Author Archives: Brenda

East to West Success!

Images courtesy of Jos Beltman 

Our train arrived back from its mammoth journey on Friday, 6 September and we feel quite proud of this success. This train essentially travelled six different journeys, each with its own group of guests, and is the first passenger train in history to travel the east-to-west Copper Trail, from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Lobito, Angola. We called it the Trail of Two Oceans and did we mention that our maiden voyage was a success?!

The six journeys included:
* Pretoria to Cape Town
* Cape Town to Dar es Salaam
* Dar es Salaam to Lobito
* Lobito to Dar es Salaam
* Dar es Salaam to Cape Town
* Cape Town to Pretoria

Our one train travelled a distance of 23 400kms!

Daphne Mabala, our ever graceful and fearless train manager, over saw the operations of our new east-to-west route and we feel that the journey’s success was in large part due to her dedicated management. She was supported by her management team and our owner/CEO, Rohan, who seemed to spend most of his time shaking the hands of dignitaries, politicians and tribal leaders whilst posing for photographs.

Also on board were historian and raconteur, Nicholas Schofield, hair stylist and guest liaison, Craig Geater, a formidable management team, our own locomotive drivers and mechanics, hostesses, dining car staff, barmen and women, an excellent kitchen team, a strong maintenance duo and of course our laundry team who, together with the barmen and chefs, are the real stars of the show.

The trip was a great success in both directions with minimal adjustments to the running schedule. The receptions at Lubumbashi and Kolwezi were a surprise while the officialdom and huge crowds meeting the train in Angola was unbelievable. Governors, ministers, tribal leaders, mayors, railwaymen, clergy and many other dignitaries all dressed up in their finest were on hand to meet the train at all major stations, accompanied by numerous musical groups and tribal dancers.

The tourism department and railways went way beyond the call of duty to ensure a safe and successful journey, while the journalists and TV crews had a field day giving our visit huge publicity. Our thanks to everyone who met us along the way with such enthusiasm and support – you added a memorable and touching element to the journey that we could not have anticipated or hoped for.

The saying goes “save the best for last” and the best of this entire experience had to be our wonderful guests. Our band of intrepid travellers who braved this new route with us! Thank you for travelling with us and helping make it the success that it was. Thank you too for your wonderful feedback and constructive suggestions on how we might improve the itinerary all of which are being fiercely debated between Rohan and journey coordinator, Regárdo! The journey is sold out in 2020 and our commitment to a memorable and once-in-a-lifetime experience for our guests is almost stubborn so your feedback is much valued and appreciated.

Our motto at Rovos Rail is to celebrate our wins but never rest on our laurels so planning for 2020 and beyond is well underway. And because Rohan is not one to sit still and because Research and Development is his passion, we suspect that not only will he tweak the Trail of Two Oceans itinerary to perfection but that he’ll be flying all over Africa exploring additional routes too.

Stay tuned!

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Celebrating our female train managers!

Written by Janine Avery from 5 Star Stories

With it being women’s month in South Africa, we thought we would take some time out to celebrate some very special women here at Rovos Rail. We’re really lucky to have not just one, but four, fabulous women in our contingent of staff working as train managers – a coveted job that comes with a great deal of responsibility.

A journey to the top
Their journeys to the pinnacle point of train manager all took a similar path. Each of these women joined our team as a rooming hostess. Over the years they worked their way up from cleaning, polishing and vacuuming rooms to working in the dining cars, behind the bar, in the admin department, to deputy manager and finally into their current role as train manager.

Starting at the bottom and working your way up is something that our owner and CEO, Rohan Vos, firmly believes in. “His philosophy is that you need to be able lead by example which means my teams need to see that I know how to scrub a loo, make a bed, unblock a shower head or get a generator working”, says Renolda Motha, our most recently appointed female manager.

