Also known as the Jackass Penguin for its donkey-like bray, the African Penguin is endemic to South Africa and Namibia. These penguins grow up to 70 cm tall and weigh between 2 and 5 kg. They might look clumsy on land, but they make up for it in the water – here they are exceptionally agile and swift, sometimes even outperforming dolphins and seals!
Today, the African Penguin is an endangered species. All penguin-breeding sites are now protected, with several organisations working tirelessly to halt their decline. The Dyer Island Conservation Trust is concentrating its efforts on the rehabilitation and protection of the Island’s penguin population – visitors to the area have the opportunity to visit this colony and learn more about the various conservation measures being taken to protect these charming creatures.
For a closer encounter, you can visit the colonies at Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town, Cape Town or at Stony Point in the quaint coastal town of Betty’s Bay, which is on the opposite side of False Bay from the city, farther down the coast towards Hermanus. At Boulders Beach there is a small entrance fee – this goes towards the birds’ conservation and helps to control the number of tourists visiting at any one time. Once beyond the gate, however, you are sharing the beach with the resident colony of over 2,000 penguins! Boulders is a stunning beach in its own right – sandy and spotlessly clean, with numerous gigantic, 540-million-year-old granite boulders to explore. The beautiful, clear water is chilly, but if you are willing to brave it you might even be lucky enough to be able to swim with the penguins! Betty’s Bay, the lesser-known but arguably better colony to visit, as it has more penguins and fewer tourists than Boulders Beach, also has a small entrance fee. Both locations have wheelchair-friendly boardwalks, which give a non-intrusive but close view of the penguins’ nesting and breeding sites. The best times to view the birds are early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when they return from their 20-kilometre fishing expeditions.
An hour or two watching the antics of these comical birds is sure to be a highlight of any visit to the Western Cape! They are well worth adding to that must-see wish list, along with all the other members of the Marine Big Five.
If you are interested in seeing South Africa's Marine Big Five, don't hesitate in contacting our experts here to discuss your trip. Alternatively, take a look below for more wildlife inspiration: