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.

A Cairn at Rotary Way Lookout Point above Hermanus (2021-01-09) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 15 FEB 2021

Hermanus is a wonderful seaside town, squeezed into a narrow coastal plain that is bounded by the endless blue of the Indian Ocean to the south and the peaks of the Kleinriviersberge mountains to the north. One of the best ways to get a lay of the land is to drive up the easy to miss as you enter the town Rotary Way, a 5.3 km long road that ticks all the boxes of being a mountain pass but which instead simply doesn’t go anywhere.

The start of the road gives you a view to the Western areas of Hermanus, such as Sandbaai, Zwelihle and Vermont, while a little further on to the left you get blessed with the stunning landscape views of the fertile green Hemel en Aarde Valley, before reaching the final tarred section of the road which opens up views over the Klein River Valley, Stanford, the Lagoon and of course of Walker Bay and Hermanus itself. Here there are a couple of benches to sit down and quietly admire the view, or if you are like me with a couple of energetic girls in tow, head out for a stroll in the bush and add a couple of stones to the nearby cairn as a way to leave your mark. (This was by far the most fun bit of this stop for them).

The views over Hermanus are of course spectacular. You are high but not high enough that you lose any detail, and it becomes a fun way to spot the landmarks like the golf course, Hoy’s Koppie, the Old Harbour and Gearing’s Point. (It’s also worth pointing out that if you have a capable vehicle, you can actually continue along the gravel section of the road from here, which will then take you past the local hang glider launching area all the way through to the edge of the Hamilton Russell Vineyards property where the road finally terminates once and for all.)

Beautiful agamas and other rock lizards, delicate fynbos flowers, views to die for, and that fresh sea breeze in your face, a drive up Rotary Way should really be considered the next time you find yourself in Hermanus on a good weather day.

Sudoku and Bistro Fare at Alex on Fire in Somerset West (2021-01-23) Food and Drink | Photo Gallery 01 FEB 2021

Tucked away in what is best described as one of the more tired looking parts of where Strand meets Somerset West is a relatively new, sparkly eatery gem named Alex on Fire Moto Bistro. Bearing in mind that subtitle, given the fact that the bistro is situated just behind a popular motorcycle workshop, and taking into account that kick-ass logo, this is of course then another one of those eateries that takes its heart from the biking fraternity – which makes sense considering the fact that co-owner Derek Chester-Browne has for many years been part of the local motorcycle scene. That said though, this is certainly no simple biker’s joint.

Housed in a heritage property and in possession of a beautiful Burmese teak bar that comes from a once popular Somerset West watering hole that has long since burned down, the Alexandria Hotel, Alex on Fire is actually a quite decent eatery that serves some pretty upmarket styled food and just so happens to have a little something for everyone on its impressive (for a bistro) menu. Again, this makes complete sense if you consider that Scott Hendrie is the chef at the wheel, which, if my LinkedIn stalking skills are correct, has him as having previously helmed some of the Cape’s top kitchens, including Le Franschhoek Hotel, Dieu Donne Restaurant, Pepper Club Hotel, and Val de Vie Polo Restaurant.

Given the intention to be a bit of a home to all, Alex on Fire actually does a great job of catering to kids, complete with a fun little adventure styled kids play area that features a magnificent boat stuck in a tree treehouse! Our particular visit fell within the period where Coronavirus Lockdown rules equalled prohibition, so no comment on the drink available but as you can tell from the photos the food came out of the kitchen looking (and tasting) pretty damn good!

An added bonus worth mentioning is that on arrival both the kids and the adults received a neat little entertainment pack – colouring in for the girls and a page of sudoku, wordsearch and crossword puzzles for the adults – a near perfect distraction while you wait for your food and maybe don’t have anything left to say to one another after having spent pretty much the entire year staring into one another’s eyes thanks to the global pandemic the world is currently engulfed in.

