“If there is a paradise on Earth, this could be it.” Step onto the boardwalk leading to the African penguin colony at Boulder’s Bay, between Cape Point and Simon’s Town and the scenery is spectacular. Massive 540 million year old granite rocks dot a pristine powdery white beach washed by the azure blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The star attraction: the sight of hundreds of African penguins busy with their lives in the protected environment of the beach and its surrounding green, indigenous vegetation.
These gorgeous non flying birds are the smallest of all penguins at about 2 feet tall and weigh about 11 lbs. They are monogamous and breed at around 4 years old. Parents take turns in incubating the eggs, then feeding the chicks.
Newborn chicks are covered in down, which is not waterproof. From the age of about 30 days, both parents go to sea.
Youngsters that are left alone congregate in crèches, mainly for protection.
About 60 days after hatching, some are already in full juvenile plumage. The down is replaced by a waterproof blue-grey plumage in which young penguins will eventually go to sea.
The adults distinctive black and white colouring is a vital form of camouflage – white for underwater predators looking upwards and black for predators looking down onto the water
Small pink patches above their eyes are the African penguins’ most distinctive feature. The pink patch is a pink gland that performs the function of thermoregulation. The hotter the weather, the more blood is transferred to the gland to be cooled by the surrounding air, and the more intense is the pink color.
They can hold their breaths for over 2 minutes and dive over 400 feet deep. Swimming is up to 7kms per hour.
It is one of the very few places in the world where one can observe wild penguins up close and personal. However, all is not well in this slice of paradise. The very penguins that are the pride of Boulders Bay are on the brink of extinction, and their fate appears to be worsening with every passing day.
From just two breeding pairs in 1985, the penguin colony at Boulders grew to about 2 200. This is partly due to the reduction in commercial pelagic trawling in False Bay, which has
increased the supply of pilchards and anchovies, an integral part of the penguins’ diet. In the last decade numbers started to drop for African Penguins generally, in South Africa …. by an estimated 50%. It is believed that climate change, occasional oil spillages plus over fishing may be impacting them. A freak accident happened a couple of years ago when some died following bee stings around their unprotected eyes.
The Boulder’s Bay colony is not doing too badly. As a severely endangered species, please do not touch them or go to within 3 metres of them. Those sharp beaks may give a nasty bite.
The boardwalk is actually at Foxy’s Beach where the main colony is and it is wheelchair friendly.
Boulder’s beach is great for sheltered swimming and if a penguin waddles past you to go swimming, just stay still and watch the waddling become elegant, accomplished swimming. There is a fee per adult of R71 to get onto the Boulder’s Bay Beach.
Foot note: About 1000 pairs of African penguin inhabit the beaches and gardens of Simon’s Town…a built up naval harbour town. See the trailer of a film which is well worth watching “Penguin Town” on Netflix.