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Cape Town Wildlife V

This is the fifth post in my monthly series on the fascinating nature I encounter here in South Africa.

In our mission to look for more whales (you may remember we spotted a whale’s tail last month!), we decided to take a day trip to Hermanus, a small coastal town 120km east of Cape Town, and supposedly the best place for land-based whale-watching in the world.

En route, we stopped at Stony Point, which is home to one of the only three land-based penguin colonies in South Africa. It’s a natural colony of wild penguins, but it has been fenced in to protect the penguins from leopard attacks, and there’s a boardwalk so that the clumsy humans don’t stomp on the penguin nests.

Stony Point, South Africa

(I’ll put a jump in here – this is a long post so feel free to skip the rest if you’ve just come for the crafts and don’t like nature!)

Before we even got to see any penguins, we spotted a dassie (a treat for me because I’ve been waiting to spot one since we first moved here). Their proper name is rock hyrax – dassie is their South African name – and, although they look a bit like guinea pigs or groundhogs, hyrax aren’t rodents: their closest living relatives are actually elephants and manatees, believe it or not!


Dassies are well adapted to living on rocks and mountains; their feet have rubbery pads with sweat glands so they can grip and climb steep rock surfaces. This one, however, preferred to roll around on his back and eat all the yellow flowers in sight 🙂


We turned around, and there they were: penguins!

african penguins

These are African Penguins, also known as Jackass Penguins. I can confirm that their call sounds exactly like a donkey braying – it’s hilarious!

african penguins

I’m sure you’ve seen penguins in zoos and aquaria, but it is nothing like seeing penguins in the wild.

swimming african penguins
They swim and preen in the sea…

african penguin
…then they hop onto the rocks and jump and waddle back to the colony.

african penguins
We saw penguins in all stages: adult (centre), juvenile (front and right), adult moulting plumage (back), immature moulting plumage (left)…

baby african penguin
…and little fluffy brown penguins in their nests/burrows.

There were hundreds of penguins! And they leave the sweetest tracks in the sand:

african penguin tracks

Stony Point is also home to a massive colony of cormorants:

cormorant colony

The weather was hot and sunny, and, after a while, we started to notice lizards sunning themselves on the rocks:

cape girdled lizard

These (above and below) are Cape Girdled Lizards. They are about 6″ long. Look at their spiky tails!

cape girdled lizard

And these (below) are Southern Rock Agamas (about 9″ long). The male looks amazing and chameleon-like with his bright blue head, but the female is so drab you can hardly see her. (She’s facing down in this pic, with her tail sticking up behind the male.)

southern rock agama lizards

For all his size and colouring, the Agama was totally intimidated by the Girdled Lizard, who kept chasing him away! They were lightning fast but I did manage to grab a pic for you:

cape girdled lizard and southern rock agama

What an amazing day! And then we remembered we hadn’t even got to the reason for our adventure: whale-spotting! On to Hermanus…

Hermanus, South Africa

Yes, it was beautiful. We found a patch of grass to sit on, and prepared for a long wait, but we spotted our first whale within minutes! We watched for about an hour and saw at least 8, and probably more, whales. It’s hard to tell exactly how many we saw, because they stay mostly submerged and you may be looking at the fins of two whales, or a fin and a tail of one… And we think they were all Southern Right Whales, but, again, it’s hard to be sure when all you see is a bit of black sticking up out of the water – there could have been a migrating Humpback in there too. Southern Right whales are distinguishable by big white callosities (rough patches) on their heads.

I really can’t convey the experience through these pictures, but seeing these giant mammals in the sea, swimming and playing and jumping, is, literally, awesome. At least the photos are proof that we really saw them!

southern right whales
L: fin, R: head (this one kept jumping up out of the water!)

southern right whales
a long back

southern right whales
a tail and a head – must be two whales (or one very limber whale!)

southern right whales
three whales?

southern right whales
a big raised flipper at the back, and at least one whale at the front

Whales, penguins, blue-headed lizards, rock-climbing furry elephant relatives – I can hardly believe we saw all of this in one long, tiring, magical day. I hope you enjoyed my photos! Please leave me a comment if you did…


  1. Marina said

    I just found this page when googling ‘hyrax amigurumi’. Thanks for sharing these wonderful pictures (and the non-dassie ones are nice too).

    If you ever design an amigurumi dassie, I’d love to try and make it…

    • June said

      A Dassie design is on my Commissions List – if you’d like to see a pattern, please feel free to pledge towards its commission!

  2. Wilda said

    Thank you for your photographs and explanations, June. How fortunate you are to be living there now. May I ask what brought you to Cape Town ,South Africa ?