Donkeys, Canola and a Giant Table with Chairs at Dassiesfontein (2020-08-30) Farm Stalls | Photo Gallery 31 JAN 2021

Once a year the vast farmed canola fields that cover the farmlands of the Overberg region between Bot River and Caledon reach full bloom, turning the area into an incredible carpet of bright visceral yellow. Of course the usual worries about farm monoculture fields still applies, but ignoring that, this incredibly unusual landscape sight is one to be experienced and well worth the drive out to see.

Last year we nipped out to try and get a better view of the fantastical snowy peaks currently on display (and also get out of the pandemic-induced cabin fever headspace), and decided to sneak in a visit to these gorgeous yellow lands with a drive down the N2 to perennial favourite Dassiesfontein, an unmissable farm stall and restaurant that sits neatly between Bot River and Caledon and which has been trading there since at least the 90’s.

As you might imagine, the drive over was breathtaking, with field upon field stretched out in front of you as you start the descent down the Houw Hoek mountain pass. Pulling in at the solar panel laden Dassiesfontein farm stall building, we were excited to learn that they had since built a giant oversized table and chairs next to their donkey corral to serve both as a fun roadside attraction and also to provide some shade and shelter for their popular furry drawcard.

Avoiding the people, the girls had a blast feeding the donkeys with all the juicy grass growing outside of the enclosure, before giving in to our requests to pose for a million photos in front of the adjacent bright yellow canola field. And while there were too many people sitting in the restaurant for us to feel comfortable enough to join in, we did however make sure to peruse through this mad farm stall, browsing the bevy of antiques, curios, leather, clothing, dairy and pretty much anything and everything else that finds itself stocked in this incredible space of… stuff.

Belgian Chocolate and Curios at Chocolat etc. in Swellendam (2021-01-12) Photo Gallery | Shopping 15 JAN 2021

Our early January school holidays escape to Swellendam was lazing along quite nicely. Comfortably tucked in at the Aan de Heuvel self-catering cottage where the girls were pretty much living in our private splash pool, we didn’t need to mosey out much other than when needing to restock braai supplies or maybe pick up a treat or two while driving (aka sightseeing) around this quaint, historic, and lush green town at the foot of the Langeberg mountains.

One such treat snuffling saw us set foot in Chocolate etc., a small Belgian chocolatier/curios/gift shop that has definitely moved since we last visited Swellendam, but which is still very helpfully right by the Drostdy Museum Complex. Housed in a vintage style building squashed in between two estate agents, Chocolate etc. is primarily a place to grab a quick cup of coffee while perusing a relatively wide selection of fashionable clothing articles, gifts, curios, and of course a selection of nicely made artisan chocolates.

Of course I don’t think that Chantelle or the girls even looked at anything other than the chocolate display, as they eagerly had the lady on duty work her way through describing each and every one as the girls all made their difficult choices as to which flavours to grab. (Well not that difficult because of course all three strolled away with a nicely bulging packets at the end of our visit.)

Following the Snow to Huguenot Fine Chocolates in Franschhoek (2020-08-30) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 01 JAN 2021

Given the previous couple of hot, dry years that Cape Town has plodded and panicked its way through, snow on its relatively low lying mountains has been somewhat… scarce. That all changed with last year’s winter season as we were treated to some spectacular snow hitting the mountain tops of all the Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, and Helderberg ranges, reaching as far down as even Cape Town’s famed Table Mountain itself!

Recalling the days of Chantelle’s winter baked goods deliveries to Sacred Ground in Franschhoek, we decided to head out for an afternoon drive to that side of the world, ostensibly to chase the snow capped peaks, but given the reality of the now long-running Covid pandemic, it was just as much a reason to get out of the house to stave off cabin fever for a little while longer.

We headed up over Sir Lowry’s Pass, swung a left past Grabouw, and then slid along the gorgeously green Viljoen’s Pass until we reached what now at last is a very full Theewaterskloof Dam, which it has to be said is looking a damn sight better than what it did just a year or two ago at the height of Cape Town’s drought crisis.

