All posts by Craig Lotter

About Craig Lotter

Software developer, husband and dad to two little girls. Writer behind An Exploring South African. I don't have time for myself any more.

Our Upcoming June 2017 Family Holiday My Life 23 JUN 2017

In just ten or so days’ time, Chantelle and I will be packing our bags, bundling the girls into the car, and fumbling to find a radio station that both of us can agree on, all so that we can hit the road and enjoy what should be a super awesome, nine nights long mid-year school holidays breakaway.

Interesting fact: this will officially be the longest road trip holiday that Chantelle and I have ever had with the girls – so it should be a pretty interesting experience all around!

Now, knowing that I despise just languishing in one place for too long, you might have guessed that this holiday road trip will involve a fair bit of driving around… and you would be 100% correct. Of course it does.

So, on to the rather exciting breakdown for our upcoming July 2017 holiday then:

We kick things off with a three night stay in Oudtshoorn (a place I’ve last been to a full decade ago!), using the wonderful looking De Oude Meul Country Lodge as our base of operations. From there we should be more than adequately placed to visit with ostriches, cheetahs and camels, go spot a waterfall or two, and of course enter some very famous underground caves.

Next we head straight up to the Main Rest Camp in the Addo Elephant National Park, where we’ll sleep for just one night. This should be an unforgettable first time experience for the girls, and I am looking forward in particular to staking out the main waterhole with them come sundown!

(Bonus fact: the last time that I was in Addo was back in 2009, when Chantelle and I embarked on our epic Honeymoon road trip around the country!)

From Addo we will then drive down to Port Elizabeth and spend three nights there in the company of Evan and Natasha. The girls are SUPER excited at the prospect of playing with their friend Evalynne again, while I have to say, I’m secretly rather excited to try and find an opportunity to slip out and visit the PE branch of the SAAF Museum, or perhaps make an attempt to see the infamous Cape Recife Lighthouse if the wind blows that way.

The last leg of our July holiday sees us shack up at The Gull self-catering chalet (right on Myoli beach!) in Sedgefield for two nights, a town of particular nostalgic value to me seeing as that was where I spent the vast majority of my holidays as a child thanks to it being home to my mom’s folks.

In other words, I may be even MORE excited than the girls for this upcoming little breakaway! ;)

Gaming versus Blogging Games Notes | My Life 23 JUN 2017

If you are a long time follower (or perhaps just someone who occasionally checks in on this little corner of the web), you may have noticed that I haven’t exactly been blogging this year (or for that matter, much last year either). It’s not that I’ve stopped, or that I don’t feel like it, or that I don’t have content – it’s just that I started to rather enjoy playing games again, after quite a long period of not enjoying them all that much.

So yes, instead of banging out words on the keyboard, I’ve been digitally slaughtering and racing all manner of things instead.

The truth of the matter is that the quality of AAA games being released for current generation consoles these days is simply put, phenomenal, and as such I’ve had an absolute blast losing myself in their slick, well crafted worlds for more than just a short while now.

So exactly which titles have been keeping me away from this blog then?

Well, interrogating my Xbox Live profile (CraigLotter in case you want to look me up) and then extracting the biggest time offenders in order, the list currently looks something like this:

BioWare’s superb action RPG Dragon Age: Inquistion is probably the title which first brought me back into the gaming fold, with my time played clocking in at around 134 hours.

Then, the punishing Lords of the Fallen, my first taste of a Dark Souls type of difficult, measured combat Action RPG game, sucked up a good 19 hours or so of my life.

Ubisoft and Ivory Tower’s rather fun, online multiplayer arcade racer The Crew next stepped up and cost me just over 29 hours of racing around and exploring all the major landmarks of their digital version of the United States of America.

In a rather surprising turn of events (primarily because I haven’t been into wrestling since I was a teenager), Yuke’s rather fun, and pretty content-packed, wrestling title WWE 2K16 also stepped into the ring, did an Austin 3:16 on me, and managed to extract a further 72 hours from my evening leisure time!

