Goodbye 2017, Hello 2018 My Life 31 DEC 2017

I’m not sure what has happened to be honest, but I blinked and somehow 2017 appears to have come and gone. Being an adult, being married, being a parent to small kids, working full time (even if from home), playing a lot of video games, and heading out to explore each and every weekend sure seems to speed time up a fair bit! ;)

Consequently, any of the other things that I thought I would most definitely get around to in 2017, i.e. learn a new skill, get healthy, and perhaps socialize a bit more pretty much all fell by the wayside.

On that note, the blogging front didn’t fare all that much better – you probably noticed (if you are a longtime reader) that I didn’t exactly post a ton of new content this year. Honestly, I took (and enjoyed) a bit of a break from creating content, the result being that this was the year with by far the least amount of blog posts attributed to it since the site’s inception in 2007.

I’ll do better in 2018, promise.

It’s not like I don’t have content to post mind you. Tallying up the amount of photo folders linked to 2017 sitting in my Google Drive yields the number 137, of which only 66 have thus far made it onto An Exploring South African as one of my photo gallery posts.

In other words, plenty of local places worth visiting guaranteed to still to appear on these pages! (All that said, I did properly embrace Instagram this year and and have to admit, am totally loving it! No idea what I didn’t join the platform sooner. Facebook and Twitter on the other hand though? Meh. Couldn’t really be bothered with those two.)

In terms of the family, Emily had a fantastic year at the Vergeet-My-Nie playschool. She is clever, cute, mischievous, playful and super loving – everything you could wish for from a three (soon to be four) year old.

Jessica also had a fantastic year, with the repeat of Grade R at Gordon’s Bay Primary the absolute best decision that we ever could ever have made for her. Her emotional maturity has blossomed, both her work and work rate have improved, her physical conditioning and coordination is a lot better, she’s maintained her charming cheerfulness, and now she is SUPER excited (and ready) to tackle the big school of Grade 1 next year.

Chantelle took a pretty big step this year as well, abandoning her full time position at the Gordon’s Beach Lodge guest house in order to launch her very own Helderberg Cake Company venture. Of course, the loss of a monthly paycheck was/is nerve-wracking, but the wins stemming from the renewed job satisfaction and being based at home with consequently more time with the girls definitely makes this move well worth the while!

As for me, despite starting the year with a whole lot of good intentions, 2017 was a whole lot more of very much the same same as always.

Given that I enjoy being in charge of myself and more importantly the entire software solution that Touchwork sells (not to mention the perk of being allowed to work from home), I spent the year continuing to add to and refine my Kinetica platform – which has now been in constant development for a eight years or so!

This year I also got well and truly stuck into mobile development, with the end result being the dynamic Kinetica TouchandTell app (built using Appcelerator Titanium) being deployed to both the Google Play and Apple App stores.

(On that note, Touchwork actually enjoyed another pretty successful year, pulling in a lot of new USA-based clients, partnering up with some local selling partners, and even grabbing a new contract or two on our own out here in South Africa.)

Next year should be pretty exciting too for me in terms of development – we’re jumping head first into IoT devices and the SigFox network!

It wasn’t all work this year of course – as I mentioned at the start of this post, the girls and I went out exploring a LOT. Literally each and every weekend of 2017 saw us jump in the car and drive out somewhere (naturally, as is usually the case for me, most of it unplanned and usually very much spur of the moment), with the big family holiday up to Addo and Port Elizabeth through Oudtshoorn taking center stage back in July.

Outside of our local travels, I did find myself playing an inordinate amount of video games in my spare time this year, with Paladins being by far the game that sucked me in the most – so much so that I now actually play competitive ranked matches online, much to Chantelle’s amusement as she listens to me gripe about someone not picking either a support or front line character for the umpteenth time! ;)

I write these hello goodbye posts on an annual basis, and the “what is in store for the new year” section is almost always pretty rubbish (or better put, almost always completely wrong), however, that said, I really, really do need to improve my indoor/outdoor life balance in 2018 – meaning I suppose a lot less game time, less time sitting in my chair behind the keyboard, more time in the sun, and definitely more time in the gym (or at least on a yoga mat).

