Two Oceans Aquarium, Cape Town, South Africa

Posted on
Feb 11, 2013

I have a little bit of psychotic episode every time I go to an aquarium.

Part of me is thinking, “You should not be here. You are in some amazing part of the world that few people get to visit, and you should be out seeing unusual and unique things and not staring, slack-jawed, at the same fish you could see at any aquarium, anywhere.”

But a slightly larger part of me is thinking, “OMG. FISHIES.”

And that part always wins out. It’s why I visit so many damn aquariums. How many? Well, enough that I don’t tell you about all of them. That’s right, kids: I keep some things to myself. Like the fact that I’m an aquarium-loving nut.

Plus, you know what? Aquariums are great for jet-lag. I’m actually thinking of heading out to Seattle’s local fish prison (located conveniently on the waterfront, so if anyone plans to make a Nemo-style breakout, they’d not have far to go), since my South Africa trip is still wreaking havoc on my circadian rhythms.

And speaking of South Africa, the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town is quite nice.

I mean, it’s not life-changing nice. It’s certainly not the Monterey Bay Aquarium, or anything like that. And if you had only one day in Cape Town, I wouldn’t advise that you spend it there because there’s so much else to see.

But the thing is, the Two Oceans Aquarium has penguins.


You guys. I flipping love penguins. I’ve wanted a pet penguin since Eleanor got one in The Chipmunk Adventure (parenthetically, the Wikipedia entry about that movie has been flagged for being “too excessively detailed”. Isn’t life amazing? There are actually people who have time to write up a plot summary of The Chipmunk Adventure on Wikipedia, and there are other people who have the time to flag that plot summary as being too detailed. And there are people like me, who have time to write about it all.)

Did you know that penguins don’t just live in cold climates? Africa actually has indigenous penguins. That’s right: in addition to baboons and cheetahs and elephants, Africa gets penguins, too.

So, it’s basically the most magical place in the world, ever.

Two Oceans has about a dozen or so African penguins. Several of them are rescues, while others are the offspring of captive birds. And they are filthy little buggers.

This guy was walking around, covered in his own crap, like it ain’t no thing. No one else seemed to notice, either.

He’s like the R Kelly of birds.

They were were smelly and silly and incredibly chill. Since they’re used to their handlers, they don’t mind people at all. You can get pretty up close and personal.

But you have to resist the urge to pet them, or climb over the little railing so you can hang out with them.

See? They aren’t even afraid of Joel.


The aquarium frowns on that sort of thing. Except during their Penguin Encounter, when you can do all of that stuff (sadly, this was not an option for us during our visit, as the penguins were molting. But it brings me joy to know that you can cuddle with the stinky little brood of them).

At some point, their caretaker, pictured above, explained that the birds were trained with positive reinforcement. She asked how we as humans positively reinforced behaviors in children.

I suggested candy. She stared at me, horrified.

“No, no, no. We use affirming words and affection as positive reinforcement,” she said. “Not candy.” She then went on to joke that she hoped I didn’t have children.

Seriously, if I had a nickel for every time someone prayed I wasn’t a parent … I’d have enough to buy more candy.

Anywho, African penguins are not the only variant of the overdressed bird at the aquarium. Two Oceans also has rockhopper penguins. They aren’t native to Africa (the nearest populations are some 2000 km away), and it’s believed that these birds were caught and kept on large fishing boats illegally, and then dumped off the coast of Cape Town. They can’t be returned home for fear of introducing illnesses to their native populations, so after they were rehabilitated, they just stayed at the aquarium.

There’s a penguin viewing gallery that’s half underwater, so during feeding time you can watch them dart in and out of the water.

Rockhoppers have always creeped me out, just a little. They look kind of angry, and the feathers protruding over their eyes make them seem a little menacing. Like that one guy from DuneSo it pleases me immensely to say that I was able to get a good look at them at Two Oceans. And after seeing them up close and personal like that, you know what I realized?

They are still really creepy.


There’s more to see at the the aquarium than just penguins, of course.

They have an entire exhibit dedicated to clown fish, that they’ve rather endearingly labeled as “Nemos”.

Someone in the marketing department of Disney is probably cackling like a fiend at the thought of this. We should probably start bowing to our mouse overload right now.

There are stingrays …

And urchins …

And anemones …

Plus there’s one of those tunnel things that you can walk through with your sweetie …

Good heavens, we look tired, don’t we?

There was lots more, of course, but I was dealing with some brutal jet-lag, so I don’t really remember much of it. Except for the penguins …

And really, how could anyone forget them?


The Essentials on Two Oceans Aquarium, Cape Town, South Africa

  • Verdict: Yes, with caveats – there’s loads to do in Cape Town, so I’m reluctant to tell you to spend a day indoors at an aquarium. But if you have a free afternoon and you love aquatic life (or you’re just too jet-lagged to do anything else), this place is perfect.
  • How to Get There: Cabs are ridiculously cheap in South Africa, so you can take one from your hotel to the Waterfront without too much trouble. Just make sure there’s a meter, or that you agree on a fare beforehand. Or see if your hotel offers a shuttle service.
  • Ideal for: penguin lovers, families, and the jet-lagged.
  • Insider tips: check ahead for when the penguin feeding times are, and see if the Penguin Encounter is open during your visit. You can even book a shark dive.
  • Nearby food: the waterfront is close by, and there’s loads of options. Some of them are a little touristy, but the food is still solid, and the prices are still pretty reasonable (we went to a place called Moyo, which was pretty solid).
  • Good for kids: Absolutely. This place was crawling with little urchins (of both the aquatic and human variety). There are lots of exhibits that are perfect for kids, including plenty of hands-on stuff. 

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