Plus, I have no idea why I spent as much time on the colourful, Chinese mythology borrowing, frantic button masher (but graphically not so great) Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate as what I did, but this action beat-’em-up borrowed a full 19 hours of my life.

Then the strikingly brilliant, action-packed Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor arrived, allowing me to hack away at hordes of orcs and trolls for a glorious 29 hours of unadulterated, slick, brutal head hacking action.

Ryse: Son of Rome backed this up with even more bloody, fast paced swordplay, allowing me to defend Rome against all manner of barbarians that were knocking at her doors (not to mention time spent in the Colosseum) for a good 14 hours or so.

One of the best Action RPG titles that I have ever played also jumped into the fray, with the sublime The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt from CD Projekt Red weighing in with a hefty 105 hours of monster hunting, side quests, and of course daughter saving action.

Despite having played it before on the Xbox 360, I decided to replay the action excellent DmC: Devil May Cry Definitive Edition from the insanely clever guys over at Ninja Theory. Pulse pounding hack and slash action accompanied by the crazed aggrotech sound of Combichrist – no wonder that smacked 6 hours off my life.

Staying with the slightly retro vibe, I also culled a further  6 or so hours from my time here on Earth by tackling the backwards compatible Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II. Decent enough game, but I’m not sure that I’ll ever willingly play a Xbox 360 title again – there’s just too great a jump in quality on the current generation consoles.

Now I’ve been playing EA Sport’s FIFA football franchise for literally most of my life, and pleasingly the FIFA 17 entry didn’t disappoint one bit, with the Frostbite engine powered “The Journey” story line mode being a particular highlight for me. While I did play a bit of offline season mode, in the end I finally succumbed to FUT, which is probably then the reason my play time now stands at around 76 hours of digital soccer action.

All of which then brings me to the current game that looks like it might be keeping me busy for a VERY long time to come.

Hi-Rez Studio’s F2P objective-driven, competitive team hero shooter Paladins has unreservedly dragged me into the world of online competitive shooter play. First person shooters have never been a genre that I have particularly enjoyed, but there is definitely something about this particular, rather frantic and fun title that has thoroughly entranced me.

After plus minus 21 hours of shooting other people with a variety of heroes (though that said, with a perfectly average win ratio of around 50%), I’ve at last unlocked the Competitive mode which now means that hopefully I get to play with people who take the matches a little more seriously.

(And no, I’m not quite sure why this matters to me all of a sudden).

So, carefully tallying all those casually dropped figures amounts to about 530 hours spent playing games on my Xbox One, or roughly 22 full days if you prefer it more harshly put that way.

Right. No wonder my blogging has suffered more than just a little bit then! ;)

Lunch at Eaglevlei and Play at Weltevreden in Stellenbosch (2017-03-05) Photo Gallery | Restaurants 30 MAY 2017

One particular Sunday back in March this year, Chantelle and I must REALLY have been in the mood for a proper Sunday afternoon drive, because basically our day ended up looking like this: first food at Eaglevlei and then play at Weltevreden (both in Stellebosch), before moving on to scones at Hillcrest Berry Orchards (just outside Pniel), which in turn was then followed up with a drive through the idyllic Franschhoek and of course a jaunt over the Franschhoek Pass. Next was one quick photo stop at the nearly empty Theewaterskloof Dam, before we rounded off our impromptu trip with a drive through the picturesque Viljoen’s Pass to reach Grabouw – and then straight on to Sir Lowry’s Pass to get back home to our beloved little hometown of Gordon’s Bay!

I started off by mentioning that we first had an early lunch at Eaglevlei Wine Farm, a Stellenbosch situated, wine producing farm that just so happens to also be particularly geared towards tourism – aimed almost specifically, believe it or not, at us locals!

So in addition to their wine tasting facility, Eaglevlei is also home to a large, welcoming restaurant, a pizzeria & beer garden in the form of The Nest, and perhaps most surprising of all, a giant indoor kids play park!