Pointing our nose up through the Franschhoek Pass, we moved in between the snow capped tops and were then flabbergasted as we hit the heavy mountain pass traffic caused by the long queue of cars all patiently waiting to take their turn at a walk in the snow at the now uber popular Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve.

Eventually though, we dropped down the other side of the Franschhoek Pass into Franschhoek itself, and given the various pandemic induced bans on alcohol, travel, etc, this normally bustling tourist attracting town was quiet and far more leisurely to stroll through than what we were normally used to. We found a parking, ambled down main street, browsed the various shop windows and reasonably empty restaurant fronts, until eventually coming to a stop in front of our almost always when in Franschhoek with the girls haunt, Huguenot Fine Chocolates.

Known as the makers of fine Belgian chocolates, Chantelle, the girls and I eagerly selected a bevy of different flavours and forms, and then proceeded to find a quiet bench in the little park across the road that usually hosts the Franschhoek Market in non Coronavirus lockdown times. Beautiful old buildings, snowy peaks all around us, and delicious chocolates begging to be savoured, this was thus a pretty enjoyable way of escaping the now very familiar four walls of our little home back in Gordon’s Bay – even if for just a couple of hours!

Exploring all the way to Chapter 4 Eatery outside Stellenbosch (2020-08-29) Food and Drink | Photo Gallery 13 DEC 2020

The Western Cape experienced some truly cold weather this winter, enough to spark snowfall on most of our higher peaks, which of course then meant lots of chasing about to view this wonderful and relatively rare occurrence for a territory not exactly used to receiving snow. As it stood, even our lowly peaks of the surrounding Helderberg mountains managed to get a bit of icing sugar on the top of their heads and so into the car Chantelle, the girls and I clambered to see if we could get a slightly better Helderberg view.

This particular sightseeing trip saw us first head out to Sir Lowry’s Pass Village and up to Knorhoek Estate, taking the steep road right up to Da Capo Vineyards and the beautiful Idiom Winery and Restaurant on the slopes of the Helderberg range. (The view of course was stunning, and if we didn’t have the girls with us in the car, we probably would have indulged in some wine tasting at their majestic tasting centre.)

Oh well. Down the mountain we came and back in Somerset West, we pulled over on Reservoir Road to take in the stunning view of the white frosted peaks. And also the mom who was diligently taking photos of her daughter doing ballet photos with the mountains as a backdrop. Clearly we are not ‘influencer’ enough!

From there I sought out a new place that I had caught wind of via Google Maps, a small green cluster in the heart of Somerset West referred to as Silver Tree Gorge (or Silwerboomkloof). As it turns out, Silver Tree Gorge is a small protected valley that is home to a forest of rare Silvertree, the silver-coloured tree member of the Protea family that is actually indigenous to the eastern slopes of Table Mountain. This clump, far removed from its normal habitat is somewhat of an anomaly, so it was kind of cool to stumble upon.

By this stage the girls were moaning about being hungry, so after a nice drive around the idyllic Spanish Farm suburb of Somerset West, I set course to the Cape Garden centre outside Stellenbosch, more specifically to a small little eatery called Chapter 4 Eatery – opened by the former owner of our once beloved Mondeor Garden Kitchen.

This little jaunt to the nursery for pizza and milkshakes was actually our very first restaurant visit following the big Covid-19 lockdown, but it was exactly what we needed. Super quiet, lots of space, and a little bit of outdoor fun equipment for Jessica and Emily to stretch their limbs out on. Nice.

A Year of Beach Walks in Strand (2019-12-31) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 11 DEC 2020

Catching up with another trove of files for safekeeping from the “Unposted Photos” folder on my laptop – this is a whole lot of images of Strand beach taken during walks/visits in 2019. Five kilometres of white sandy beach overlooking False Bay, one of the safest swimming beaches in Cape Town, surfing, kiteboarding, water slides and a tidal pool, and some pretty impressive buildings dotted along a beautifully renewed promenade.