A hotel with moving parts
“It’s a moving hotel with all these different parts,” says train manager, Lucinda du Plessis. And a firm understanding of each of these parts whether it be electrical, mechanical, guest relations or managing staff is what makes for a good manager. “It’s a challenge every trip. Train operations are complicated and can be tiring – I can work an entire journey with little to no sleep, especially if there are delays. You have to be on the phone all the time and stay one step ahead of all the players such as Transnet,” says Lucinda.

On this, Daphne Mabala, our first female train manager agrees, “It can get tough out there as we can do nothing about a signal failure or a derailed train ahead of us so we just have to wait. It causes me stress as I like to run on time all the time!”

For Mart Marais who has been working as a train manager for over ten years, “the trains are like my children – they either run smoothly or they can be incredibly difficult!”

The fun side of the job
And while yes, it’s a job, and evidently a tough one at that, it also comes with an up side. “I get to travel across our borders and experience countries like Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia and Tanzania and now Angola and the DRC too,” says Mart, explaining that the train, “feels like my second home – I am so used to it that I can’t sleep properly when I am not on board.” It’s a sentiment that’s echoed by most of her colleagues. “I’m so used to it now that it can feel odd being at home. I struggle to sleep the first few nights because there is no movement,” says Daphne.

And while cabin fever can set in on long trips, it is clear when chatting to each of these women that they really love what they do and the train teams with whom they work. “I like the comradely between the staff. We can have a lot of laughs and that’s important on the longer journeys”, says Mart.

“I enjoy our guests and my best is when people meet on board and become such good friends that they then all book another trip together. There are a few couples like that – they met on the train and now travel together every two years and always include a trip with us,” says Renolda.

Perhaps Daphne sums it up best, “After all these years and what I have learned, I love trains and find them fascinating. Especially ours.”

We couldn’t agree more, and these women are just one, or four, of the reasons why women are as good at managing trains as their male counterparts, if not better!

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Oom Gert and the Rovos Museum

By Janine Avery at 5 Star Stories

Arrive at Rovos Rail Station in Capital Park, Pretoria and you’ll find a red carpet laid out before you. A smiling porter is ready to relieve you of your heavy luggage, and a bow-tie clad gentleman is holding out a glass of sparkling Champagne. And thirsty while you may be, we advise you don’t enter those hallowed doors to our red-brick station building just yet.

Instead take a sharp left, let the antics of two tame llamas put a smile on your face, marvel at the mighty horns of some Nguni cows, and venture just a little further into our very own museum. Here, the rough gravelly voice of Gert van Rensburg aka Oom Gert (Uncle Gert) will welcome you back in time.

Boarding his very first Rovos train over 20 years ago, Gert was acquainted with a very different side of train-life than that which you will come to experience on your trip with us. That’s because he spent his time in the engine room.

As one of our most valued train drivers, Gert’s office was the hot, noisy and smoky end of the train, where he toiled away with one goal in mind. That being to get his passengers where they were going safely and on time! It’s a job he did with utmost aplomb, but it wasn’t without tribulation. Spend a few minutes talking to him and you’ll be regaled by tales of elephants on railway tracks and troublesome and tiring steam powered locomotives from days gone past. In fact, so busy was he driving trains that it was only recently that he ventured back into those luxurious cabins for a trip as a guest. And while he may have now let go of his reigns and passed on his hat, and a wealth of knowledge, to the younger generation, Gert is still a valued employee here at Rovos. He now runs the museum at Pretoria and its clear it’s his pride and joy.

Packed with artifacts which reflect Rovos’ 30 year history, as well as interesting items and train memorabilia from around the world, we aim to develop the museum into the foremost train museum in the world. While you’re waiting for your train to depart, the little ones can also wile away the hours playing on a refurbished old tractor or acting out yesteryear inside a traditional telephone booth. There’s also a massive scalextrics track and heaps of model trains that are bound to keep the boys, and girls, enthused.