Well, that’s the plan anyway.

(I’m off to an okay start I suppose – I am now the owner of a brand new shiny gym membership here at our local Bay Fitness gym. True, I haven’t used it yet, but it is at least all mine.)

So. All in all, 2017 was pretty good year for Gordon’s Bay Lotter clan, definitely no complaints or any major problem on any of life’s fronts. That said, here’s to wishing for an even better and more prosperous 2018 for us all – a Happy New Year indeed!

Stony Point Penguins in Betty’s Bay (2017-05-06) Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 14 DEC 2017

There are only a few land-based African Penguin colonies in the world, with South Africa lucky enough to be home to two of these – the first being the famous (and tourist popular) Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town, and the second, the slightly lesser known Stony Point Nature Reserve in Betty’s Bay.

I’m particularly fond of the much quieter but equally as good Stony Point penguin colony, with its beautiful raised boardwalk that snakes through the penguin’s homes and breeding ground.

The compact reserve is home to a colony of African Penguins (who by now are quite acclimatized to the humans peering down at them from above), three species of cormorant (the Crowned cormorant, the Cape cormorant, and the Bank cormorant) that breed on the outer rocks, Harlaub’s Gulls and Kelp Gulls that forage in the colony, as well as a big troop of Rock Hyrax or as we locals like to call them, dassies.

The boardwalk gives you an excellent vantage point from which to watch the penguins go about their daily lives, and come breeding season it is particularly cute to watch the furry youngsters try and strut their stuff!

The colony lies on the site of the old Waaygat Whaling Station which was used to harvest and process whale meat in the early to mid 1900s. Although nearly no remnant of this industry remains in sight, there are plenty of signage boards dotted around in order to give you an idea as to the scale of the whale trade that used to happen here.

Cape Nature manages the nature reserve and there is a lot of very interesting bits and pieces of penguin-related information posted everywhere, making a visit quite educational if you want it to be. (As a bonus, the entrance fee is relatively nominal – making it a much cheaper visit than say a trip through to the comparable Boulder’s Beach.)

Also, there is now a small restaurant built alongside the parking area, useful if you have complaining kids which aren’t all that enamored with the super cute seabird action along with you. Pleasingly, this isn’t us.

We tend to visit this penguin colony at least once a year (more or less), and this year was no different, with Jessica and Emily joining me for a visit to the penguins back in May (all part of our larger day out and about in Rooi Els, Kleinmond and Betty’s Bay).

Pleasingly, for a change the wind stayed away, leaving only perfect weather for us to have to contend with…

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The surrounding landscape is quite pretty and there are plenty of opportunities for some great photos to be taken, making a visit to this well managed and relatively quiet nature reserve definitely worth the while!

Related Link: Stony Point Nature Reserve

Fishing for Lunch at Eikendal in Stellenbosch (2017-08-06) Photo Gallery | Restaurants 11 DEC 2017

You could of course travel to Eikendal in Raithby, lying along the R44 snug between Somerset West and Stellenbosch, in order to taste and buy their award winning wines. You could even be heading out that way to stay in one of the private terraced rooms of the Eikendal Lodge, or perhaps to try your hand at fly fishing in their trout stocked dams.

Most likely though, you are probably heading towards their distinctively styled entrance to grab a seat (either inside or out) at Cucina di Giovanni, more commonly referred to as Giovanni’s among the locals.

We didn’t actually know this, but it turns out that this restaurant is rather on the popular side, and even more pleasingly, produces some particularly delicious pizza – as we find out for ourselves with an impromptu visit there one Sunday afternoon back in August this year.

(Turns out, the place we were actually on our way out to, the nearby Vredenhof, is closed on Sundays).

Eikendal itself is really worth a visit though.

