dec-Jan) and closes at 5pm in winter, 7.30pm in summer and 6.30pm at all other times.
As you walk through the gates you will see a small gift shop over to your left with penguin specific gifts that generally seemed quite expensive. On the right were the toilets, which I didn't use.
Once you walk onto the neat boardwalk path, it will take you approximately two seconds to spot your first penguin. They are right there in front of you on rocks, in the grass, by the edge of the boardwalk (it is fenced so you can't get off or reach to touch one), and in fact everywhere you look. Apparently there are 3000 penguins here now, and I am pretty sure we saw most of them during our visit. The boardwalk area is fully wheelchair and pushchair accessible.
The species of penguin that you will see is the African penguin, which is also sometimes called the Jackass penguin because it brays like a donkey. This needs to be heard to be believed as you really don't expect that sound to come out of a small penguin. They are black and white and quite small - I would guess they averaged about 18" (45cm) but not all were full-grown adults so it was hard to tell. I believe this is the only mainland colony, others can be found on islands off the coast. The species are considered at risk. They don't have many land predators, but are at greater risk from seals and sharks at sea, as well as pollution.
You can spend as long or as little on the boardwalks as you wish watching the penguins interact with each other and go about their business. Sadly it was raining when we were there, which meant I had to be careful with my camera but the penguins didn't seem to be that bothered by the weather and carried on regardless. Most will ignore you but some may look at you with interest, and we did try to 'dance' with them (more of a head sway really). There are two boardwalks - one is straight on opposite the entrance gate, the other is over to the right. Both lead down to Foxy Beach, but on opposite side so you will get an excellent view of them here, where lots of them congregate. When you feel you have seen everything at Foxy Beach then come out of the area and turn left out of the exit and follow the path to Boulder's Beach.
I am not sure how long the path is (it is suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs) to Boulders Beach or how long it took us to walk, as you can still see penguins through the fence into the woods (not the habitat we would expect to see them in) so you will find yourself looking for them and taking photos. I wanted a good photo of a penguin looking directly at me, but they weren't very obliging and preferred to show their profile in the other 86 shots.
You have to pay again at the entrance to Boulders Beach; I believe it is the same as the price at the covered area. Boulder's beach imaginatively got its name from the large boulders that are sat on it. It can be quite fun trying to see animal shapes in the boulders, and it is certainly striking scenery. Unfortunately as we arrived another group of tourists had walked onto the beach and startled a group of penguins who went running into the water. You can sit on the beach and swim if you wish. This would have been great apart from the fact it was a South African winter and a bit nippy. As it was, there was just one solitary penguin left on the beach, and he preferred his own company to ours so we left him alone. You are advised not to approach or bother the penguins, nor feed them or try and touch them (they bite if threatened) although I have heard that sometimes they will approach you out of curiosity.
As you walk out of the Boulders Beach area you will see some other penguins striding across the rocks to your left. If you wished you could just view the penguins from outside the Boulders Beach entrance or from the public footpath between Boulders and Foxy Beach without paying an admission charge. However I think the modest charge is well worth it and you do see a lot more penguins if you go into Foxy Beach, which is a fantastic opportunity to observe these unique and fascinating creatures at close quarters in their home environment.
We left Cape Town quite early in the morning for our leisurely drive along past the Twelve Apostles Mountain peaks along the Chapman's Peak coast road via Hout's Bay and through to the Cape of Good Hope.
We have driven along the Great Ocean Road in South Australia and I have to say that this road is infinitely superior in terms of views and stunning vistas. Ever turn gave a 'Ohh 'or 'Wow' from one of us with bright blue sky, silver lined sandy coasts and secluded harbour towns nested in safe coves.
We reached the Cape of Good Hope and rushed up the hill to the top to see the last of the Atlantic waves crashing over the huge rocks. We also walked to the top of the peak at cape Point. Having walked to the top of both points we were now ready for moving on to Boulder's Bay where we hoped to see some African penguins.
We followed signs for penguins and parked our car and then followed more signs for penguins until we reached a kiosk. We paid 35R per person to enter the area and off we went along the first board walk. We were so thrilled to see three penguins resting on some rocks and spent some minutes taking photos before we moved on. As we rounded the corner they were everywhere. I have never seen so many penguins just chilling, lying, standing, drying their wings, kissing and nest digging. We took so many photos I think we almost filled our memory card. They were absolutely beautiful and so not bothered by all the tourists walking along the board walk and photographing them.
We must have spent about an hour on both board walks before we really began to feel the need for some food so we reluctantly left our new friends and went along to the restaurant we had seen near the car park with views of the ocean. This was called the 'Sea Forth'. We ordered various fish and sea food dishes. My husband and I did particularly well with the warm seafood salad as we had so much sea food and also piles of salad. I ate continuously while everyone else ate and was still able to had a plate full of salad and 4 large prawns over to the boys. One son had scampi and chips and the other had Cape salmon and chips as well as sharing half my meal.
Both boys were keen to visit a beach and swim in the Indian Ocean so we went back to Boulders Beach and paid another 35R each to get on the beach. Amazingly once we were on the beach we noticed penguins on the rocks around the beach. As we were changing two of the little chaps waddled down between the groups of people and slipped in to the sea. This was where you could swim with the penguins which had read about but thought it had been an error. It was truly an amazing experience.
My husband was in the sea with penguins darting around him. It was a little too cold for me but we did go over to the rocks and chat to t he penguins on the rock. One little chap was having a head rolling conversation with my son and we got some stunning photos of this and also as they popped into the sea and swam around our legs.
This was the icing on the cake and a truly magical experience to be able to get so close to wild animals and interact with them. They were totally unbothered by people. They apparently do bite but if you were sensible and just stayed quiet near them rather than trying to touch them then they were happy for you to be there.
For the price I think this experience would take some beating if you like animals and enjoy seeing them in their natural habitat. This is a memory that will be in my top experiences and I would thoroughly recommend visiting Boulders Bay if you want to see penguins in the wild up very close and even swim with them if you don't mind the water being a bit fresh. I wouldn't recommend swimming in winter as we were there in summer in January and it was still a bit too cold for me to go right in the sea!
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