The ferry ride to the island takes up to 45 minutes each way. Bring appropriate medication if you are prone to seasickness. Travel to and from the island by ferry is highly dependent on weather; poor weather conditions can delay arrival on the island, or can require us to leave the island a day or more early. This is a particular risk during winter months (June—August).
On the island, you’ll ride in a bakkie (small pickup); often in the back of the truck without safety restraints. Stay seated on the floor of the truck bed and hold on to the sides at all times. Participants are not permitted to drive.
You will usually walk on dirt roads and tracks with reasonably flat surfaces. However, in other places you may have to navigate penguin burrows or loose stones. Please walk slowly and carefully over uneven terrain. If you have unsure footing, we advise you to use a walking stick or hiking pole to avoid slipping and injury.
You’ll find rusty barbed wire (remnants from the prison) throughout parts of the colony. Please pay attention to your surroundings and be sure your tetanus vaccination is up to date before you arrive. Wear long pants and appropriate footwear (e.g., hiking boots) when walking through long brush and grass to avoid scratches. Some tasks are done along the shoreline which means walking on rocks and loose stones or sand.
Project staff will instruct you on proper handling techniques to avoid injury to you or animals. Penguins can inflict painful bites, so we will provide protective gloves. Always take care and wear goggles when handling penguins; if frightened, penguins may attempt to peck your hand, arms, face, or eyes.
Mole snakes inhabit some parts of the island—while they are non-venomous and generally docile, they may bite painfully. They are large snakes, and may startle some volunteers. Under no circumstances should you disturb or attempt to handle them.
Wild African bees also live on the island. If you are allergic to stings, you must note this on your Earthwatch Participation Form and inform project staff in the field. Please also carry necessary medications and inform staff of their location.
Most project work happens outdoors, so sunburn, dehydration, and other heat-related illnesses are risks. Please wear high-factor sunscreen, dress appropriately, and wear a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses. Carry and drink plenty of water throughout the day. Take rest breaks as needed, and inform a staff member if feeling tired or ill.
Vegetation on the island is very dry; especially March to May so there is a high risk of bush fire due to careless behavior, such as smoking in the veld (open areas covered with scrub and grasses). Project staff will instruct you on how to avoid this risk. Smoking is not allowed in the field or in the team house; smoking is permitted only in designated areas outside of the house.
If you will be traveling in urban areas in South Africa before and/or after the expedition, we advise you to stay alert and use sensible precautions. Avoid dark areas, don’t walk alone at night, and do not obviously display cash, cameras, or jewelry. It is always good practice to leave any unnecessary valuables at home.
Distance from Medical Care
As the ferry to and from Robben Island is highly dependent on weather, poor weather conditions can lead to delays in access to medical care. If you have a chronic condition which may require immediate medical care (e.g. heart conditions, kidney problems, severe asthma, etc.), or if you are pregnant, please discuss your participation on this expedition with your physician. The hospital on the mainland is approximately 10 km away; 25 minutes by helicopter (may not always be available), longer by boat (approx. 90 minutes once onboard). Both take time to arrange.