Travel in South Africa: Boulders Beach and Table Mountain

Table Mountain is a flat-topped mountain, and an iconic landmark in Cape Town. 

DSC_1483What you might not know; however, is that there are actually three major mountains towering over Cape Town: Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain, and Lion’s Head. DSC_1493Now, while climbing any of the mountains offers an incredible chance to hike in nature, with rewarding panoramic views at the top, my favorite hike in the city would be to the top of Lion’s Head, because from that vantage point, I could not only see the beautiful city of Cape Town, but also views of the famed Table Mountain. DSC_1478

Travel in South Africa: Lion’s Head Hike

To get to the top of Lion’s Head, I made the 1.5 hour rocky hike to the top.

Fun fact: Lion’s Head is literally named after a pride of lions that used to live upon this rock! 😀DSC_1474The distance to the top is about 5 km, with an increase in elevation of 500 meters. The initial path was relatively flat, but at some points, the climb was almost vertical. 😮DSC_1485Fun fact: Lion’s Head is incredibly biodiverse, with an array of wildlife, including rock hyrax, and species of local vegetation endemic to this mountainside.DSC_1484

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Rock Hyrax

Fun Fact: Low-hanging clouds are also common as you approach each mountain’s peak. This might obstruct your coastal views and makes for an almost eerie vibe, but also cools down the temps, which makes the hike bearable.

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The low-hanging clouds on the flat-topped Table Mountain are actually called its ‘tablecloth’
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cloud obstructing coastal views

Now halfway through the hike, you have the option of either taking the dangerous short cut, using chains to get over the boulders, or following the recommended easier path. Although I used my best judgement, I still found the easier path to be a challenge! Hah! Hiking boots are highly recommended for both. 😀

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climbing boulders and ladders on the ‘easier’ route

Overall, the hike was worth it, as I was rewarded with stunning views over Cape Town, including the stadium bowl and the harbor. DSC_1469That being said, myself and everyone around me was still sweating! Hah! One guy at the top even joked, ‘Is there a helicopter option on the way down?” 😛
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Cost: Free (plus a free workout) 😛

Now, aside from my hike to the peak of Lion’s Head, another rewarding day trip I took away from the city center of Cape Town was to visit the African Penguins at Boulders Beach.IMG_20170328_190359_336

Travel in South Africa: Boulders Beach Penguin Colony

Boulders Beach is located in Simon’s Town. To get there from the Cape Town, I took a train, which cost less than 1 USD, and took about 1.5 hours.

DSC_1632On the way there, I chatted with some local South African college students from Johannesburg. They were visiting their sister in Simon’s Town, and offered to give me a ride in their Volkswagen to the visit the penguins. During the drive, they talked to me about the town, which is an old naval base, and which also surprised me for its charm and character. DSC_1631They also told me about a legendary Great Dane in Simon’s Town, who used to follow around the sailors, and spent his days laying on the decks of their boats. He was so beloved, he was made an honorary member of the forces, and became the only dog to be officially enlisted in the Royal Navy.

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The famous Great Dane was nicknamed ‘Just Nuisance‘, since he could never be moved from the boats. 😛

Anyway, after a 5-minute ride, they dropped me off the main attraction, Boulders Beach. 🐧🐧🐧DSC_1498The cost to enter was 5 USD, which is used to maintain the facilities, which includes a gorgeous wooden boardwalk to the coast. DSC_1626Now Boulders Beach on its own is absolutely stunning, and aptly named for the many granite boulders that are scattered along the beach.DSC_1624What makes it even better, is that its home to a colony of adorable African Penguins. 😀DSC_1556DSC_1598The facility was also nice enough to provide educational information about this species of penguin, so I’d thought I’d share a few facts with you. 🙂DSC_1627First off, you might usually associate penguins with cool, arctic conditions; however, these African Penguins have acclimated to much warmer temps. DSC_1523penguin These penguins live off the coast of Namibia and South Africa. Their diet consists primarily of anchovies and sardines, and they can hold there breath for over 2 minutes while the dive in the water to catch these small fish. DSC_1526DSC_1604These flightless aquatic birds have short tails and flipper-like wings, which help them to navigate underwater. DSC_1544They are also covered in dense, waterproof feathers to keep them dry and insulated.
DSC_1561DSC_1551On a more humorous note, African Penguins are also called Jackass Penguins, since they make a donkey-like noise to communicate.DSC_1503What I found most interesting was how their colors are used as excellent camouflage. As they swim, the white on their bellies blends in with the light, which makes them difficult to spot for predators looking at them from below, and the black on their backs blends in with the darker seas, which makes them difficult to spot for predators looking at them from above. DSC_1572Despite this survival tactic, the population of African Penguins has still declined an estimated 95% since the turn of the century, mostly due to commercial fishing and climate change, and they have currently been added to the endangered species list. DSC_1510This is why Boulders Beach is park of the national marine park area, which protects this colony and educates visitors about their importance. DSC_1609Visiting in the beginning of the year was also great, as I got the chance to see baby penguins that had just been born that January. DSC_1539DSC_1543I even saw the penguins moulting, a process that occurs when chicks turn into juveniles, and also annually for adults. In this period of 3 weeks the penguins shed their old feathers to make room for new growth.
DSC_1552This makes them extremely vulnerable to the environment, which is why the park has provided them with these shelters to stay warm. 🙂
DSC_1521Overall, I recommend Boulders Beach for anyone interested in local wildlife or an educational outing in a beautiful natural setting. DSC_1567

Here’s a short clip I made at the beach. Hope you enjoy! 😀

Cost: 7 USD (2 USD for train transport and 5 USD entry) Just make sure to follow the rules. 😉
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