There’s a river estuary, a protected marine area, good fishing, a lifesaving club, gorgeous sunsets, and soft serve ice cream. Lots of soft serve ice cream. What can I say, it’s a great beach to live close to!

USA 2019 – 07 Fuel Pizza and Wings at 600 F St NW in Washington DC (2019-10-25) Food and Drink | Photo Gallery 10 DEC 2020

So after a very successful day of on foot architecture, memorials and sculptures sightseeing for my first day in Washington DC, my now very tired feet were urging me to pick my way back to the hotel, but more importantly before that, find something to eat considering the fact that I hadn’t eaten the entire day – and for my first night in Washington DC I knew very much exactly what I wanted: America-style pizza!

So I slowly worked my way up along 6th St NW and just before I reached the Capitol One Arena (which was a hive of bustling, hay-fuelled horsey activity thanks to the grand Washington International Horse Show about to kick off – which unfortunately I wasn’t able to secure tickets for), I bumped into something looking particularly promising tucked away on the bottom floor of a very interesting looking building marked as the former Oriental Building Association headquarters – Fuel.

Fuel Pizza & Wings as it turns out is a small franchise that started up in 1998 by a couple of New Yorkers who found themselves living in Charlotte but in need of some really good New York-style pizza. They eventually found the perfect location to start in an old funky 1930’s gas station and fast forward 20 years, the team now have four locations scattered around Charlotte and two in Washington DC – one of which I had now perchance stumbled upon.

This particular Fuel eatery is themed around the 1930’s racing circuit and goes for a relatively industrial, minimalistic feel to it. Aesthetics, bar, and wings offerings aside, pizza is what I was there for and thankfully Fuel delivered exactly what I wanted. By the slice, cheese dripping, crispy thin based pizza heaven. It sounds stupid of course because we have plenty of good pizza options back home in South Africa, but admittedly there is something a little different about how the American ingredients influence the final product.

Pizza and Baboons at Something Els in Rooi Els (2020-11-08) Food and Drink | Photo Gallery 08 DEC 2020

Last month Chantelle and her The Helderberg Cake Company venture had as her last bake for the weekend a Sunday delivery out in Betty’s Bay, and so to combine wanting to get out of the house and grabbing a spot of brunch at the same time, we all piled into the car and drove off over the beautiful Clarence Drive coastal road, picking our way along the mountain slopes and the sea in what can only be described as some rather overcast weather.

Betty’s Bay and her dirt roads were of course thus a mud and puddle heaven, and not wanting to take a chance of sinking our car into a particularly deep hole, Emily was employed as official puddle depth tester (she being the only one wearing gumboots on the day), meaning any overly large puddle we weren’t sure of, she would have to jump out and go walk through the water. Genius use of child labour I tell you!

Delivery done and now on the way back, I wildly gesticulated at Chantelle that she pull over just outside of Pringle Bay, for I had spotted a magnificently gushing waterfall a little ways off the road. As luck would have it, there was in fact a small road that got us relatively close enough to admire the waterworks and well as the beautiful fynbos flowers that were so prettily framing this majestic Kogelberg Biosphere scene.

From there we rolled into Rooi Els, a perennial favourite of mine, pulling up at Something Els, an eatery and more interestingly, a botanical bar. Now I’m not entirely sure what they mean by “Botanical Bar”, but seeing as this is the Western Cape it is probably something to do with fynbos infused gin. (Seriously, you can’t move more than a few metres around Cape Town without tripping over some or other brand/style of gin these days!)

Not that it mattered though. We were there for food and to chill, and so a combination of pizzas and breakfast options were devoured, games of noughts and crosses were played, rain and grey sky atmosphere soaked up, and as if that wasn’t entertainment enough, one of the local baboons entered the restaurant much to the giddy excitement of the girls and of course, consternation of the staff. (No damage done, he didn’t get away with anything, and now Chantelle’s car has a furry baboon butt imprint on it).