The Cape of Good Hope And Penguins. Yes, Penguins.

I had visited the southernmost point in Africa at L’Agulhas, but the Cape of Good Hope is also an iconic spot at the end of the peninsula closest to Cape Town, and that was where I headed next.

The Cape of Good Hope is officially part of South Africa’s Table Mountain National Park, even though it is not contiguous, and like all of Africa’s national parks, there are wild animals who live there. We saw ostriches as we got near the water, and baboons a little further on.

The two above are males. There were also two females close by on the other side of the road.

We had driven from Cape Town’s waterfront all the way to the tip of the peninsula, so this was the first stop and coincided with a lunch break. There is, frankly, not much to do at this park once you’ve admired the ocean –

and had your photo taken at the sign that announces that it’s the Cape of Good Hope. But you know you have to do it.

There was a terrace above the car park where there was a cafe, and I spent most of the break up there. There was a statue and warning about baboons, the first of many that I have seen. This is the most artistic and informative one – most just say “They are WILD and DANGEROUS animals, no matter how entertaining they are. DON’T FEED THEM!”

There was also a “straight and to the point” sign warning visitors not to wander too close to the edge of the terrace:

On the way out, we passed the spot where Portuguese explorers had left a column to mark their landing. The column that is there is a replica, the original having been wood and therefore much deteriorated.

Continuing on our way around the peninsula, we saw some beautiful scenery. The oceans are simply wonderful, each in their own way. The ocean here is a deep blue, reminding me that it meets the Antarctic Ocean eventually.

We came to Boulder Beach, which is where South Africa’s penguins live! A long time ago, I learned that penguins live in Antarctica (and polar bears do not) from Gary Larson’s “Far Side” cartoons. He never mentioned South Africa. Penguins live here, too, and for them, there aren’t as many predators, but heat stroke can be a real threat.

The life of a South African penguin is straightforward. These penguins, like others, usually have only one mate for life. The courtship is ritualized, involving dips, bows, stares, and calls, and they reinforce their bond by mutual preening. The mating call of the South African penguin sounds so much like a donkey braying that they used to be called “Jackass Penguins.” Time, and possibly tourism, has bestowed their current, more dignified name upon them.

They build their nests by scooping out a shallow bowl in the sand, or some prefer to dig deeper and create a burrow:

Mating, nesting, and hatching are not confined to a particular season, but continues throughout the year, so that the colony has chicks, “baby blues,” and adults at all times.

Chicks that are just hatched are covered in downy feathers that are not waterproof. Their parents stay with them and bond for the first 30 days, but then the need to get food for their chick and their own hunger requires the parents to return to the sea. These young chicks tend to congregate in crèches, mostly for the protection of numbers, but the bonding period assures that the chicks and parents will find each other again.

Baby blues are chicks that have lost their downy feathers and grown waterproof blue-grey plumage that is waterproof and allows them to go to sea.

Baby blues become adults after a year or two, losing their juvenile plumage, and becoming the familiar black and white adults. Adults begin mating and breeding when they are about four years old.

These penguins seem to like sunning themselves when the weather is not too warm.

Once a year, these penguins moult. Old, worn feathers drop off, so many that the birds are no longer waterproof and are confined to land for about three weeks, until their new feathers grow in. The penguins know when this is about to happen and “fatten up,” something like a bear before hibernation, to prepare for the fasting ahead, since there is no food on land for them.

South African penguins are the only penguins that breed in Africa, and they breed only on this coastline of South Africa. Their numbers declined massively in the 20th century, mainly due to loss of habitat, although their habitat suffered from the Dutch, too. They prefer burrowing in masses of sea lion guano for nesting sites, but the sea lions have been killed off, and the guano deposits were “mined” by the Dutch for fertilizer, so they must make do with sand.

They are cute little creatures, it would be a shame to lose them. And, as we have learned, no one species (including human) lives in isolation. – there are plants and animals that will feel their loss.

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