Obviously there is the traditional wine tasting and food pairing that happens at the Eikendal Tasting Centre, but then there are also tours of their distinctive barrel vaulted cellar, fishing with the onsite Winelands Fly Fishing outfit, upmarket food from Giovanni’s, mapped out vineyards walks, lush green lawns, and finally a small kids play area, to enjoy.

Also, the abundant views of the vineyards and mountains isn’t too shabby either.

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Chantelle, the kids and I rather enjoyed this impromptu visit, and given the fact that Eikendal lists Kiddies Tastings and Tractor Rides on their website, there is a more than reasonable chance of us returning for a more full experience sooner than later!

Related Link: Eikendal Wine Estate | Cucina di Giovanni | Giovanni’s Eikendal

Farmers Market at True Grit Bike Park in Sir Lowry’s Pass Village (2017-07-22) Markets | Photo Gallery 09 DEC 2017

If you are into mountain biking, trail running or hiking, then the True Grit Bike Park, tucked away at foot of the mountain alongside the Knorhoek Estate in Sir Lowry’s Pass Village, is most certainly somewhat of a hidden gem.

Having bounced back after the terrible loss incurred through the devastating fires that tore through the Knorhoek area a year or two ago, the True Grit Bike Park is a popular bike riding venue for both young and old, hosts numerous birthday parties and corporate events, and is now even home to its very own farmers market – aptly named the True Grit Farmers Market of course!

Chantelle and I had the opportunity to visit the True Grit Farmers Market back in July this year, taking advantage of a childless Saturday morning (the girls were sleeping over at one of the grandparents’ houses) to check out the new market for ourselves.

(In hindsight though, given how popular the children’s bike track looked, we should probably have dragged them along with us!)

At this stage the market was still pretty small, but given that this then means that it isn’t completely packed full of people as say Root 44 or the Oranjezicht City Farm Market get, neither Chantelle nor I was really complaining.

There was after all, some good food to choose from (Chantelle is in love with the veggie burger that she always picks up whenever, and wherever, she tracks down the stall), live music to enjoy, an audible buzz from a happy crowd, and of course some magnificent views to take in from what is a stunningly beautiful environment.

Bike trails, pony rides, a Zorb orb guy, and wide open spaces also then mean that the kids should be more than okay in terms of keeping themselves busy, so although a bit off the beaten track, perhaps not a bad place to check out if you are looking for a friendly, out in nature, farmer’s market option then.

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I guess a re-visit with the kids is still very much in order then.

Related Link: True Grit Farmers Market | True Grit Bike Park | Facebook

Pizza and a Zipline at Cango Caves Estate in Oudtshoorn (2017-07-05) Photo Gallery | Restaurants 07 DEC 2017

Having decided that she wasn’t particularly keen on eating lunch off a bench table at Wilgewandel following our exciting morning of exploring the world famous Cango Caves, Chantelle was instead much happier with the idea of taking a short hop up to the Cango Caves Estate (which itself is just below the Cango Caves), home to both an interesting looking deli and a rather scary looking zipline!

This turned out to be a really, really good idea, because a) the deli afforded fantastic views of the swartberg mountains, b) the tranquility of the Grobbelaars River was right there if needed, c) the zipline made for some exciting people watching, and d) the coffee at the Cango Caves Estate turns out to be rather good.

Aside from its main business as a wedding or private event facility (the restored Manor House elegantly caters for this), the Cango Caves Estate also operates a very popular deli, which has its own coffee roastery and curio selection, not to mention its impressive stock of all the local fine wines, cheeses and biltong.

Then of course there is their zipline.

The Cango Caves Zipline is a double zipline setup, meaning that two people can slide side by side at the same time.

The ride starts at the parking area of the Cango Caves, with an initial teaser zip of some 155 meters over a Karoo ravine, followed by the big 465 meters trip over a game enclosure and all the way down to the Cango Caves Estate!

My girls are of course too small for this, (while Chantelle and I too heavy), so we opted to rather make do with some delicious pizza and ice cold drinks, admire the view, and perhaps try and beat the heat instead.

