Situated on the False Bay coastline just south of Simonstown, this is one of the most scenic and beautiful spots on the Cape Peninsula.
It is also home to one of only two mainland breeding colonies of African Penguins (see also Stony Point penguin colony) on the South African coast.
What makes it so special is its easy access, and the opportunity to get incredibly close to the penguins.
The first birds appeared here in 1983 and started to breed. The close proximity to human habitation offers a good protection from land based predators such as caracal, leopard, baboon and genets. Normally these penguins breed on off-shore islands like Robben Island to avoid terrestrial predation.
The colony reached a peak of around 1200 breeding pairs in 2005. Since then there has been a decline to about 800 breeding pairs today. This decline is due mainly to over fishing and a reduction in accessible food, as the stocks of anchovy and sardine, which the penguins mainly feed on, have moved eastwards, off the southern parts of South Africa. The African Penguin, a southern African endemic species, is now listed as Endangered with a total population down from over a million in the 1930s to only 20 000 pairs.
Oil spills in the past have also had a negative impact on the populations at Boulders and Robben Island.
The birds mate for life and usually have two egg-laying periods, in early spring, (September) and then late summer (February).
At Boulders nests can be seen under bushes, in burrows in the sandy banks or in rock crevices. Artificial nesting chambers have been introduced to expand the potential breeding habitat. Usually two eggs are laid, with the parent birds taking turns to incubate or go off and fish. Young penguins, ‘baby blues’, can be readily distinguished from the adults after they have moulted from their brown chick plumage. Adults moult annually and can then be seen standing around in their scruffy plumage, for approximately 21 days, during which time they are unable to go to sea to feed.
Boulders Beach is now part of the Table Mountain National Park and is managed by SANParks. Raised boardwalks allow easy access around the colony for optimum viewing, with good signboard information and a visitors’ centre.
An entry fee is payable – see SANParks website www.sanparks.org for current fees.
Boulders Visitor Centre: +27(0) 21 786 2329.
The adjacent beach allows public access and swimming in the protected areas around the rocks, where penguins are also encountered.
Others bird species seen at Boulders are Cape and White-breasted Cormorants, occasionally Bank Cormorant, plus African Black Oystercatcher, along with Kelp and Hartlaub’s Gulls.