You’ll need to tear yourself away eventually but before you do, stop and play a while, listen to the stories of Gert, of which there are many to hear, and relive a different era. Just be sure to leave yourself enough time to explore this little piece of history before stepping on the train yourself and enjoying your rail adventure!

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How We Roll

How We Roll

In our efforts at Rovos Rail to be as earth-friendly as possible we introduced new toilet paper on board the trains, in both of our departures lounges and at our guesthouses in St James, Cape Town. It’s not the most elegant of subjects but we’d like to share with anyone who might be interested because commitment to the planet should be first on all agendas and hey, it’s how we roll.

The Güdsheet loo roll is hand-wrapped in eco-friendly paper to promote hygiene, it’s packed in recycled paper boxes to replace plastic and sold in bulk to minimise carbon footprint. The 2-ply paper we use is BPA free and contains no chlorine, acids, inks, dyes or fragrances. What we like most is that it’s sewer and septic tank safe as it’s 100% biodegradable.

One of the best aspects of working with  is that every Güdsheet purchase helps provide toilets  and toilet paper to those in need. There are millions of South Africans who don’t have access to a toilet or even loo roll so through every purchase of Güdsheet we are helping provide toilets and toilet rolls to underprivileged schools and crèches in need.

To get in touch with the good folks at Güdco. you can e-mail on hello@gudco.co.za or find them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

You don’t only need to be in business to purchase Güdsheet as they also do residential deliveries! Both work and home can now be earth-friendlier and kinder to our planet.

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A Wedding at St James

Wedding at St James

We recently hosted an intimate and gorgeous wedding at St James Manor. It was a beautiful day, the couple was glowing and there was an elegant simplicity to the day that was breathtaking…and not bank-breaking.

At St James we offer those looking for a smaller wedding different packages for each of our three guesthouses that will suit most budgets.

A wedding at St James Manor can comfortably seat 24 people with an additional 80 guests standing. Should you choose to only hire the event space the rate is ZAR25 000. If you opt to include accommodation we offer six suites, sleeping 12 guests, for a rate of ZAR45 000.

St James Homestead accommodates 16 seated guests with 80 standing. Event space hire only is ZAR25 000 and should you opt to include the six suites the rate is ZAR40 000.

At Seaforth, we can seat eight of your wedding party with 20 standing. Hiring just the event space is ZAR15 000 and with the three suites included, sleeping six people, the rate is ZAR21 000.

Please note that we will only hire just the event space during low season which falls between April and September each year.

High season packages , from October to March each year, automatically include accommodation and the rates are as follows:

St James Manor and Homestad are both ZAR45 000 for the event space and accommodation. Seaforth is ZAR23 000 for the space and the three large and lovely suites.

All packages include event space (indoor or outdoor is weather dependent), existing furniture in each house and two staff members to assist with the management of your wedding.

Not included is additional décor, flowers and lighting. Cutlery, crockery, glassware, music/DJ, wedding catering which includes alcoholic and other beverages, wedding coordinator and fees, transport costs and gratuities are also not included.

Please note that rates are not fixed and subject to change.

Should you and your guests choose to stay at our lovely seaside guesthouses we offer a full gourmet breakfast, all alcoholic and other beverages (for those staying in the houses), in-room mini-bar fridges and snacks, laundry, Internet access, parking and personalised concierge services.

If you’re unfamiliar with St James, it is a quaint little area tucked into the mountain side on Cape Town’s Southern Peninsula. Our guesthouses are a short walk to Kalk Bay, which was recently voted as one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the world by Forbes Magazine. Kalk Bay is home to coffee shops, incredible restaurants such as Harbour House and La Parada, there are delightful little cobble-stoned streets with art galleries, curio and clothing shops and the Tibetan Tea House is also a short distance away in Simon’s Town.

Across the road from all three of our guesthouses is St James beach with its lovely tidal and rock pools and the colourful Victorian bathing boxes.