Can’t say that it wasn’t an enjoyable attempt.

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Their food is good and the deli air-conditioned (and rather comfortable), making this a worthwhile stop if you ever do find yourself out and about in the middle of a sweltering hot Karoo afternoon.

Related Link: Cango Caves Estate

USA 2016 – 09 Disneyland Park – Tomorrowland (2016-07-13) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 05 DEC 2017

After many hours of aimlessly strolling about, I had finally entered Tomorrowland, the last themed “land” still left to visit on my once in a lifetime, one day only, exploration of the original Disneyland theme park.

Tomorrowland has always been about the future, as envisioned around a time when the original frenzy of space travel began to grip hold of America’s psyche.

Of course, as we all know these visions of a future quickly become outdated and as such Tomorrowland has had to change a lot over time, far more than any other land situated out there on the sprawling Disneyland complex.

When it originally opened in 1955, Tomorrowland was devoid of several of its planned attractions thanks to budget cuts. Construction had been rushed, and Tomorrowland ended up being the last land to be finished, arriving as somewhat of a corporate showcase with much of its space occupied by company showcase pieces from the likes of Monsanto Company, American Motors, Richfield Oil, and Dutch Boy Paint.

Over time, following numerous changes to the configuration and attractions, the showcases were slowly left by the wayside one by one as Disney took proper ownership of the themed land and made it their own.

These days, the current incarnation of Tomorrowland (still sporting its classic 1950s pulp sci-fi look – though now tinged with a heavy slather of Star Wars theme) is home to the iconic Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, Autopia, and Star Tours: The Adventures Continue attractions.

Also, despite not being a particularly big Star Wars fan, it was hard not to be impressed with the very cool display set up in the Star Wars: Launch Bay area, not to mention the jaw-droppingly huge range of Star Wars merchandise on sale in all the official shops. (I suspect that a LOT of my friends would return with empty pockets and most likely a second mortgage on the house).

Given the Star Wars theme, the Matterhorn Mountain Bobsleds and Space Mountain, this was by far the most popular land that I travelled through on the day – and I suspect that this holds true pretty much every day, or will at least until the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge land comes online in 2019!

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And yes, as you may suspect, I absolutely LOVED the monorail ride.

Related Link: Disneyland Park | Wikipedia

USA 2016 – 08 Disneyland Park – Critter Country (2016-07-13) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 04 DEC 2017

Having already ambled through Main Street USA, Fantasyland, Mickey’s Toontown, Frontierland, New Orleans Square, and Adventureland, I was rapidly running out of themed lands to visit on this warm, crowded, windless Disneyland day – so I decided to cool down with a visit to Critter Country, or more specifically, its famous Splash Mountain!

Originally known as Indian Village and then later Bear Country, Critter Country is situated on an area that was split off from Frontierland and is themed to resemble the great American Northwoods – with its towering pines, waterfalls, and rustic buildings.

With the Indian and Bear motifs now quite diminished, Critter Country is very much inhabited by the Winnie the Pooh franchise, much of it centered around the super kid friendly The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh attraction.

However, if you aren’t really little enough to appreciate the wonderful world of Pooh, you could always hop on the big 20 person canoe and go for a paddle along the Rivers of America as part of the Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes attraction.  (Sadly, along with the Hungry Bear Restaurant, closed on the day of my visit.)

That said, if you really want to get wet then you should probably join the queue for Splash Mountain, Disneyland’s iconic log flume ride.

As with most rides, making use of the FastPass system or being a single rider allows you to progress much quicker to the front of the seriously long queues, and given that I was traipsing along Disneyland all by myself, I found myself stuffed into the back of a hollow plastic log in a relatively short amount of time.

It was, as advertised, a great way to cool down on such a hot day! ;)

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Next up, a squelchy amble to the last remaining themed land for the day – Tomorrowland!

