What does it take to convince a 50-something, not-particularly-exercise-oriented dad to wake up at sparrow’s fart on a Saturday morning and walk 15 kilometres with his over-eager daughter? Turns out, not that much – just the promise of snacks, world-class banter with his daughter (hey that’s me) and the knowledge that all that sweat and pavement-pounding would be for a good cause apparently did the trick.
The cause in question was the Penguin Promises Waddle for a Week (affectionately known as the #Waddle2017 on social media), a 130 kilometre (plus), 6-day walk from Gaansbaai to Simonstown. Each day, 16 penguin-lovers walked (waddled?) roughly 15 to 30 kilometres to raise awareness about the critically endangered African penguin species (yip, penguins don’t just hang out in frosty regions, slipping on ice, hopping about and just generally being silly-cute. Here in South Africa, we have a unique species of penguin all to ourselves, one that’s endemic to our sandy, temperate shores) and the importance of conserving our natural world. The route took them along busy coastal roads, and, as they waddled, they brandished bright yellow signs encouraging motorists to “Hoot for Penguins” and support the cause. They got to make new friends, facilitate education outreach programmes at schools, to pay a visit to Stony Point (which plays host to one of the most swiftly growing African penguin colonies in the Western Cape) and collect some blisters on their feet…all for the love of these charismatic birds and marine conversation.
I say this like I was there. I wasn’t.
I’ve just spent the last couple of months volunteering at SANCCOB (the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds, which is a registered NPO based in South Africa that works tirelessly each day to rescue and rehabilitate African penguins and other seabirds) and got to follow along with the waddlers on social media. But, then the Waddle for a Week participants invited the public to join them for the last 15km leg of their journey and I was there like a bear.
I’ve been wanting to do a multi-day slack packing route for ages and, while I’m still working on making that one happen, taking part in the final 15km stretch of the Waddle gave me a tiny taste of what it might be like. And, doing so for a cause as close to my heart as marine conservation was the literal cat’s pyjamas (or penguin’s tuxedo…no?).
I wasn’t sure I’d be able to smash out a casual 15km on a Saturday morning, but, really, thoughts of distance (and whether or not I’d fall apart along the way) hardly crossed my mind. There were too many things to focus on. Putting one foot in front of the other, for starters. When you’re prone to tripping over things that aren’t there/your own feet this is of top priority. And, soon enough, I settled into a rhythm of just continuously putting one foot in front of the other until I stopped thinking about it, and chatting to my dad about life (long distance walks will do that to you), all the while being egg-ed on by the good vibes and big hearts of my fellow walkers, who were again brandishing their yellow “HOOT FOR PENGUINS” signs. I noticed my dad give a good-natured flinch every time the passing cars blared their horns with joyful abandon – I don’t think he realised he’d signed himself up for three-and-a-half hours of constant hooting. It did make for a festive morning, though.
The coastal views were also (thankfully) immensely distracting. The 15km journey took us along a length of Cape Town coast strikingly edged by the Southern line of the railway track. Our morning began on Muizenberg Beach, where we met our fellow walkers at a famous spot called Surfer’s Corner. The morning was crisp and cold, with a thin golden mist still lingering on the horizon. The mist disappeared and the morning brightened as we walked through the towns dotted along the Southern line, each one perched on the side of the mountain and watching over the calm, blue waters of False Bay.
The towns appear to blend into one another, and they’re all as cliche-cute and charming as one would expect small fishing villages to be. But, as I continued to pound the pavement at a steady pace, I noticed each town has it owns special brand of “quaint”.
While the colourful line of beach houses form the focal point of the seemingly endless stretch of sand that is Muizenberg Beach, St James also has a similar row of photogenic houses that reflect in the tidal pool below. This pool is a popular sun rise swimming spot for the locals, and I spotted one such local as we waddled post, his eyes bright and his skin browned by sun and wrinkled by age (one of the surest signs of a life well lived).
A walk along the entire length of Kalk’s Bay’s main street reminded me that this dynamic little spot is more than just vibrant fishing trawlers, seafood, friendly-ish seals and a lighthouse (although there are all those things too). There’s the intoxicating scent of freshly baked goods and coffee-on-the-brew floating out of Kalk Bay’s many inviting cafes (ugh I love cafe’s so much), art galleries, a small theatre housed in a heritage-protected building that was built back in 1876 and the Ice Cafe – a glass-fronted ice-cream parlour where I once dropped a scoop of Peppermint Crisp on the tiled ground as a child (a genius from the very beginning I tell you).
While zigzagging across the buzzing streets of Fish Hoek, my dad pointed out the renowned men’s clothing store AP Jones, which has stood in the exact same spot since 1928. I also got fully distracted by the fish and chips shop and the glorious aromas of vinegar and oil and deliciousness floating on the sea breeze (I’ve been obsessed with fish and chips lately). Actually, I blame that fish and chips shop for the beginnings of my hunger grumps, which lasted the rest of the way (thanks for nothing).
Simon’s Town marked the beginning of the end of our almost three-and-a-half hour excursion, by which time I’ll admit the call for coffee was very strong and my ankles and knees were starting to feel a bit rickety (though I would never have admitted it at the time). The town’s main road is lined by tall, historic buildings reminiscent of the Victorian era, some strung with bunting and enticing me to return one day to explore the area further (there are also many cute cafes which, as we know by now, is ALWAYS a good thing). Most importantly, though, Simon’s Town is home to Boulders Beach – famous for those picturesque granite boulders “scattered” on the sandy shores, and for its significant African penguin colony. There are five main breeding sites for African penguins in the Western Cape and, along with Stony Point, Boulders Beach is one of them.
As our journey – and, even more significantly, that of the 16 Waddle for a Week participants – came to a celebratory end, I spotted an African penguin chick and its parent nesting on the edge of the colony. While thoughts of lunch were ALMOST overwhelming my brain, I was again reminded not only of the importance of raising awareness about protecting our African penguins and endemic wildlife in general, but also of the positive outcome of actions such as the Waddle for a Week and organisations like SANCCOB and Penguin Promises.
At the end of the day, when asked whether he felt good about his morning contribution, my dad mostly just smiled at me in that way he does when he knows he has to give me an answer I want to hear. I like to think he meant it (although could have also been the post-15km yolo-let’s-eat-ALL-THE-FOOD lunch he’d just inhaled). I, on the other hand, truly loved all 15 of those kilometres – the spirit of the event and everyone who took part (including the hooters), the contradictory scenes of industrial railway tracks vs pristine oceans, the banter and quality time with my dad and even the achy legs. It left me feeling as warm and fuzzy as that African penguin chick surely was.
Watch this space for more posts about my time as a volunteer at SANCCOB.
Until next time. xx