South Africa. Famous for its wild zebras, lions, elephants, wildebeest and springbok. Not particularly penguins. But in 1982, a colony of penguins appeared and settled near the Cape Point National Park. So we decided to visit them.
We rose early, and headed south to Boulders Beach, where we were promised the chance to see Africa’s only wild penguin colony. I have absolutely no idea how they got to South Africa, but they seem to quite like it there. The main beach, just through Simon’s Town, has a wooden walkway, where if you’re lucky you can see the African penguins nesting in the sand dunes. We stayed there for ages watching the little chaps going about their day, completely invading their privacy.
We followed the coastal path until we reached the next, quieter beach. The guidebook said that the penguins tend to hang out among the more inaccessible rocks, so Andy and I hoisted our bags and cameras above our heads and waded through the water to reach a little hidden cove. As we paddled into shallower waters, we realised we were slowly being surrounded by penguins. Some happily pattered up to us to say hello, some lay on rocks soaking up the sun, while others preferred the cooler shade under the boulders. We sat in the sand among the birds, watching as a few more splashed out of the sea and, shaking their feathers, waddled up the beach to see what they’d missed while swimming. It was truly an amazing experience.
We reluctantly returned to the car, and continued to Cape Point, one of the most southern tips of Africa. We had seen on the news back in Cape Town that there were forest fires, but hadn’t realised just how serious they were. We had intended to drive the scenic Chapman’s Peak road, but it was closed due to the fire threat. We took a diversion through the rolling vineyards of Stellenbosch, which stretched out across the hills on either side of the road. Approaching Cape Point National Park, we could smell the fire before we saw it. As we drew closer, a huge wall of smoke became visible in the distance. It wasn’t a plume; the cloud was kilometres wide and equally high.
We pulled over and watched as helicopters swooped through the billowing clouds, trying in vain to douse the flames. Continuing along the track, roadblocks were hastily being set up as firefighters, many of them volunteers from the surrounding area, fought against the fire. Leaving the flames raging behind us, we continued to Cape Point and took the funicular railway to the lighthouse at the top. Georgina, Andy and I stood there at the tip of Africa, looking out to the Atlantic Ocean on our left, and the Indian Ocean to our right. Behind us, the whole of the African continent. It was an inspiring moment. But also quite a blustery one, so we didn’t stick around for too long.
We turned and headed back towards Cape Town, stopping at a restaurant which we had been recommended to visit. Black Marlin, known as one of the best seafood restaurants in South Africa, sits on top of a cliff, with an amazing view of the Atlantic Ocean. We sat there in the sun, eating freshly-caught fish from the sea just below us. With fish this good, I’m not surprised the penguins decided to live here.