The penguins at Boulders Beach in Simon's Town, about 45 minutes drive out of Cape Town are such an established part of the tourist landscape that most people don't realise that the colony was only established in 1962 when two breeding pairs decided that this was the ideal place to call home.
Since then, the numbers have increased markedly to the current population of over 2,000 and has resulted in Boulders Beach being granted national park status (as part of the Table Mountain National Park). The population expansion is probably due to the restriction of public access to their nesting sites, but also probably reflects the downscaling of commercial fishing in False Bay, which has resulted in an increase of available food supply.
Most tourists visit the visitors centre in Seaforth (the southernmost suburb of Simon's Town), where boardwalks direct visitors down through the dunes and onto the beach where the penguins nest. Visitors are not allowed to deviate from the boardwalk, but then you probably wouldn't want to anyway, as you will still get spectacular views of the colony and many individuals nest up close to (and sometimes beneath) the boardwalk. There are some good explanatory boards which provide interesting and well presented information on the penguins and their breeding habits, as well as the usual amenities (toilets, gift shop).
However, only a small minority of tourists visit Boulders Beach, which is the southern extension of the colony and gives a very different perspective on the colony that is at least as interesting as the visitors' centre. This is a small secluded cove littered with picturesque granite boulders, between which the penguins nest, and here the public are allowed to access the beach itself (entry is covered by the same ticket). Because of its sheltered nature and shallow water, this is a very popular family beach, and a stunning place to spend a few hours (or more).
To access Boulders Beach, take the footpath southwards (to the right if you're facing the sea) from the visitors' centre and continue for about another 750m until you reach the entrance to Boulders Beach. This is a lovely walk in itself, which has some gorgeous views out over False Bay along the higher sections, and also lends some very welcome shade on hot days. Penguins nest all the way along the mesh fence that separates the path from the reserve, so if you're absolutely skint (or can't visit during opening hours), this will allow you to see penguins free of charge. Alternatively, if you're driving south on the main road, go past the main turn to the visitors centre (signposted 'Seaforth' and indicated by the penguins icon) and drive about 1.5km further on, where you'll see a second turn signposted with the penguins icon, which takes you down to the car park by Boulders Beach Hotel.
During the day, the penguins at Boulders Beach tend to keep a low profile among or on top of the boulders. For the best photographic opportunities, visit early in the morning (check the website for opening times, which vary with the season), when there are few people around and the light lends itself to good photography (the midday light tends to make images look 'flat'). On my last visit, my kids and I were on the beach at 08:00 and literally had it to ourselves, which was magical. The penguins were zipping around underwater in the shallows like little monochrome torpedoes so close that we could have reached out and touched them (which, I should add, you're not allowed to do) and it was the perfect way to start a day.
Once you've dragged yourself away from Boulders Beach, why not treat yourself to something to eat and drink at the fabulous Boulders Beach Cafe? Definitely my favourite restaurant in the greater Cape Town area (if not in the whole world), and the stupendous view and proximity to penguins are only part of the reason!
The Western Cape is rich in marine life and the little Penguins are definitely a big favourite of mine. They pretty much go wherever they like but obviously tend to gather in the areas they nest. Boulder Beach is one of these areas and just walking in the general direction you can even see them way up on the cliffs in the bushes where they breed and stay out of the sun. The others obviously are swimming about in the stunning blue water of False Bay - well worth a visit I thought!!
From Cape Town to Simontown and than the the Penguin Islands more South.
A unique reservation - nobody knowns exactly why those little species can survive on this spot - but they do !!!
Look at them - surfing on the waves !
Swim with the jackass penguins at Boulders beach in Simon Town on the way to Cape of Good Hope. They're very friendly little creatures and not at all afraid of humans. Not really off the beaten path, lots of local families go here to swim. Most tourists just have a look but do not swim with the penguins.
Nerar Simonstown is a small village called Boulder. Go to Boulders beach (indicators) and have a look at the pinguins.
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