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.

Lunch at Potbelly Coffee Shop & Bakery in Klapmuts (2017-10-07) Photo Gallery | Restaurants 20 OCT 2017

If you have kids and live out in the Helderberg or Stellenbosch area like we do, then undoubtedly you have at some point made the drive and taken them out for a visit to the always interesting Butterfly World.

If that’s the case, and you travel the route that I would, then you will definitely recognise this particularly eye-catching (and rather cute) logo/name combination:

Funnily enough, I’ve always thought this place was a butchery or bacon/pork-themed restaurant of some sort (kind of like Sweetwell in Stellenbosch), but as it turns out, Potbelly is in fact a coffee shop and bakery of all things!

Tucked into a building which is also home to a fantastic little farm stall/deli called Deli-Co, as well as a bits and bobs home decor store (Bali Trading), Potbelly is a family owned business that specializes in quality wholesome food, homemade pies and bread – baked daily of course.

Given that the R44 is a popular drive with both bikers and classic car clubs alike – not to mention the fact that it is a super popular meeting spot for the locals – this little coffee shop is almost always bustling with activity, and this was certainly the case when Chantelle, the girls and I popped in for a bite to eat a Saturday or two ago.

Luckily for us though, we managed to snag a small table in the corner, and were soon tucking into some delicious, freshly made food.

Although we didn’t get around to trying any of the baked goods on the table, there certainly looked to be some very interesting things on offer, making a sometime in the future coffee stop very much a certainty.

(That said, I was slightly disappointed to discover that they were in fact not a pork-themed butchery/restaurant.)

Given the general look and feel of Klapmuts as a whole, this nice looking building with its very visible business logos is definitely easy to spot! That said, just in case you need some help, here’s a handy map:

Related Link: Potbelly Coffee Shop & Bakery

Wine and Pizza at Simonsvlei in Paarl (2017-10-08) Photo Gallery | Restaurants 19 OCT 2017

It’s really hard to miss the Simonsvlei as you drive past Paarl on either the N1 or the Old Paarl Road, thanks in part to the gigantic oversized wine bottle statue that towers next to the winery’s main premises.

Effective, right?

Anyway, with its name originating from the founder of the South African wine industry, Simon van der Stel, and the area’s vlei (wetlands) landscape, Simonsvlei was founded shortly after the second World War, its primary goal to give the area’s grape and wine farmers the facilities to produce quality wines on a larger and more sustainable scale.

(Today the winery is probably best known among locals for its penchant to produce decent wine that is sold at an affordable price.)

After spending a Sunday morning in Paarl with the kids (we were trying out the new BASH kids venue that had literally just opened on the nearby Dvine Estate), we were on the lookout for a place to grab a bite to eat and escape the fresh wind that was starting to pick up, when (as I pointed out might happen at the start of this piece) a giant wine bottle caught our eye and we headed off straight in its direction.

And that’s how we ended up at Simonsvlei.

This was the first ever visit to the Simonsvlei winery for me and as it turns out, in addition to its wine tasting room and conference facilities, the winery does in fact have a restaurant on the premises in the form of Eat@Simonsvlei – not to mention a separate beer brewing and machine letting outfit called Karoo Craft Breweries.

However, we were there for some lunch and given that the wind meant that the veranda wasn’t really a viable seating option for the day, we were instead shown to a big old table indoors where we quickly jumped into the job of selecting a wine, food for the kids, and of course something nibbly for ourselves.

In terms of architecture, finishing, decor and menu, it has to be said that the facilities here at Simonsvlei definitely come across as maybe being somewhat stuck in the 80’s (or at least that is how Chantelle and I perceived it), though that said, the atmosphere was nice enough and in the end we enjoyed our lunch visit.

(Of course, that might also have been entirely the fault of the excellent Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend that we were enjoying as well!)

There is actually a really nice, fenced off kids play area in the front of the estate, meaning that following the meal (and wine), the kids dragged Chantelle down for a spell of play (the wind was a lot more friendly by now), while I instead snatched up the opportunity to trudge about and take a few photos of the outside area (including of course the titular vlei).

So. I guess while there are a LOT other more pretty and interesting wine estates in the area to be experienced, Simonsvlei does stand out a little as one of those nice, more down to Earth establishments, so maybe worth a stop if you don’t particularly feel like its slightly more haughty Franschhoek and Stellenbosch compatriots on the day.

Bonus: Just in case you have never spotted the giant wine bottle whilst hurtling down the N1 before, here’s a handy map (in the event that you want to check them out for yourself one day):

Related Link: Simonsvlei | Eat@Simonsvlei

Beachfront Waffles from the Belgian Waffle House in Strand (2017-05-07) Photo Gallery | Restaurants 18 OCT 2017

Going for walks on Strand beach is always nice. If you ask my girls, getting rewarded for a long walk in the sand is even better. Enter the humble Belgian Waffle.

Standing on Beach Road, tucked under the 97 on Strand building and sandwiched between an estate agent and an ice cream shop, The Belgian Waffle House is a popular spot for locals looking for a good, slightly unusual in that you don’t come across waffles all that often, family (and pocket) friendly treat while out for a day at the beach.

