First published on Relais & Châteaux Africa’s blog.
“… Once a penguin finds its perfect other penguin, they stay together pretty much forever.”
― Anna Staniszewski
This is a whole other kind of birding safari. There is no waiting for the bird to take flight, so to better capture the details of its outstretched wings. There is no scanning the trees for the shake of a tail feather or the rustle of a nest. These are birds of the sea. Aquatic and flightless and known as the African Penguin. And here, at Boulders Beach in Simonstown, Cape Town, is the only place in the world where you can get up close to them in the wild.
Their tuxedo outfits and characteristic waddle aside, what makes these birds so charming is their unique love for each other. Penguins pair for life, climbing into their nests beneath the trees here at Boulders Beach with their loved one at night, every night (for better or for worse).
Between ancient granite boulders, Boulders Beach is itself a declaration of love – set up to protect and care for the African penguin. Part of the Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area, the beach is always clean, safe and crowd-controlled and the water is warmer than many other beaches in the city.
A short walk away is Foxy Beach, where you can lay down your beach towel between the penguins or take to the water, while the odd wave-rider flaps past you. This closeness between man and penguin is all the more special considering that the birds are currently listed as endangered.
Habitat loss, declining fish populations and encroachment by humans has seen their numbers dwindle from around one-and-a-half million in 1910, to a mere 26 000 breeding pairs in the world today. Funds from the over 60 000 visitors who visit Boulders Beach each year are vital in helping the penguin conservation efforts at work here.
“To help stop the loss of chicks, and provide a safe breeding environment, Boulders Coastal Park management has introduced artificial nesting boxes, which you will see when you walk through the area. Thanks to conservation initiatives by the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, and SANParks, these precious penguins may yet survive to swim, and waddle, another day.” – South Africa Tourism
Below is a look at our recent visit to see the penguins enjoying the summer sun, side by side.
Images by Tamlin Wightman