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, they even have their own indoor movie screen, perfect for date nights, or as they call it, Movies in the Vines!

Also, and this is a pro tip mind you – be sure to keep an eye out for a very vicious little step leading down to the kids play park. Nearly did a very impromptu tuck & roll manoeuvre myself in case you’re wondering…

Lunch at Eaglevlei was pretty good, but because we didn’t particularly feel like sitting inside watching the kids play, we decided to head back towards Stellenbosch for a cup of coffee at Weltevreden Estate, another great option for couples with kids thanks to their awesome Kids Carnival (and little more upmarket Lekke Neh) space.

So that is exactly what we did (though, only after first stopping to buy some of Eaglevlei’s rather enjoyable wine).

Naturally, and as always I guess, the kids had a ball.

So, just in case you want to check them out for yourself, first a map of Eaglevlei:

Followed by a map of Weltevreden:

And there you have it – Two rather enjoyable family-friendly outing options in Stellenbosch then!

Related Link: Eaglevlei Wine Farm | Weltevreden Estate

Pit stop at Die Rooi Aalwyn Farm Stall and Coffee Shop in Riversdale (2016-12-30) Farm Stalls | Photo Gallery 17 MAY 2017

Back in December last year, Jessica, Emily and I hit the road for a bit of quick, end of year holiday, taking the N2 and heading all the way up to Gouritz, where we were to spend the next couple of days with oupa and ouma Monty and Cheryl.

Of course small children and long drives aren’t a fantastic mix, so I did my best to make the trip as enjoyable as possible, with stops every so often for a spot of leg stretching (and yes, sometimes a bite to eat!).

Situated just outside of Riversdale and part of a small outdoor shopping center that is famously home of the original Bali Trading decor and gifts shop, is Die Rooi Aalwyn Padstal (in English, the Red Aloe Farm Stall),  a small coffee, home industry and restaurant  establishment that is super welcoming and seemingly ALWAYS busy!

That said, before we could actually browse through any of their tasty looking stuff, the girls first had to take their time browsing through the local toy shop Caboodels, followed by some play time on the lush green lawn and big jungle gym, before finally wrapping things up with some time clambering about the old tractors out on display.

(In other words, yes, this is a pretty good pit stop option if you have small kids).

Anyway, to cut a short story even shorter, legs stretched, soft serve ice cream in our bellies, and a bag full of tasty treats from the farm stall in our hands, it was back on the road to tackle the last remaining stretch of our little holiday drive!

As always, a map:

Related Link: Die Rooi Aalwyn Farm Stall

Wine Tasting and Pizza at Val du Charron in Wellington (2016-12-11) Photo Gallery | Restaurants 16 MAY 2017

Last year December saw Chantelle and I break away from the kids for a weekend in Tulbagh. There was of course a lot of wine tasting, eating and sightseeing, and for the drive home, we opted for the long way around, going via Bainskloof Pass and through Wellington – mostly because we REALLY wanted to stop and taste wines at the famed Val Du Charron Wine and Olive Estate.

Originally proclaimed in 1699, the working farm of Val Du Charron is currently a darling of Wellington tourism, with its offerings including both 5 star and 4 star accommodation options, a spa, wine tasting, wine and olive production, and two eating options, the first in the form of The Local Grill, and the second a new family friendly pizza-centric offering known as Piza e Vino.

Lying on the slopes of the Bovlei valley, the historic Cape Dutch architecture of the estate is framed with beautiful views of both the Groenberg and Hawequa mountains, and on this particularly hot, windless Summer’s day, we were treated to cloudless bright blue sky as far as one could see.

The wine tasting took place in a small intimate little wine tasting room, where our host took us through some of Val du Charron’s amazing wines and their associated tales – with their Black Countess sticking particularly favourably in my memory.