As you would expect, these light and fluffy, well priced waffles come with a bewildering array of topping/sauce choices, with the girls, Chantelle and myself already all having our own person favourite.

The place is almost never empty (which is probably why they don’t take bookings), and well worth keeping in mind for one of those “quick, we need shelter from the wind!” days out at the beach.

Also, the new brick and concrete beach promenade is coming on very, very nicely indeed…

(Oh, and if Strand is too far out for all the students in Stellenbosch, not to worry, they have their very own branch out that way.)

Related Link: The Belgian Waffle House

Water Level of the Berg River Dam in Franschhoek (2017-08-13) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 17 OCT 2017

Every time that we enter Franschhoek via Stellenbosch, a large mound/structure off in the distance on the right hand side catches my eye, I mutter to Chantelle, “I wonder what that is?”, and then continue to drive on into main road of this wine-soaked, tourist friendly little town and straight away forget all about it.

Which is silly really, because if I had just opened up Google and looked at a map then I would very much have known that what I’m seeing is a dam wall.

For its water needs, Cape Town relies heavily on the Western Cape Water Supply System, which is basically a big inter-linked network of six dams, their associated pipelines, tunnels and distribution networks – with the six dams in question being the Theewaterskloof Dam, Wemmershoek Dam, Steenbras Dams, Voëlvlei Dam and finally the Berg River Dam (i.e. the one that was right in front of me the whole time!).

As you can see from the photo above, the reason that the Berg River Dam isn’t all that apparent from the road (basically the reason I’m using to excuse my ignorance of the dam in the first place) is because of the clever decision to plant indigenous flora on the downstream face of the dam wall – the express purpose  being to try and get the dam and associated structures to blend in with the surrounding landscape and thus be a little more environmentally friendly.

As for the award winning dam build itself, well, from all accounts this was a very successful project (basically completed on time and within budget – something not often associated with government run projects of this scale).

With an exhaustive planning and consultation period that stretched from 1989 to 2002, construction began in 2004 and by July 2007 the dam started storing water – with it filling up a year later thanks to a particularly good spell of rainfall. The Berg River Dam was officially opened in 2009.

The dam itself is a concrete-faced rockfill dam (a type of embankment dam) which is 68 metres high and 929 metres long, with a gross storage capacity is 130 million cubic metres. The surface area of the reservoir is around 488 hectares.

That said, given our current drought conditions the current water level of the Berg River Dam isn’t quite where it normally would be…

Unsurprisingly, the surrounding area itself is actually quite popular with local joggers, hikers and mountain bikers.

So, just in case that somehow, like me, you haven’t actually spotted it before, here’s a handy map:

Related Link: Berg River Dam | Wikipedia

Visiting Paardevlei following the Winter Rains in Somerset West (2017-07-16) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 16 OCT 2017

Gripped by this unusually long period of drought, I noted that Paardevlei was already bone dry back in April when the girls and I paid a visit to the nearby Cheetah Outreach wildlife sanctuary. (Not that this is all that unusual mind you. The very definition of vlei is that it is a shallow, minor lake, mostly of seasonal or intermittent nature.)

We have of course since then endured a relatively mild and not so wet winter period, and pleasingly the vlei of Paardevlei was back to its wet (and bird inhabited) self by July already.

(And, as you might be able to see if you squint into the background of some of the photos in the gallery below, we even had a couple of days of snow-capped mountains to enjoy!)

Seeing as I needed to stretch my legs for a bit, I bribed the girls to come with me and after stocking up on snacks and a new game for the house, we entered through Paardevlei’s entrance boom, parked by Cheetah Outreach and started our stroll along the nature walk along the vlei.

As always, there was plenty of grumbling from the little one for a lot of the walk, though thankfully the constant sight of the bag of snacks in my hand was more than enough motivation for her to continue walking and for me not to have to carry her on my shoulders!

(That said, pretty much the first bench that we encountered was thus designated snack bench by the two salivating girls at my side…)

Not that the girls wanted to hang out bird-watching by the vlei for too long mind you – they were way, WAY more excited at the prospect of returning home to try out the new game of Hungry Hippo that we had picked up from Toys R Us a little earlier on our drive!

(Hint: It was a very, very successful buy.)

So, a decent way to spend a Sunday afternoon in July then.

Related Link: Paardevlei | Paardevlei History

Feathers from the Cape Town Ostrich Ranch in Philadelphia (2017-01-29) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 15 OCT 2017

In case you were wondering who holds the current Guinness World Record for being the smallest ostrich in the world, the answer is Tom Thumb, the 127 cm tall, fully grown, adult male African ostrich that finds itself living in Philadelphia, or more accurately on the premises of the Cape Town Ostrich Ranch in Philadelphia (the Western Cape one, not the Rocky Balboa USA one).

As for the Cape Town Ostrich Ranch (which truthfully is in fact around 20 minutes from Cape Town), it has been on the Cape Town tourist map for many years now, with this show ranch offering a great ostrich-centered experience that includes guided tours, a simple ostrich museum/information center, ostrich item shop, and of course a restaurant with a menu that naturally includes ostrich on it.

