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Penguins

There are about 18 different Penguin species. Some of them can be observed in a moderate climate others in the cold. They spend most of their time in the sea for feeding and come ashore for breeding.

Boulders Penguin Colony is a stunning year-round destination, not only during the feeding/breeding season. Nowhere else in the world you get closer to African Penguins, the Jackass, in the wild. However, it's often crowded.

Nearby Tip: Visit the breathtaking Table Mountain at Cape Town. We just updated our Table Mountain Guide (the link takes you to our article) with great tips you should know, as well as tour suggestions.

Boulders Beach at sunset
 

The best time to visit Boulders Beach with a high number of penguins on the beach is during the peak of the breeding season from February to May. If you want to dodge the crowds April and May are less busy, except the Holy Week, otherwise, come early or late in the day. However, you will never be disappointed there are penguins around the entire year.

Avoiding Tourist Crowds

The busy months are November until March; worst in December and January. However, it can be crowded in the shoulder and off-season as well, especially on the weekends. To beat the crowds and increase the chance of a parking lot, be there very early in the morning as soon as they open. An alternative is to go late: roughly 1 hour before they close. You'll see more penguins compared to the morning.

Highlights 

Boulder Beach Penguin Colony

The breeding season is from February until August: It peaks from March to May. It's fascinating because all the penguins are at the beach feeding the small ones. The babies get fed for about two months in the late afternoon. Therefore, you have to decide between fewer crowds but also fewer penguins in the morning and more crowds but also more penguins in the afternoon. Or go late before they close (see above Tourist crowds). In general, you'll spot more penguins in the breeding season than at other times.

Opening Hours
  • Winter: April - September 08:00 - 17:00
  • Summer: December - January 07:00 - 19:30
  • February - March 08:00 - 18:30
  • October - November 08:00 - 18:30
     
Penguin Calendar

Penguin Chicks at Boulders Beach - Cape Town

  • January: Juveniles are moulting, adults feeding up for the breeding season.
  • February - August: Breeding season with most penguins at the beach.
  • September - October: Penguins foraging at sea for the moulting season. Fewer penguins at the beach.
  • November - December: Moulting season, means losing all feathers and getting new ones. It lasts for a couple of weeks. At this time they don't have the capability to stay warm in the cold sea. 
Weather

Most pleasant weather from October-March. Day temps are always above 20°C. Rain showers can occur but on a couple of days only. During winter it’s much quieter but also colder. There is often a light breeze or even strong wind. Be prepared and bring a windbreaker.

Spring (September-November)

Decreasing rainfall from September onwards. Day temps are on average around 20°C and nights around 13°C. It’s often partly cloudy and occasionally overcast.

Summer (December-February)

January and February are the driest months of the year. Day temps are on average around 24°C and can climb up to 30°C. Night temps are on average around 15°C. Usually, it’s often sunny and partly cloudy. Due to the light breeze, it doesn’t get too hot. The water temperature is around 18°C cold.

Autumn (March-May)

March is still dry, increasing rainfall from April onwards. It is still pleasant on average above 20°C. Nights are cool around 13°C. It’s often sunny and partly cloudy.

Winter (June-August)

During winter it is a mixture of sunny, partly cloudy, and overcast days. More precipitation in winter around 90 mm each month. Usually, June is the wettest month of the year. Day temps are on average around 18°C and during the night 10°C.

 

Our 5 Top Tips for an Exceptional Visit

Group of penguins at Foxy Beach, Boulders - Cape Town

  • If you want to get onto the beach, walk a little furthermore after the main boardwalk.
  • Turn right after the entrance; it's quieter here than on the main boardwalk.
  • Arrive in the morning to get your parking close to the entrance and to dodge the crowds. Expect a tip for parking!
  • Usually, you can also see penguins at Water's Edge Beach and Seaforth as well but in smaller numbers. The beaches are within walking distance.
  • For a memorable visit, book a kayak trip. It's prohibited to do on your own.
     
ZA South Africa

The penguins at St Kilda pier are present year-round. Most of them come from the sea after sunset. It's an awesome experience to watch them waddle in throughout the evening after their hunt for fish at sea. It is cute how they walk and jump to their burrows between the rocks and making noise. To spot as many as possible, you need to visit at the right time of day and during the right season. Top Tip: Stay one night at a nearby hotel or you'll risk missing the best St Kilda penguin experience! Why? Check our explanation in the hotel tips section below. If you'd like to know who we are, check out our About Us page. 

