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Penguins in South Africa?

Penguins in South Africa?

You betcha.  From Simon’s Town yesterday to Betty’s Bay today, we’ve had the unique opportunity to see the African Penguins.

African Penguin South Africa

An endangered species and formerly named the Jackass Penguins because of their bray-like vocalizations, the African Penguins have been officially renamed to accurately reflect their native land. They are the only breeding species of penguins in all of Africa.

The Boulders – a Penguin Sanctuary

A sheltered cove between Simon’s Town and Cape Point, Boulders is the protected harbor home to a colony of African Penguins. The story goes that there were only 2 breeding pairs remaining at Boulders as of 1982 and now there are over 2000. Supposedly the reduction of commercial trawling in the False Bay for pilchards and anchovy has helped, but the fact remains, because these penguins are protected they have a better chance at survival.

While seeing the penguins brought us sheer joy, we had a luke warm impression of Boulders. Yes, indeed, a beautiful location, but it was crowded. I appreciate the fact that everyone has to stay on the boardwalk. This minimizes the disturbance to the penguins. Yet despite the rainy day, we were still battling for a semblance of peace surrounded by too many, too loud other visitors.

Entrance fee: 55 Rand/person unless you have your Wild Card which I promptly forgot to bring with.
Penguin and litter
I call this one Penguin and Trash
molting penguin
I heard this young penguin holler, “I’m molting. I’m moooolting!”
Tranquil place
A tranquil spot amidst the chaos of tourists

Betty’s Bay – Stony Point

The next day we began a 9-day journey toward the Garden Route with plans to stop in the following places: Betty’s Bay, Agulhas National Park, Dana Bay, Plettenberg Bay, Addo Elephant National Park, Natural Valley, Wilderness and Bontebok National Park.

From Bergvliet, Cape Town we drove through the picturesque towns of Gordon’s Bay, Rooiles (a scenic conservancy), and the charming Pringle Bay before arriving to Betty’s Bay, which is in The Overberg (over the mountain) and located in Kogelberg, the first Unesco Biosphere Reserve. Kogelberg boasts the most diverse biosphere on the planet including over 1500 plant species and plentiful bird life. While we didn’t see a ton of birds, we saw extraordinary plant life. Certain aspects of our 100 k/2-hour drive reminded us of Big Sur on the California Coast – gorgeous.

Our first overnight on this journey was at the Trail House on Betty’s Bay.

The Trail House  – our Betty’s Bay lodging

Daisy of the Trail House Betty's Bay South Africa
Daisy of the Trail House

Trail House Rating (1-6 scale):

Cleanliness: 6
Very clean and well kept room.

General Accommodations: 5
We were in Room #2. Comfy beds (two twins), big bathroom, and balcony with a lovely view of Betty’s Bay. The Trail House is a modest and welcoming home with three rooms for let. The owner, Fransel, a vibrant woman (vegetarian!) with two beautiful dogs and two adorable kids, makes this place feel like home. It’s cool to be in a house. There’s a dining area and fridge for the guests. There was some noise from the other guests (talking to one another and on cell phones) in the evening and morning hours. But because it’s a house, one can expect this. Located on the other side of the R44, we heard some traffic intermixed with the sounds of the sea, but traffic ended early and all that remained were the comforting sounds of waves.

General Environs: 5
This is a cool place. A narrow, reddish gravel road framed by silvery green bush lead us to the Trail House. The house grounds are rich with flora and butterflies. We took the trail (behind the house) into the biosphere (Hottentots-Holland Mountain Catchment) and it was gorgeous. A view of Betty’s Bay and the sounds of the sea make the Trail House a great resting place. And all for about $45.00 US. You can’t beat the price. Yes, I recommend the Trail House. Absolutely.

Plant life in the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve

Stony Point Penguin Colony – 10 Rand/person

We love Stony Point. THIS is the place to go if you want to experience the African Penguins. It’s much more tranquil than Boulders, and they have signs about taking care of the penguins including NO butts.

Necessary Signs at Stony Point – to keep us humans in line

The Curious, Goofy, Intriguing, Beautiful and Vulnerable Penguins

Did you know?