In addition to the expected information overload, the tour has all the ostrich essentials packed in, like hand feeding, baby watching, ostrich egg standing, Tom Thumb petting, feather scouting, and for the smaller ones among us, ostrich sitting.

I took the girls for their first ever visit to the Cape Town Ostrich Ranch in January, and pleasingly they rather enjoyed themselves (though that could have just been because of ostrich feathers our guide insisted on giving to the girls).

Actually, I rather enjoyed myself too. There was a lot of space, the restaurant food was pretty good, and more importantly, the onsite craft beer producer Gijima Brewery has some rather fine brews.

(Oh, and it was a surprise to spot a couple of cheetahs from our own local Cheetah Outreach Somerset West sanctuary chilling on the grounds as well.)

Also, the ostriches seemed to take quite a liking to Jessica for some or other reason. Lots of feather flashing, courting dances were performed!

As a family outing option, this is a bit on the expensive side, but it does make for a good day out, so no complaints from me there.

So, if for some or other reason you haven’t come across an ostrich before, this tourist friendly spot definitely won’t let you down.

Related Link: Cape Town Ostrich Ranch

A Morning Drive through Rooi-Els (2017-05-06) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 14 OCT 2017

Penguins and Kleinmond were on my agenda with the girls one Saturday back in May, but following the always delightful drive along Clarence Drive (with all of its 77 bends), I decided to first hang a right and slowly cruise through Rooi Els, a little seaside holiday escape that I haven’t actually properly visited since my twenties.

Rooi-Els is known for its fishing and diving opportunities, not to mention the fact that it is forever being bashed by the wind and raided by the local baboon troop.

It consists for the most part of holiday homes, meaning this small hamlet is often pretty quiet, has only a few tarred roads, and thus little in the form of commercial ventures.

Rooiels is of course a part of the vaunted Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve,  the 100,000 hectare UNESCO designated area whose landscape is home to perhaps one of the most complex biodiversity regions on our planet – featuring more than 1,880 different plant species,  77 of which occur nowhere else on earth.

This fynbos haven (sometimes referred to locally as the ‘heart of fynbos’) is also home to a wide variety of animal species like leopard, caracal, baboon, antelope and a particularly rich selection of birds.

Biosphere reserves are different from ordinary conservation areas in that these reserves have no fences to keep ‘people’ out and ‘nature’ in – instead it is the commitment of local communities, farmers, conservation agencies and local government to protect and nurture the land and its biodiversity.

(For reference, the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, which interestingly enough was South Africa’s first ever registered biosphere reserve, encompasses the entire area from Gordon’s Bay to the Bot River Statuary and inland to Grabouw and the Groenland Mountain.)

Of course, being that close to this particular type of vegetation does comes with a big risk – large mountain/vegetation fires are the norm, and because of this the area (and its towns) often bear the scars associated with these all too frequent blazing infernos.

Anyway, having enjoyed our scenic little jaunt, the girls insisted that I refocus on the mission at hand – visiting the Stony Point penguins of Betty’s Bay!

(Bonus: the Rooi Els area is super popular with local birders – here are two fantastic blog posts from Bryn De Kocks and Mike Buckham to illustrate just why that is so).

Related Link: Rooi-Els

Changing the Hostname in Ubuntu Server 16.04: Unit hostname.service is masked Tips, Tricks and Tutorials 03 OCT 2017

For older versions of Ubuntu, many of the tutorials online show you how to edit your server’s hostname by simply editing /etc/hostname and then restarting the service with “service hostname restart”.

However, attempting this on a 16.04 Ubuntu Server build will most likely fail with the following error message:

Failed to restart hostname.service: Unit hostname.service is masked.

As it turns out, the new way of changing your hostname on systems running systemd (i.e. Ubuntu 16.04) requires you to use the hostnamectl command, meaning that to set your new hostname you need to run:

sudo hostnamectl set-hostname NEWNAME

(Where obviously NEWNAME is the new/desired hostname that you want to use).

You can check that the change has been affected by running:

hostname

Worth jotting down here for future reference.

FPDF: How to use a Degree Symbol in a Generated PDF Tips, Tricks and Tutorials 29 SEP 2017

I’ve been using the FPDF PDF generator library for years now as the de facto method for my PHP projects to produce PDF reports. However, one minor annoyance is that the generated PDF files often falter when it comes to the inclusion of certain special characters – like the degree symbol (°) as an example.  (Basically, something like °C becomes °C in the final document)

The reason for this happening is that Arial, the default used/included font, is of type ISO-8859-1 while the degree symbol is UTF-8 encoded. So in order for us to include special symbols or characters from other languages, we need to either try and convert them into our font compatible ISO-8859-1 format, or perhaps switch to using a different TrueType or Type1 font (which then would contain the desired character set).

Now while UTF-8 support is available via a modified class, the easiest way to fix the degree symbol issue without having doing any real work is to simply make use of the PHP utf8_decode function, which convert UTF-8 encoded strings to their ISO-8859-1 equivalents.

In other words outputting utf8_decode(“°C”) to your PDF should result in the expected °C

Related Link: FPDF PDF Generator Library