All of our houses are well suited to bridal parties the night before a wedding. We have spa treatment options available for men and women and plenty of space on hand for wedding day preparations. We are able to host hair and make-up teams, provide breakfast and snack platters, bubbly, beer and other refreshments and a beautiful location to take those sought after pre-wedding photographs.

Should you need additional information please do not hesitate to get in touch with us. E-mail on guesthouses@rovos.co.za or call +27 (0) 21 788 4543. We would be delighted to host you on your special day and hope to share in very happy memories with you!

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Wedding at St James

Sensational St James!

Our three sensational guesthouses in St James are under new management and we have breathed new life into all aspects of our beautiful seaside homes. For those who don’t know, St James is situated on the beautiful False Bay coastline on the Cape’s south peninsula. Our sensational houses are all on the Main Road so have direct access to St James beach with its beautiful rock pools and well-known colourful Victorian bathing boxes.

St James Manor, Homestead and Seaforth all have their own style and personalities which gives our guests the opportunity to select a home that is best suited to their needs. All have their own swimming pools, breakfast rooms, comfortable lounges and fully operational kitchens. Seaforth even sports a small gym which can be used by guests staying at any of the three houses.

We recently recruited the services of our much trusted videographer, Ross Hillier, to shoot new video content and take new photographs for us. We had a lot of fun creating material that shows off each sensational house and would like to thank Ross, his team and all who participated in what was a fun few days!

Please enjoy our new video by clicking here.

Should you be interested in receiving information about St James and the guesthouses please visit our website, e-mail guesthouses@rovos.co.za or call +27 (0) 21 788 4543.

We hope to welcome you into our one of our sensational St James guesthouses soon!Sensational St James

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Rovos Rail Big Reputation

Big Reputation

by Brenda Vos-Fitchet

It’s taken us 30 years to earn our big reputation and earned it we have. Every step of the way.

Operating the most luxurious train in the world is a challenge. Not because we can’t live up to the hype but because the national railway networks on which we are reliant are letting us down. Not on every trip mind you, but on enough that has seen our reputation take a few knocks.

We’re operating a first-world product on third-world infrastructure, a system which in South Africa took a hit under our previous governmental administration. Jacob Zuma’s presidency left this country even poorer and the consequences of his reckless actions can be felt in most industries.

The first challenge we have is not new but one that has certainly become more of a concern over the past few years. What many don’t realise is that we are not permitted to haul our trains with our own locomotives and drivers. I’m not sure that any luxury passenger train in the world is. We are reliant on Transnet (South African Railways) for our traction and service, something we used to be very happy about because getting into the logistical and maintenance business of locomotives is not an avenue we ever wanted to pursue – they are expensive and also present complex challenges so we were more than happy to sign on the dotted line three decades ago.

Fast forward to the present and we find ourselves in a relationship with the most reluctant landlord only now the infrastructure has deteriorated.  This is what prompted us to purchase nine electric and 14 diesel locomotives, and to recruit trained drivers, so that we be self-reliant. We’ve persevered in our quest for permission to haul our own trains and so far have had success with two of our trips.

On our three-night Victoria Falls journey, we are now allowed to pull the train from Musina to Victoria Falls and back. This has greatly improved the operational aspects of the trip and we are very happy with the results – we have our own depot at the border which houses a few of our diesel locomotives and we have set up accommodation for our drivers and mechanics. We’ve also done the same for the 15-day Dar es Salaam sojourn – we use our own splendid locomotives from Mafikeng to Dar es Salaam and the trip has run operationally well for five years. So our big gamble is paying off.

Our second biggest challenge, and one over which we truly have no control, is cable theft. Again, this is not a new phenomenon plaguing Transnet and law enforcement but one that has certainly grown in efficiency and pace. When before it was a sporadic problem it is now something over which we all worry. Local authorities and Transnet must be tearing their hair out because the crime syndicates arranging the theft of this valuable copper cable are well-oiled, slick operations with no-one able to predict where the theft will next take place. It’s impossible to police every section of railway line across South Africa so we’re all left feeling frustrated as none of us are equipped or permitted to relay the cable ourselves.