  3. Steve said

    Hi June
    Why don’t you write a book about the wildlife you’ve seen showing pictures of the crochet animals you design alongside their real life counterparts. I think they are fantastic wildlife fotos

  4. Arwen said

    I just found your blog. What fun. I love the dassie on its back picture. I am a very basic crocheter (I do granny squares mostly–lol) so this blog is a great find for me.

  5. Gillian McMullen said

    I love your nature blogs, June, they’re wonderful, and you’re such a good photographer. Please keep them coming. Could there be an amigurumi Dassie in our future?? A blue Agama? Thanks so much for posting this!

  6. April Dorlarque said

    I absolutely love all of it. The Dassis (sp?), the lizards, the penguins, the whales. All of it. It’s almost all as beautiful as your crochet/art. As always, love reading/seeing – I’m living vicariously through you and still enjoying your crochet~ can’t wait to see more!

  7. Jana said

    Wonderful post! I love all of the pictures! Especially the Dassie and Lizards!

  8. Julie said

    oh this is so cool! Especially the wild penguins! It looks like they’re wearing pink eye shadow! 😛

  9. I really enjoyed this post. Thank you so much.

  10. Margarida Amaro said

    very beautiful.

  11. I can’t decide which pics I like better: the dassie or the penguins! Wish I could visit there one day.

  12. Judy Carlson said

    I love this post. I love seeing all of these wonderful cute beasts!

  13. Meg P said

    I just love these posts — I can’t say I’m glad you moved to South Africa (I wish you still shipped from Canada!), but I do really love these posts. I would probably jump out of my skin if I saw one of these lizards in my yard, but they look lovely in your pics. Thanks, June — and keep it up!

  14. Susan said

    You are right, such a magical day that you captured!! Thank you so much for sharing and I agree with Kris, wish I was there.

    I just returned from my first ever trip to Hawaii and besides all the lush landscape, saw two giant turtles swimming in the ocean.

    • June said

      Awww, how wonderful – I love Hawaii, and I love sea turtles! I just looked up flights to Hawaii and it would take 3 long flights to get me there now (via London and San Francisco)… I’d better be content with the wildlife here for the forseeable future – luckily there’s enough to keep me going for a while 😉

  15. Trekky said

    Wow these pictures are fantastic! The rock hydrax is so cute, I love the picture of it rolling around on its back. And so many penguins too! I find them so comical looking. Could you get quite close to the hydrax / penguins?

    • June said

      The hyrax were a bit scaredy – we actually saw 3 or 4, but the others were either too far away or ran and hid too quickly to photograph. The penguins were much bolder – I suspect visitors must have been feeding bits of fish to them, because one came very close and just stood there, looking expectant! I could have reached down and touched his head, but I didn’t want to scare him 🙂

  16. kris said

    i have been waiting for these pictures!!!! worth the wait but i would have rather been sitting next to you!

  17. Theresa said

    Wow! Totally awesome pictures!! Love the wildlife! How lucky are U? Thanks so much for sharing…. 🙂

  18. Carina said

    Love the photos, June!! I want to see whales too..!

    I think you should get a camera lens that’s appropriate for whale spying! 😉

    • June said

      I agree! There’s just one problem: I use my point and shoot for the wildlife pics because it has an 18x zoom and I can keep it in my handbag when I’m not using it. To get a better lens than that for my DSLR I’d need one of those huge, thousands of dollars, lenses, and even if I could afford one of those, there’s no way I’m going to make myself a target by carrying it around in South Africa!

  19. MorganAdel said

    Seeing such a variety of wildlife in the wild is like an amazing dream! Thank you for sharing!

  20. wrchili said

    So awesome! I wish I lived close to someplace with wildlife like that!

  21. Kathleen said

    What amazing pictures! I love the Dassie! And of course, the penguins. I’m so excited for you to be living in such an incredible place. Thanks for sharing your photos!

  22. Sali said

    Lovely! That dassie is so darn cute! New pattern perhaps?

  23. Stacey Trock said

    So amazing!!! You must be getting so inspired 🙂

    • June said

      Absolutely! My next design will be related to one of the animals in this post 🙂

  24. Lindy said

    What an adventure! Brilliant photos, and thanks for all the explanations. Really interesting.
    Love, Lindy xx

  25. Beautiful photos with a LOT of wildlife! Those lizards look a lot like your crocheted ones to me.

    I never heard of a hyrax – it is cute, and very surprising to me that it’s not a rodent!

    • June said

      Apparently hyrax are only found in Africa and the Middle East – I’d never heard of them before we moved, either!

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