Other amazing things to see in Melbourne? Together with a Melbourne local, we've just written an insider guide for this mesmerizing city: A Definitive Guide to Melbourne - With  Season Tips +15 Amazing Things to Do (this link takes you to our brand new article. Bookmark it if you like).

If you haven't bought it already, please get the best Australia guide available via Amazon: Fodor's Essential Australia Travel Guide

 
Time of Day | When to See the Penguins

Every day after sunset the penguins come ashore from the sea to their nests at St Kilda Pier. You can spot them waddling to their rock homes after sundown. 9-12 hours later they get back to the sea before sunrise. The pier is open 24 hours. In order to spot them, just be there any time after sunset. Check sunset (and sunrise times) here: Sunrise/Sunset Melbourne (select the month and then press 'Go'). The best time after sundown in terms of sightings is usually about 30 minutes after sunset. However, keep in mind that it gets very crowded around sunset as everyone wants to see these little guys. Your best bet is to get to St. Kilda pier some time before sunset for a good spot, as it becomes really busy with visitors. We also have two great additional tips:

 
  1. Visit Twice: If your schedule allows, visit St Kilda twice: Once in the late afternoon and again at or after sunset. Especially in the summer, it's very likely to spot some penguins already in the late afternoon. Visiting before sundown has a huge advantage, that you can view and photograph them during daylight. However, it's highly recommended to watch the big groups waddling in after sunset as well.
  2. Visit at Night / Before Sunrise: If you want to experience a really quiet visit, we suggest two times: Around 11 p.m. or in the very early morning two hours before sunrise. Particularly before sunrise you won't see other groups of visitors and can check out the penguins in solitude. After 11 p.m. it's usually quiet as well, except for Friday or Saturday nights. The downside when visiting in the night is the darkness. That means you'd need a very good (expensive) low light camera and a fast lens for taking photos (using flash is not allowed, it hurts and scares the penguins!)

 

Season

Penguins at St Kilda can be spotted throughout the year. However, there are significantly fewer penguins in the late spring and winter months of May, June and July. As soon as the weather gets colder in May/June they are off on their winter jaunt. Most of the penguins are out at sea then for a few weeks, feeding up with fish, getting ready for breeding later. However, those with eggs and chicks are staying at St Kilda of course. Depending on various factors the colony at St Kilda starts again each year in August/September. Usually, you can spot plenty of penguins between October and March/April. Depending on the month they are building nests, laying eggs, raising chicks or moulting (see below). During moulting period, usually in January/February, you'll also spot slightly fewer penguins. If you are interested in seeing the little ones: The peak number of chicks is in November and December.

 

Penguin Behaviour (Monthly Overview)

 
  • Moulting | at St Kilda (2-3 weeks between January and March / Penguin Visibility: Medium): Old feathers fall out and new ones grow. This usually happens between January and March/April. It takes about 2-3 weeks while penguins are sitting on a rock not going to the sea. If penguins get white feathers they will die soon the reason is the stressful moulting.
     
  • Feeding Up | at Sea (a couple of weeks between May and July / Penguin Visibility: Low). Roughly from May/June until July most penguins are out at sea for weeks to feed up before they start to breed later. They eat as much fish as possible, choosing whatever is available. It's believed that anchovies and pilchards are St Kilda penguins' favourite food. In case you wonder where they sleep during this time: Penguins can nap while they're in the water.
     
  • Egg Laying & Breeding | at St Kilda (usually between July and November / Penguin Visibility: High from September/October to December). A few Penguins start building their nests in the rocks of St Kilda from June onwards and laying eggs in July, but most in August and September until November. If they lay their eggs too late, the chicks may not survive. When the penguins start moulting later they can't feed their chicks any longer.
     
  • Chick Raising | at St Kilda (usually between August and January/February / Penguin Visibility: High from September/October to December). After 33-37 days of breeding the chicks are raised from around August until March, although February and March are quite rare. The parent's main duty is hunting for fish and returning to their nest each day to feed the chicks. At 7-11 weeks the chicks are ready to go to the sea. They leave the colony mostly from October to January. They are out in the sea minimum for a year often several years before heading back if they survived.
AU Australia

To spot a higher number of Fairy Penguins or Little Blue Penguins the main breeding season in November and December is the best time of the year. September, October, and January around 100 and less arrive after sunset at the shore. Usually, you spot a higher number of penguins at high tide, because the little blue have to walk less distance to their nests. It's pretty tricky where they get out of the water and walk over the huge boulders. You can watch them in the evening without a tour but please don't disturb them, don't block their way, don't use a torch just a red light, and don't pet them! If they get disturbed they may disappear in Bicheno.