Penguins are black and white because that pattern offers a vital form of camouflage? White for underwater enemies looking up and black for the predators that look down. These water predators include Cape fur seals, sharks and sometimes the Orca.

Plight of the Penguins

At Stony Point, we spoke with a researcher, Yvonne, who is working diligently (with a partner, but without pay!) to ensure the penguins there have a chance of survival. Besides battling changing water temps due to climate change (they must have cold water temps), water pollution (plastic, fishing gear, the usual suspects), their eggs are being poached and sold in China as a delicacy. We also learned that the females spend their days hunting in the water. In the evening she emerges with an additional 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of bodyweight from her catch. She’s bringing that food back to her babies for dinner. If humans are blocking the path to her babies, she will stand and wait for them to pass. If she has to wait too long, the food becomes too digested for her babies to benefit from the nutrients. They can starve.

I’ve read how their decline in numbers is also a result of humans taking their guano and using it for fertilizer. Their guano is an essential nest building material. So, what does all of this mean? It means we humans have to stop interfering and start helping. Nuff said.

On land they are hunted by mongoose (nooooo!), the genet and domestic cats and dogs. The Kelp Gulls steal their eggs. Sigh. It’s a tough life for the penguins. Add to it, they’ve been hunted by humans (more a thing of the past) but because they are awkward and slow on land they are easy prey thus more easily killed and their eggs more easily poached. They’re facing habitat destruction, competition for food (fish and shrimp), and exploitation for entertainment. And oil spills. In 2000 a tanker sank between Robben Island and Dassen Island releasing 1300 tons of oil harming or killing 19,000 adult penguins during the height of their breeding season. It’s a tough existence for penguins, obstacles at every turn will bring their extinction unless we humans step up and help them out. One place to start? Save the cold water fish for the penguins.

Their eyes are CLOSED. They have black dots on their eyelids which makes their eyes appear to be open.
Their eyes are CLOSED. They have black dots on their eyelids which makes their eyes appear to be open.

To watch a penguin walking on land, he resembles an old, tired man wearing an oversized overcoat, shoulders down and determined on a destination. Coming out of the water they stumble and fall over themselves trying to get their balance to stand upright. An awkward jump over rocks followed by waddling steps stopping briefly to shake off the excess water. But in water, they have the grace of a seasoned ballet dancer. Penguins are Scott’s faves and understandably so. They’re curious and unique, charming and amusing.


It’s practically impossible to look at a penguin and feel angry.
~Joe Moore


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Check out the other South Africa posts below:

South Africa Post #1: Our first Kruger National Park Safari
South Africa Post #2: Babysitting a Banded Mongoose Pup in Marloth Park
South Africa Post #3: When Zebras Visit
South Africa Post #4: Daily Living in Marloth Park, South Africa
South Africa Post #5: Kruger Restcamps: Skukuza, Satara and Olifants
South Africa Post #6: Kruger Safari: Full Moon over Letaba
South Africa Post #7: Kruger Safari: Treasure Hunting in Tamboti and Lower Sabie
South Africa Post #8: There’s a Mongoose in my Ear!
South Africa Post #9: Peering through God’s Window at Blyde River Canyon
South Africa Post #10: The Dam Boat Tour at Blyde River Canyon
South Africa Post #11: Rare Sexual Encounters of South Africa
South Africa Post #12: To the Wildlife of Marloth Park
South Africa Post #13: Nelspruit to Cape Town
South Africa Post #14: Moved to Tears on Freedom Day
This is South Africa Post #15: Penguins in South Africa?
South Africa Post #16: The Southernmost Tip of Africa
South Africa Post #17Birds of Eden at Plettenberg Bay
South Africa Post #18: Dear South Africa: I love you, but…
South Africa Post #19: Elephants at Addo National Park 
South Africa Post #20The Garden Route: Nature’s Valley and Wilderness
South Africa Post #21: Endangered Bontebok
South Africa Post #22Top Five Cape Town Experiences
South Africa Post #23Chasing Rainbows in South Africa
South Africa Post #24Vegan Wanderlust in South Africa
South Africa Post #25Ubuntu