Posted: 12/10/2009


      Take the rickety old Metrorail train from Cape Town station 45minutes on the scenic route along False Bay, and you arrive at Simon's Town station. A fifteen minute walk, or less in a shared cab, to Boulders Beach, and a delightful sight in an idyllic setting.

      You can pay a small charge to change and bathe in a sheltered boulder strewn cove and even swim with the small penguins. Also there is a raised wooded walkway around the cove where the main colony of African penguins live, and you can get up close to them. Sphemsicus demersus is their Latin name and they used to be called Jackass penguins, due to their donkey-like braying.

      They are small, 70cm or 27 inches tall, with black stripe on their chest with  black dots and pink glands above their eyes. When they go swimming their white chests camauflage them from predators from below, and their black backs do the same against the dark ocean from flying predators.

       In 1910 there were almost one and a half million of them but penguin eggs were considered a delicacy and they were nearly wiped out. In 1980 two breeding pairs were introduced at Boulders Beach and they have rapidly gown into a large colony. Disaster struck on 23 June 2000 when an iron ore tanker MV Treasure, sank near Robben Island, and 19,000 adults were covered in oil. The largest animal rescue in history took place, with thousands of volunteers. An abandoned train repair warehouse was used to clean them, and 19,500 non-affected birds were also removed. They were all transported by road up the Indian Ocean coast to Port Elizabeth and then released. It took 2-3 weeks for them to swim 'home', by which time the beaches had been cleaned up. A 91% success story.

      They are in pairs and stay together for life. I watched some of them burrowing in the soft sand and many resting in the shade of the small trees. There are also rows and rows of plastic barrels, half covered in the sand where they can go at night to keep warm and hide from any prowlers.  

      Nearby in Simon'sTown is the headquarters of the South African navy and plaques on the walls of the headquarters with information about some of the famous visitors such as Admiral Lord Nelson, in 1770.  Whale watching, fishing and bird watching, plus sea kayaking, sailing, surfing and other water activities.The US fleet used to anchor here, but during apartheid, sailors were not allowed ashore. There are many cafes and pubs. A little nearer to Cape Town is Fish Hoek another interesting town.