Activities group of Emperor penguins in Antarctica

Published on January 15th, 2020 | by Daniel Nikulin

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PENGUINS! Where & how to see penguins in their natural habitats

From their adorable waddle to their admirable parenting, penguins are perhaps the most beloved of all birds. What they may lack in grace, they more than make up for with an animated, almost comedic disposition that’s hard to resist, depicted in countless cartoons, children’s stories and even an Oscar-winning documentary. 

January 20th is Penguin Awareness Day, marked to celebrate the plight of these endearing creatures whose numbers have been quietly dwindling at an alarming rate for years.     

Hey, we all love penguins, and tours to visit colonies around the world are some of the most popular excursions booked. From Australia’s dainty Fairies to Antarctica’s majestic Emperors, here is where and how to best see penguins in their natural habitats.    

  

South Africa

Cape Town’s beautiful Boulders Beach is one of South Africa’s most visited beaches, and the only place in the world where you can get close to African Penguins. Now part of the Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area, the beach and its surroundings are clean and the penguins protected. While the water is quite chilly, don’t be surprised to find children splashing about as penguins swim among them. 

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Here, sturdy wheelchair-friendly boardwalks wind their way through dunes offering great viewing spots while also accommodating nesting penguins and their chicks. Penguins often come within touching distance but visitors are not allowed to touch or feed them, even those that waddle up to the parking lot. Boulders Beach can be accessed by Cape Town’s public transit, a private vehicle or as part of an escorted tour, like the Splendours of South Africa & Victoria Falls with Globus, where a trip out to Boulders Beach is an included activity.

Did you know?

The Boulders Beach penguin colony started in 1982 by one crowd-pleasing couple that settled on the soft sand between large granite boulders for protection from the wind and the waves. Today, the population is estimated at between 2,000 and 3,000 birds. Sadly, the African Penguin is now classified as an endangered species. 

 

Falkland Islands

Another of the non-Arctic environments where you can see penguins in their natural habitat is the remote and beautiful Falkland Islands. Of the almost twenty different species of penguin, five can be found here, including the Magellan (King) and Macaroni, the classic tuxedo-wearing Gentoo, and Rockhopper varieties famous for their spiky headdress. 

A couple of Gentoo penguins returning from the sea

The islands are easier than ever to get to and a rewarding destination for anyone into history and the region’s rich assortment of bird and marine life, plenty of penguins among them. Princess Cruises offers a selection of cruises stopping in the capital, Port Stanley, with bookable excursions to visit different species in their natural environment – like this one!

SOUTH AMERICA & PATAGONIA 15-NIGHT CRUISE SANTIAGO TO BUENOS AIRES

Galapagos Islands

Come meet the second smallest penguin species in the world and the only one found in the Northern Hemisphere. With wings that have evolved into flippers (true of all penguins), Galapagos penguins are agile swimmers, highly adapted to life in the water where they spend half their lives. Nowhere is their aquatic prowess better-observed firsthand than in the waters of the protected Galapagos Islands, where swimming alongside these magnificent creatures is an experience you’ll never forget.

Lone Galapagos penguin on a rock

With a range of itineraries aboard the specially-built Celebrity Flora, Celebrity Cruises offers sailings visiting the western islands (Fernandina and Isabela) where most penguin colonies are found.

Did you know?

Although all penguins are aquatic, smaller species don’t dive deep, catching prey near the surface in dives that normally last a minute or two. Larger penguins, however, do dive deep, with Emperor penguins recorded at depths of almost 2,000 ft on dives that can last for over 20 minutes!

 

Australia

The Land Down Under boasts many irresistible creatures, including the smallest penguin of them all. Sometimes referred to as Fairy penguins, Little penguins (or Little Blue penguins) reside on Australia’s southern coast and on New Zealand’s South Island. These pint-sized pretties grow to an average of just 13 inches but pack maximum cuteness into their tiny blue frames. 

Little Blue penguin group coming ashore

From Melbourne, join On The Go Tours on Phillip Island for one of Australia’s most popular attractions. The nightly Penguin Parade on Summerland Beach features a dazzling display of Little Penguins returning ashore after a day’s fishing, waddling up the beach to their homes in the sand dunes. This magical procession is witnessed from tiered viewing stands and boardwalks, offering a glimpse into their penguin lives in their natural habitat.     

Did you know?

To move on land, penguins either waddle on their feet or slide on their bellies across snow (or sand), using their feet to steer and to propel themselves in a movement called ‘tobogganing’. Some, like the Rockhopper penguin, jump with both feet together to move more quickly or to cross rocky terrain.

 

Antarctica

For an adventure beyond words, visit Antarctica, the world’s most remote wilderness and home to vast colonies of Emperor penguins. Standing nearly 4-feet tall and weighing up to 100 lbs, Emperor penguins are the largest of the lot, and truly a sight to behold. Here, during harsh winters, females trek to the sea to fish for food leaving males to brave the elements with their offspring. Masses of males and their chicks often huddle together to keep warm, rotating to give everyone a turn in the warm centre, all beautifully documented in the award-winning film March of the Penguins.  

Emperor penguin with chicks in Antarctica

Experience Antarctica with G Adventures and their immersive 21-day voyage, Spirit of Shackleton. Recounting Shackleton’s famous explorations, visit important historical sites, the Falkland Islands (more penguins!) and Shackleton’s final resting place, the island of South Georgia. Here, as in the Galapagos Islands, penguins have no fear of humans and often approach them. While tourists are instructed not to get closer than 9 feet, you can stay put if the penguins come closer.     

Did you know?

Penguins form lasting monogamous relationships that include homosexual coupling. One such same-sex family became a worldwide sensation after being observed at the New York Zoo, resulting in a popular children’s book And Tango Makes Three. 

 

Penguins have been around for over 65 million years. With new pressures and an ever-changing environment, their numbers have been steadily declining in recent years. If the zoo just isn’t enough for you, why not pay them a visit? 

 

All of the above tours are available through our Expert Travellers. Visit us in-store, chat us or book your tour or cruise by calling 1877 967 5302 today.

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About the Author

Daniel Nikulin

Daniel Nikulin turned his love of travel into a living and has worked for Flight Centre in various capacities since the late 90’s. Currently an in-house copywriter, Daniel uses his industry experience to bridge the gap between travel professional and professional traveller. When he’s not abroad with a pen in hand, he spends his time with his band and cat, Leroy.



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