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Mon Dec 22 19:44:11 SAST 2014

It's strictly for the birds

Andrea Nagel | 06 March, 2013 01:01

Formalities are observed at the Stony Point African Penguin colony in Betty's Bay in the shadow of the Western Cape's Kogelberg mountains. Day or night, the birds are always dressed up in classic black and white tuxedos.

 Designed to be bullets in the water, on land they waddle awkwardly, flipper-wings held out for balance - making their common name, "African Jackass" more appropriate.

It's a busy Sunday on the boardwalk that confines gawking tourists from disturbing the birds.

It's a little penguin village and they waddle in pairs up and down the dusty paths.

Signs name the areas they frequent. Hard Rock Cafe is a particularly busy spot, and at The Crossing a group is standing underneath the wooden slats to get some shade.

We peer through the planks to get the up-close-and-personal view that our R10 entrance fee has paid for.

There are penguins everywhere and the smell of their guano is thick.

They seem to thrive on the jagged rocks on the water's edge, and yet they are an endangered species that could become extinct in the next 15 years.

According to marine biologist Dr Lorien Pichegru, from the Percy Fitzgerald Institute of African Ornithology, the population has dropped by 70% since 2004 because commercial fishermen have denuded the surrounding waters of sardines and anchovies - two of their main food sources.

Like two separate countries whose border policies have recently relaxed, the cormorants from the colony at the end of the boardwalk mix tentatively with the penguins.

Separated from the penguins by a little fence missing a border control office, the black birds collect on a rock and squawk loudly to each other. The penguins bellow in competition and the surrounding residents don't get any sleep.

The novelty of smartly dressed, waddling birds wandering through their gardens has worn off. For the tourists like me though, seeing penguins in their natural habitat is the best attraction Betty's Bay has to offer.

An hour from Cape Town, Betty's Bay is situated along the spectacular Clarence Drive (R44) between Rooiels and Kleinmond. Contact the Betty's Bay Marine Protected Area on 082-416-8683

KNIGHTMARE

WATCHING penguins catching fish can get your mouth watering for seafood. We expected to find a few good fish restaurants with a sea view in Betty's Bay. There don't seem to be any. But at the foot of the mountain in the heart of the small town we discovered Camelot, a castle with Coca-Cola flags flapping in the wind. It looks more like the set of Quentin Tarantino's Dusk Till Dawn than a place for hungry penguin viewers.

Camelot looks just like the castle on the beer label and, not surprisingly, they serve it on tap. I wish a cool Castle had been all we'd ventured into the turrets and ramparts for. Alas, we had no way of knowing that they kill enemies and strangers with seafood potjie and bad service.

The array of bikers and wolf-whistling surfer dudes should have been warning enough that the Michelin chef had long hence packed his bags. For novelty's sake, we thought we'd give the round table a chance. After attempting to eat soil-drenched, limp salad and seafood served in a heated-up mixture of mayonnaise and tomato sauce, we asked for our bill, hoping to escape before the bikers and surfers grew vampire teeth and hungrily attacked us. - Andrea Nagel

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