For lunch we opted for the busy Piza e Vino, choosing to escape the blistering heat by sitting inside the cool restaurant building as opposed to all the families clustered under the umbrellas while the kids enjoyed the water play area outside. (A sacrifice of view I know, but man, you wouldn’t believe how hot it was on the day!)

Pleasingly, the pizza was pretty damn good. (No wonder the restaurant was as busy as it seemed!)

So. Art, food, drink and a view – what more could one ask for?

Val Du Charron is a particularly beautiful space with a lot of history mixed in with plenty of modern touches, making for a very definite stop if you ever find yourself being a tourist (wine drinking or not) in the area!

Related Link: Val Du Charron Wine and Olive Estate | Piza e Vino

Breakfast at Benedicts & Bagels in Somerset West (2017-04-21) Photo Gallery | Restaurants 15 MAY 2017

It is extremely hard to miss the vintage, bright yellow painted house on the corner of St. James and Andries Pretorius in Somerset West. (And if the bright yellow hue isn’t enough to pique your interest, then there is the large Charlie Chaplin piece of art hanging in the middle of the stoep that might do the trick).

This is the home of Benedicts and Bagels, a lovely artisan eatery that specializes in, you guessed it, bagels and eggs benedict.

Chantelle visited the chiropracter situated in the same little complex and that is how we came to discover this brilliant little spot. The eatery is a tiny little art covered space with the bulk of its tables and chairs outside in a peaceful little courtyard.

The menu is small, and according to the chef, most of the ingredients are all either made or sourced locally, the end result being some particularly delicious light dishes. The coffee is good, and yes, because this is a artisan eatery, they do have a couple of craft beers available on the menu.

I thoroughly enjoyed eating proper American bagels last year in San Diego, and pleasingly, these bagels taste just as great!

[ P.S. The last two photos of the beetles eating the fruit on my as of yet unidentified tree in the front (and there are loads of them in this tree) are included purely because I now finally know the proper English name for this noisy yellow and black beetles – the common South African garden fruit chafer beetle! ]

Anyway, back to Benedicts & Bagels.

It is a lovely, tucked away spot that serves particularly tasty food in a peaceful setting, away from the bustle of main road Somerset West – in other words, well worth the stop if you’ve never eaten a proper bagel before!

Related Link: Benedicts and Bagels

Feeding the Animals at The Alpaca Loom in Paarl (2017-04-22) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 14 MAY 2017

After a lovely afternoon milling about and admiring the smooth concrete curves of the famous Afrikaans Taalmonument in Paarl, the girls and I popped into Fairview to have a gander at their equally famous Goat Tower, before heading back towards something that I had spotted on the way in – The Alpaca Loom.

Housed in a beautifully built and furnished wooden studio (all apparently crafted from wood taken off the very farm by the estate owner himself) is the Alpaca Loom, a coffee shop & weaving studio, and perhaps more interestingly, an alpaca stud farm.

(Yup, if you are in the market for it, you can purchase pet alpacas, breeding stock and even guard alpacas from them!)

The small coffee shop isn’t particularly well stocked, but there is enough good coffee and baked goods on offer (the cake was fantastic!) to make it an okay enough spot for a rest break on the deck – which comes with a stunning  view I might add.

What is rather interesting is the actual weaving that happens right next to you – you can stand and watch as the looms and other machinery is used to transform the luxurious alpaca wool into all manner of jerseys, blankets and that sort of thing.

(A lot of what they make is also on display and available for purchase).

Whilst the kids are sure to enjoy the large jungle gym next to the studio, the highlight of a visit is undoubtedly the opportunity to feed and get up close and personal to the surprisingly calm and gentle, and fluffy, alpacas!

Jessica couldn’t wait of course to get in and feed the animals, and surprisingly, after a little bit of nervous hesitation, Emily joined in the fun as well. (The assortment of alpacas, lamas, camels and donkeys didn’t seem to mind – more hands mean more feed buckets!)

We lucked out a bit on this particular trip in that a few baby alpacas had just recently been born, meaning that a trip down to the stables with the farm owner was particularly overloaded with adorable baby cuteness.