The ripple effect of this has been upsetting to all trains utilizing the tracks, not just ours. Delays are experienced by commuter, freight and passenger trains.

Over the course of 30 years, many at Rovos Rail have worked tirelessly to create memorable experiences and we have also been a cog in the wheel of turning the tide on global opinion of South Africa. And it does sometimes feel that reckless politics and an understaffed parastatal is unravelling the reliable and big reputation we have built for ourselves.

So what can we do? Well, we control what we can and that is everything on board. Our quest for comfort and service on the trains as well as providing a variety of interesting excursions is first prize. Lead by an unrelenting Rohan, we are constantly striving to maximize everything on board. In fact, Rohan has recently redesigned all suites to allow for more space and storage. We have further improved on sound-proofing the trains by installing new windows in the rooms and adding insulation to the bulkheads. Rohan goes out on recce trips in countries such as Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Angola to inspect new railway lines, potential excursion sites and off-train accommodation options to either improve on existing itineraries or to launch new journeys. We also have our Rovos Academy with new training programmes and rooms for all of our train staff so that they can serve with confidence and ease on board.

In other words, we are not giving up.

Like many in our industry, we have had to deal with unforeseen obstacles for three decades and in the face of this adversity we will persevere in our quest to remain the most luxurious train in the world and to keep building on the excellent reputation which we have earned and fought hard to keep for 30 years.

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Happy Birthday Rovos Rail

Happy Birthday Rovos Rail!

Image: Rohan and Anthea Vos

Three cheers for Rovos Rail! 30 years, we can hardly believe it. It’s our birthday today and it is honestly the most surreal and extraordinary feeling.

We sometimes can’t believe what we have managed to pull off in three decades. There have been many uphill battles Rovos Rail has had to fight over the years; a series of tragic local and international events that have almost brought us to our knees nearly forcing us to close our doors. But here we are, 30 years on with Rohan and Anthea still leading the charge, never backing down and providing all 440 of us with work we love.

Together with the creative and talented team at 10th Street Media, we produced a short film to document our 30-year history. We’ve released a couple of teasers over the past few weeks leading up today, our birthday. Should you wish to watch the full documentary you are welcome to do so by clicking here.

We would not be celebrating our 30th birthday if it weren’t for our loyal supporters . We’ve been fortunate to have amicable and prosperous relationships with local and international tour operators and travel agents who have entrusted us with their clients, our guests, for many years and we’d like to thank all of you for your enduring support.

And to our guests, especially our “repeat offenders”, your enthusiasm and enjoyment of our train is what fuels our fires and keeps us moving forward. Thank you for travelling with us and we hope to see you again soon!

To view all of our trailers and other 30th birthday creative and promotions click here. Visit our website at rovos.com, e-mail reservations@rovos.co.za or call us on +27 (0) 12 315 8242 (Pretoria) or +27 (0) 21  421 4020 (Cape Town).

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Pretoria to Victoria Falls with Rovos Rail

The Rovos Rail journey from Pretoria to Victoria Falls has certainly become a firm favourite. We recently had guests, Mr and Mrs Hume, who travelled on this journey in celebration of their 80th birthdays! They took the time to send us a lovely e-mail but also a really kind and enthusiastic review on their trip.

Thank you Mr and Mrs Hume and happy birthday from all of us at Rovos Rail!

Rovos Rail was simply transporting. In so many ways. Born of the dreams of a tall, handsome visionary who dreamt of having a private refurbished train on which to take his family on a tour of South Africa, it soon evolved into one of the most luxurious trains in the world.