Related Link: Disneyland Park | Wikipedia

USA 2016 – 07 Disneyland Park – Adventureland (2016-07-13) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 03 DEC 2017

Having happily traipsed through Frontierland and New Orleans Square, the next themed Disneyland area that I entered happened to be Adventureland, home to the iconic Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room attraction.

Styled on that idea of 1930’s colonial exploration into the jungles of Africa or South America, Adventureland is all about the leafy exotic, with attractions including the likes of the Jungle Cruise, the Indiana Adventure and Tarzan’s Treehouse.

(And of course shops. Lots and lots of merchandise selling shops.)

Interesting fact – originally this themed land (based on Walt Disney’s award winning nature documentaries on Africa and Asia) was intended to have real animals from Africa inhabit the jungle river, but after zoologists told Walt that the real animals would either lie around or hide, the imagineers built mechanical animals instead!

By this stage of the day though, Disneyland was already packed full of people, which of course then means lots and lots of queuing. So pro tip – investigate the lands and their attractions before you visit the park, i.e. know what you want to see and which rides you want to ride before you enter, instead of just aimlessly wandering about like I did!

Honestly, other than the Tiki Room (which I just had to see for myself in person), I didn’t spend too long strolling through Adventureland – at this point I was hot and bothered, there were too many people, and the jungle atmosphere made everything feel quite drippy humid.

So instead of climbing up Tarzan’s Treehouse, I grabbed some photos on foot and continued my one day only tour of Disneyland…

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Next up for me – Critter Country and a wet encounter on Splash Mountain!

Related Link: Disneyland Park | Wikipedia

Camel Rides at Wilgewandel Holiday Farm in Oudtshoorn (2017-07-05) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 02 DEC 2017

Three minutes down the road from the world famous Oudtshoorn Cango Caves is the popular (and relatively well known) Wilgewandel Holiday Farm, a family friendly accommodation option situated at the foot of the Swartberg mountain range.

Famous for their camel rides (which is precisely the reason we simply HAD to take Jessica there following our exploration of the caves), Wilgewandel is built around its kid friendly activities, offering things like water slides, donkey cart rides,  the humorously named Ghwarra-Ghwarra Golf Course (putt putt), a foefie slide (zip-line), pedal cars, farmyard animals and rowing boats – basically it should technically be near impossible for your kids not to find some form of entertainment that they enjoy on the grounds!

Centered around a lovely dam, there is plenty of space to run around, the farm atmosphere keeps everything relaxed, and the onsite restaurant works hard to ensure that everyone has a plate of food and full glass in front of them.

Oh, and Wilgewandel sports a pretty well stocked curio shop as well – useful for all those touristy people among us.

The place is then as you imagine a magnet for day visitors and as such can get quite busy at times – so worth keeping in mind if you were originally looking to get away for some complete peace and quiet!

Although we weren’t staying at Wilgewandel (we were bunked down at the lovely De Oude Meul Country Lodge further down the road), and we didn’t grab a bite to eat here either (Chantelle preferred to grab something a little better looking from the nearby Cango Caves Estate instead), we did however hang around long enough give the girls a good chance to run around and play and talk to all the animals – and of course let Jessica tackle her second camel ride of the year.

(Which she absolutely LOVED of course!)

So, if you have kids with you and are looking to escape the the hot Oudtshoorn/Klein Karoo sun (and maybe recharge your batteries for a bit by letting the kids run off to play), then marking Wilgewandel on your travel map is definitely quite the good idea.

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Bonus: It is worth noting that I’m not overly excited by their pricing model mind you – basically you need to pay for every single activity as opposed to bunching every thing up under a single access fee, meaning that a day out at Wilgewandel as a day visitor has the potential to get really expensive really quickly if you have two or more kids running around who demand to try absolutely each and everything on offer.

That said, Wilgewandel Holiday Farm is out in the middle of nowhere and is definitely an oasis of entertainment if you ever find yourself lounging around Oudtshoorn with bored kids that are maybe a little tired of seeing ostriches every time that they look out of a window! :D

Related Link: https://wilgewandel.co.za