Little Blue Penguin on a rock in Bicheno during the night

You are wondering that we took pictures close to the little blues? We are using a zoom lens from Panasonic 600 mm. We sat on the rocks and observed the penguins without moving or disturbing!

You may see blue penguins throughout the year in Bicheno and Tasmania but a few only in winter. During summer, you spot plenty of them. However, wildlife is not predictable. Especially in winter, it can happen that none of them come ashore.

Seasonal Penguin Activities

Little Blues during the night

  • Building their nest from April/May to August
  • Laying eggs from August to December
  • Chick raising from August until January
  • Moulting from February to April/May

Important

We’d like to inform you that forests that are increasingly at threat of logging in the northeast of Tassie, including the Blue Tier Giants, from April 2020 are taken out of reserve status. We will lose old grown forests in Tasmania. The Blue Derby Wild, The Friends of the Blue Tier, and the residents are fighting for their forests, but it looks like we all lose this hidden treasure trove. If you like to support the Blue Tier Giants share and comment on our article.

Tourist Crowds 

It's busier with a lot more visitors in summer from December to February, but not extremely crowded. Tip: Book your hotel ahead of time (read more below). There are fewer visitors in winter and spring but also fewer penguins to spot.

Accommodation Tips (With Penguins in the Garden)

Cod Rock Cottage in Bicheno

You will love to stay here at least two nights to increase your chance to spot them. IMPORTANT: Book well in advance if you visit in the high season. Otherwise, you'll risk fully booked accommodations! However, even in the low season, you'll save money if you book in advance! Stay in one of the very view private properties where the little blue nest in the gardens. One of these vacation homes is the Cod Rock Point (via booking.com with price guarantee.), perfectly situated. However, don't get to close, no camera flashlight or torch, only red light for obvious reasons! Another excellent spot to watch the penguins and to sleep is the Diamond Island Resort. The resort has its own private beach where you can watch the fairy penguins arriving in the evening. Beach access for guests only!

Hiking Tip: Our favourite hike nearby is the Apsley River Gorge Trail which is usually not busy.

Another highlight in Bicheno is the Bicheno Blowhole at high tide:

Bicheno Blow Hole at high tide

Are you getting to Tasmania from Melbourne or Sydney? If it's Melbourne stay there for a night close to St. Kilda and watch their huge penguin colony at day and night.  For Bicheno, you'll find more deals below (Tip: Click 'See all deals' and then bookmark the results):

Booking.com

 

AU Australia

The Betty's Bay Penguin Colony is a marvelous year-round destination, not only during the feeding/breeding season.

Best time to spot them is in the early morning or late in the afternoon when they return from fishing. Opening Hours: 7.30 a.m. until 5 p.m. last entry at 4.30 p.m.

Climate

Best weather conditions with very few precipitation from October until March. Most rainfall from from May until September.

ZA South Africa

The Pohatu Marine Reserve is an incredible place to watch these cute little penguins up close with all needed protection. They come ashore in the evening before and after sunset to feed their chicks. Usually, there isn't any little penguin in the bay from mid-February to the end of April. It's mother nature and not hundred percent predictable. The details shall give you just an idea if it's worth to try or not. 

  • The first penguins arrive here end of April or May and more in June.
  • Breeding season from late August until the end of December and moulting penguins until mid-February.
  • End of February the little blue penguins have already left Flea Bay. 
     
Weather

The summer from December to March has pleasant temps around 20 °C and up to 30 °C. January and February are the warmest while February and September are the driest months. The wettest months are during winter from June to August. However, be prepared for four seasons in one day.

NZ New Zealand

Every evening guided tours are offered at Low Head. You spot a higher number of Penguins during the main breeding season from November to February: At this time of the year, you may see 100-200 penguins at high tide and on the new moon. The little blue penguins have to walk smaller distances to their nests at high tide. From March to October considerably less than 100 penguins come ashore.

Tourist Crowds

More visitors during summer from December to February. The people get separated in smaller groups on the tours. Fewer tourists in winter and spring but fewer penguins to spot.

AU Australia