Fourth annual Penguin Promises Waddle for a Week

  • March 20, 2014 | Gabby Harris

This year’s 120km Waddle for a Week journey, from Gansbaai to Simon’s Town, began on Sunday 9 March at the Great White House and Great White Shark holiday chalets.

The waddle is an awareness campaign in support of the endangered African penguin.

I believe it is essential that all great journeys start with a hearty dinner, shared concepts and stories, a few moments of reminiscence and reflection, and a good night’s rest in a comfortable bed. Our journey thus had a great start.

The following morning, after a carbo-loading breakfast, the core group of 16 waddlers set off from Gansbaai and were joined by some day volunteers and the ever-lovable Two Oceans Aquarium mascot, Sammy.
On that first day we managed to collect 575 hoots from passing motorists (in aid of raising awareness for the penguins). We were grateful for the opportunity to share our message with local and national media, as well as a number of enthusiastic folk we met along the way.

uShaka Sea World waddlers Gabby Harris, Varsha Naidu, Tracy Shaw and Anna Marais

The first day’s highlight was gate-crashing a school soccer match and receiving great enthusiasm for our campaign from the learners.

For many of our waddlers, 20km is the furthest they have ever walked, yet their energy levels stayed high throughout the day. Home for the night was in Stanford, and as I closed my eyes I thought about the honour of spending another five days in the company of such amazing people, all putting one step in front of the other for the greater good of the planet.

Day two was wet – 24km of mostly drizzle. We woke up to a chilly morning and aching muscles, particularly those who had not trained (as was apparent by their slightly diminished smiles). However, the aches and pains were soon forgotten as the hoot brigade became fine-tuned – despite the rain we once again achieved way more hoots than in previous years (the waddle is more widely known now that it is in its fourth year).

At the end of day two, we walked into a soaking Hermanus with smiles on our faces, thinking about the promised Epsom Salt soak in the Windsor Hotel baths.

As is tradition on day three, we walked in silence most of the way from Hermanus to just before Kleinmond. This can be hard, especially for those who are not used to long distances. Aches and pains are louder in your head without the distraction of voices. The silence gives all the opportunity to reflect on why they are doing the waddle.

This intrepid team of waddlers chose to distract themselves by engaging with motorists the entire distance, and achieved a record numbers of hoots. The much-awaited and -anticipated traditional foot massage on the lawn of the Arabella Hotel & Spa was blissful. Nothing is nicer than freeing your feet from hot shoes and sweaty socks after walking non-stop for five hours.

The Grail cottages were our home for the night and it did not take long before we were enjoying the luxury offered to our tired and sore bodies.

It was a perfect spot: rustic, quiet, beautiful and focused on green living.

Some giggles

As we ate takeaway pizza, we shared our highlights of the day, which included the “bush pee” giggle – two waddlers only noted after relieving themselves in a neatly tucked away flora alcove that the fence beyond their butts was covered by CCTV. Apologies to all who witnessed that. The hoot count on day three was a not-too-shabby 987.

Thursday was day four of our journey, and as we left for Betty's Bay we calmed our angry muscles and tired toes with thoughts of soon being among the African penguins. These endangered birds are the reason for our journey.

While walking, each waddler used the time to renew his/her reasons for living environmentally conscious lives, and to choose a new promise.

The nearly 30km that day felt like a breeze – even when we were joined by 30 fit staff members from the Harold Porter National Botanical Garden and CapeNature. It was wonderful witnessing in-situ and ex-situ conservationists working together towards a common goal.

High-spirited waddlers on the first day

The highlight of day four was Stony Point, my favourite place on earth: surrounded by penguins, how could life get any better? What an honour it is to do whatever we can for these precious animals. And the amazing moment of the day was that the first chick of the season hatched on that day and has been named Waddle. The day’s hoot count was another record. We had set a target of more than 5 000 hoots for the entire waddle, but changed our target to 7 000.

Day five was a late, comfortable lie-in at the Aandkoor and Bucaco Sud guest houses. This after an awesome dinner at the Harold Porter National Botanical Garden, where the chef made a special menu that included water with herbs to assist the waddlers recuperate.

All these little details, too many to recount, made the week miraculous and wonderful.

We then drove to Strand to start our next leg, and were accompanied by the Equestrian Academy school. This is the first time this leg of the waddle has had company, and the school kids added amazing energy to buoy our tired legs. They stood at the end of our route and waited for 70 further hoots so we could reach a record 1 000 hoots in only 10km.

The kids definitely went away enthused and empowered.

It was then a drive to spend the afternoon lazing in Muizenberg in the Surfers Corner and backpackers’ accommodation – much welcome lazing.

Day six was our final day, and we were joined by a huge crowd for our 9am start.

The walk was 15km, and once again was abuzz with chatter from the people who joined us en route.
As we turned into Boulders Beach with slow steps, the waddlers all agreed that the end of such a magnificent waddle was bittersweet. We had our celebratory sip of champagne and then walked on to the swimming beach.

There I took my traditional dip in the ocean among the penguins and felt like the luckiest person on the planet to be around these amazing creatures. It was a sobering thought to realise that on our waddle we had encountered 20% of the total African penguin population.

The waddle is probably one of my favourite weeks of the year. Like Christmas, it is a time where I am surrounded by people who say, “YES!” They ask what they can do and are doing it.

I feel so blessed to be around these people, and feel so blessed that SAAMBR supports this special and different conservation initiative.
On our waddle this year we had private individuals, people who work in tourism, media specialists, a representative from CapeNature and another from SANCCOB. Then there were keepers from Two Oceans Aquarium and staff from uShaka Sea World.

I feel that the conversations that started our inaugural waddle are starting to bear fruit – and not a moment too soon. The penguins need us.

Waddlers leaving Hermanus on day two

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