Rohan Vos (pronounced “Foss”), having obtained permission from South African Railways to operate a private train, soon found that the myriad of petty fees and costs levied by the state operator,  made a private train simply unaffordable. So, not to be daunted, Vos expanded his idea into a commercial tourist train. Following his passion of transforming derelict rail carriages into masterpieces of mahogany-paneled Edwardian grandeur, finished with the finest brass and silver trimmings and crimped, etched glass lampshades, Vos has created a traveling jewel which affords the discerning traveler the chance to glide through the rugged African veldt while being pampered in the best ways known to man.

Brother David had driven us from his home in Johannesburg to the start point. But at first we had trouble finding it, nestled as it was under unlikely tall palm trees in a disused section of Pretoria’s railyards. Adding to its sense of mystery. Then there it was, a colonial-era station house, transformed into a spacious, gracious lounge filled with leather couches and period pictures, all gently blown by the breezes of twirling, broad-bladed ceiling fans. Young waitresses plied the guests with trays of champagne in frosted flutes.  We had arrived. The sense of expectation was electric.

Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls
Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

Vos himself seems to treat the departure of every train as a landmark event in his family’s history. He was there in person to shake every hand and wish everyone a good time. Before  boarding he devoted almost a full hour to explaining the history of ROVOS, and to giving his guests a tour of the workshops adjoining the station house, where coaches are refurbished and train pieces from bogey wheels to window latches are serviced and repaired. For our amusement he had arranged for one of the original steam engines to be drawn up at the siding. We crawled all over it, amid its wisps of escaping steam, like kids on a Jungle Jim, striking poses for each other’s cameras.

Eventually, we boarded. Our bags already loaded into our spacious cabin, we soaked up every detail of the luxury hat engulfed us. The broad double bed, the warmth of the wood panels, the space, the work table, the adjoining shower room and toilet, the ample hanging and cupboard space, the mini-bar, to be stocked up as we ordered. What else could there be? We were soon in the Observation Car, chilled Chenin Bancs in hand, the logoed cut-crystal glasses glistening like golden orbs against the arid grassy plains passing beyond the windows.

Lunch was as much a dream as a meal. We struggled to balance our focus between the scrumptiousness of the food and wine and the beauty of the fittings in the ornate Dining Car, with its tasseled velvet curtains at each window. Mini-quiche served with Hamilton Russell Constantia Chardonnay was followed by grilled salmon on rice with asparagus accompanied by Sutherland Saugivnon Blanc. All served under the regal audience of a large Protea flower, one per table, South Africa’s unique symbol of enduring elegance. Echoed by the pleasure of Meriel’s ethereal presence . Butter balls in a silver-plated dish completed the picture.

Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls
Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

As the train gently lurched its way forward my history came into focus. We crossed the Limpopo at Beit Bridge, named after Sir Alfred , Cecil Rhodes’ minor partner in the De Beers diamond company, . The fund he established helped finance my Doctorate at Oxford. Bulawayo, place of my birth, was up ahead. First would come Collen Bawn, famous century-old quarry and cement plant, then Gwanda, Balla Balla, and, finally, Essexvale where, about  a hundred years ago, my father Denny cycled out with his gold pan to prospect the streams.

Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls
Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

We stopped at Gwanda to visit a curio market. Besieged by politely badgering African kids the Rovos guests shuffled from stall to stall against a backdrop of African singing as a troupe of young locals vigorously danced for us.

By now dusk had fallen and I knew I would not actually see these places, but would be in them. Night would steal them from me as history had already done, almost.  So that night we slept near Bulawayo without seeing it, at Mpopoma. After sunrise our journey continued and more names, each with memories, came into view: Pasi Pas where Denny had taken me one day in the late 1940s to buy sandstone from the quarry to build our house on Norfolk Road; Nyamandhlovu (“flesh of the elephant”) where my Plumtree classmate Mike Wood’s father had been Native Commissioner; then Saw Mills once the center of Rhodesia’s hardwood industry (Yellowwood an Muqua), now standing weeded and overgrown, grazed by a small herd of motley looking goats. Gwaai River would be next, followed by Dett and Hwange where we are to stop for a game drive.

Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

The game drive exceeded all expectations. Starting early on open, tiered-seat Jeeps (supplied by The Hide) there was a sense of exhilarating excitement cruising across Hwange’s endless grassy khaki-colored grasslands. We saw few animals to start with. It was still too warm for them to start their evening browsing. There were a couple of giraffes and a lone Impala bull, partly hidden in the shade of thickets, and some bird life but not much else. Cleophas the guide had asked us what we would like to see. We all said, predictably, “The Big Five”. One guest said “Cheetah” and I added “Kudu”. “The Big Five not possible” he said, “because Hwange no longer has rhinos. Cheetahs not guaranteed and Kudu unlikely but we can hope..” He finished. He said we could see lions but they were 30Kms away. We said that was too far. After a while, deep into the plain we came across a muddy watering hole in which there was a lone elephant bull. It stood motionless like an apparition, its tusks completely covered in glistening black mud like a dark chocolate version of itself. “This bull” the guide explained “has probably been estranged from the herd. He may be in decline and is facing his own extinction in what will be a lonely life from now on.” We left him alone and moved to another water hole with four more younger bulls, caking themselves in mud and dust. Cleophus explained that, once thus covered and caked, they would find a tree and rub their sides against it. Any ticks and other parasites apparently get ripped off the elephant with the caked mud. Tuskers toilet.

Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

As we left the elephants another viewing Jeep closed on us, saying that the reported lions were still at the same place. We decided to go there. On arrival we saw only a small green patch in the sea of golden grss, with sme scattered bushes and a fallen tree trunk. The we saw that there were two huge male lions, one lying on his side snug into the bush for the shade, the other stretched out below the fallen tree trunk. We came within a few yards from them. They showed no interest in us at all. Occasionally the one would look out into the distance across the plane. We did not know it at the time but he was eying his mates, three lionesses hidden in the grass a half mile away. As we watched the lion under the tree trunk rolled into its back, turned its head lazily and gazed at us with his head upside down. Sizing us up from down under.

Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

Before long, as the sun lost its heat, sinking towards the horizon and throwing a liquid gold light across the glowing pain, we suddenly saw that it had come alive with animals. Herds of Impala appeared from nowhere, there were giraffe gliding like glinting cranes through a patch of trees, we saw two Kudu does, and there was a family of waterbuck not far from where the lions lay. Cleophus explained the waterbuck were not afraid of lions, partly because they knew did not favor the taste of their flesh, but also because, strong swimmers, they could take to the water if attacked. They made a regal sight as they stared across the pain. As we drove quietly away, Cleophus suddenly stopped the Jeep some yards from a small grass-covered mound. “Cheetahs” he whispered. Then we saw the two small heads of the cubs, ears twitching in the sunlight as they gazed intently outwards. As Cleophus moved the Jeep some feet forward we could then see the mother. Sprawled languidly across the back of the mound, mostly hidden in the grass, she stared intently across the plain with steady, sullen eyes. Was it to be Impala or something else for dinner?

Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls
Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

We moved on. In the mosaic that is the Hwange reserve, patches of rich green grass and scrub intertwine the pale khaki of the grassland. In one such patch we came across aa small herd of Zebra grazing actively in the declining daylight. The whiteness on their beautifully plump and proportioned bodies glowed brightly like liquid silver in the sunlight between the jagged stripes of carbon blacking. Lionfish of the plain. Their high manes gave them a full-dress military look, like Trojan Centurions trussed up by Versace.

Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

It was time to begin to head back to base camp, close to the train, where drinks awaited us.  By this stage we were all elated and flushed with joy. We had not seen The Big Five, but close. Nic had seen his Cheetah, I had seen my Kudu. Nic then shouted that he saw more elephants up ahead, crossing the road. As we snapped our gaze in the direction of the elephants none of us could believe what we saw next on the road ahead of us: a huge male lion, followed by a lioness, sauntering on the bare sandy earth of the roadway towards the Jeep. The male lion did not stop when he saw us, but just kept walking. Less certain, the lioness went to ground and, her belly on the sandy surface, watched intently. The male lion just walked slowly but relentlessly right up close to the Jeep. Seeing that we were not going to move, he padded into the grass on the side of bare track, a few feet from where we sat watching. The jet-black tassel on the end of his tail was twitching, as if nervously, as he passed us about four feet from the edge of the vehicle.  Once he had passed us he simply spun round and lay down to rest no more than six or seven feet from the back of the Jeep. Nicolas had taken a video of the whole incident. Who said we had to drive 30Kms to see lions?

Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

Nicolas reminded us about the herd of elephants up ahead, so we drove on towards where they had been. Sure enough, we rounded a bend in the road behind a fleeing flock of Guinea Fowl that sprinted un the road ahead of us, we found ourselves in the midst of a large herd of elephants. Some of them, particularly the younger ones of which there were many, flapped their ears furiously, lifted their trunks skywards and emitted coarse hissing sounds. It was time to return to base camp. We had had a thrilling set of episodes, it was invigorating out on the plain. Birds were everywhere chasing insects in the dying light. The sun had suddenly melted into a faintly crimson glowing orb. The game view was over.

Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

The whole train was now gathered for drinks and grilled snacks at a camp facility, part of The Hide operation. In an amazing act of management prowess ROVOS had decamped the whole drinks camp, had guests all re-board the train and within an hour served a corsage and candle light final dinner in the Dining Cars. Bravo ROVOS!

All that was left of the ROVOS Rail trip was for us  to arrive at Victoria Falls. There it was suddenly, distant spray rising out of the dense bush, a siding sign, glimpses of the white facades of the gracious Victoria Falls Hotel, and the sounds of African harmonies, as a group of leopard skin-clad Shangaans danced and sang a welcome on the platform.

Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

A magical dream had ended. A new welcome awaited.

(All images provided by © Mr Ian and Mrs Meriel Hume)

Visit our website at rovos.com, e-mail reservations@rovos.co.za or call us on +27 (0) 12 315 8242 (Pretoria) or +27 (0) 21 421 4020 (Cape Town).

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Rovos Rail celebrate with us

Winter Warmer

Photo credit: © Jos Beltman, Holland 

Autumn has arrived in South Africa and that means our annual Winter Warmer is here! This offer available to South African passport holders and SADC member states only.

The Winter Warmer is a 2-for-1 special on our two-night Cape Town journey and is available from April to 30 September 2019. The offer is for a one-way journey for two people sharing in a Deluxe suite.

The 50% reduced rate is R15 550 per person sharing in the Deluxe suite (normal rate is R31 100 per person sharing). The rate is fully inclusive of all meals on board, all alcoholic and other beverages on board, the off-train excursions, 24-hour room service and a limited laundry service. It does not include flights, transfers, pre- and post-tour accommodation or gratuities for the train staff. 

Cuddle up on board with us this winter and travel from the grasslands of the gold-rich Highveld to the haunting barrenness of the Great Karoo; trundle the spectacular mountain ranges and scenic winelands of the Cape.

Should you require further information please get in touch by e-mailing reservations@rovos.co.za or call +27 (0) 12 315 8242 (Pretoria) or +27 (0) 21 421 4020 (Cape Town). Visit our website here.

Terms & Conditions Apply

PLEASE NOTE: Rovos Rail is 100% reliant on Transnet for its traction and service (diesel and electric locomotives as well as drivers and railway infrastructure). Rovos Rail therefore cannot be held liable for any delays due to trains not running to schedule. Excursions cannot be guaranteed and will only be undertaken if time and circumstances permit. Departure and arrival times are approximate and cannot be guaranteed. We reserve the right to alter our routing at any time between departure and arrival points. We caution against same-day air travel on departure or arrival days due to possible delays with flights or the train.

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