Also, I took far more photos of alpacas than I though I would:

If you have small kids and don’t feel like the more upmarket hustle and bustle of the super popular next door neighbours, The Spice Route and Fairview, then the Alpaca Loom is actually quite great alternative!

Related Link: The Alpaca Loom Coffee Shop & Weaving Studio

Cubs at Cheetah Outreach in Paardevlei, Somerset West (2017-04-23) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 13 MAY 2017

Twenty years strong now, Cheetah Outreach (now at Paardevlei as opposed to their original Spier stomping grounds) continues their mission to raise awareness around, and campaign for, the survival of the free ranging Southern African cheetah.

They do this through a broad range of projects, like funding and coordinating a South African Cheetah Anatolian Shepherd Guard dog project, delivering natural science and literacy resources embracing environmental education into less advantaged schools, sponsoring teacher training workshops, supporting range research of free-ranging cheetah, and finally financing curriculum-linked school outreach trips and Bus 2 Us on site education visits.

They have a large number of hand-reared, captive born cheetahs which they use as ambassadors – acting essentially as representatives of the endangered free-ranging cheetah, which then provides the public with the opportunity to see, learn about, and then meet this majestic and fascinating species face to face.

The girls and I ambled into Cheetah Outreach one late afternoon last month, and spent some time walking around all the enclosures to take in the collection of bat eared foxes, black backed jackals, servals, caracals, meerkats, and Anatolian shepherd dogs, before heading up the amusingly named Cat Scan viewing deck to watch a couple of tourists being guided through their animal encounter session with the cheetahs.

The girls were of course totally enamoured by the two furry cheetah cubs pacing around (as well as the feeding of the bat eared foxes), though as per usual, annoyingly they found the stuffed toys of the curio shop by far the most interesting bit of all!

I was surprised to encounter Cheetah Outreach’s very unusual stance of essentially allowing you into their grounds for basically free (I paid R15 for all three of us to walk around!), meaning that if you just want to show your kids what a cheetah looks like (and go on a quick guided tour), it’s not going to cost you any real money.

Animal encounters is of course where the the actual money making happens, and there are a number of different encounters, walks and runs available to choose from.

Animal sanctuaries/education centers that offer encounters are as always a contentious issue for a lot of people, but if you have kids like I do then undoubtedly you will appreciate the fact that they exist – teaching a child about something standing right in front of them is always going to be better than trying to explain off a printed page or some animated screen.

P.S. The lovely body of water that is the Paardevlei is currently completely dried up. So much so that there are now buck grazing where once there were flocks of flamingos!

Related Link: Cheetah Outreach

Walking along the Beach to Cape Sands in Strand (2017-03-10) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 06 MAY 2017

On a windless Friday evening in the Helderberg Basin, there is no better way to see out a long week of work than with a stroll along the water’s edge of Strand beach, patiently waiting for the shimmering sun to finally dip below the horizon.

The sea wall construction work continues unabated all along Strand’s beachfront (it is all part of the City of Cape Town’s R180 million promenade upgrade), meaning that a fair bit of the beach is technically still out of action, the impact on evening strolls isn’t all that high given the length of Strand’s famous main beach.

Of course, the girls are never keen just to walk for the sake of walking, so to make it a mission I have to create an objective – and for this particular Friday night evening stroll I decided that we should take the long walk over to the always art friendly upmarket Cape Sands apartments (on the very edge of Strand’s beachfront as you come into Strand) in order to see what they currently have on display in front of the building.

For reference (just in case you are curious and because the girls wouldn’t let me get close enough to take a photo with my phone), currently on display is a large green (bronze) face from the internationally acclaimed South African painter/sculptor Lionel Smit, who well known for his larger-than-life portraiture works.

And the reward for such a long trek? Some sit down and play in the sand time of course!

Also, a map (for just in case you’re not entirely sure where I am):

Related Link: Cape Sands Apartments | Strand