Author Archives: Brenda

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Happy Holidays!

It’s been a tough year and it seems sometimes that just as we climb one mountain we are immediately faced with another. Living in South Africa certainly has its challenges and 2015 has been particularly brutal in terms of politics. But, we’ll put that aside for now as we want to wish all of you HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

We realise that some are working straight through, that others don’t celebrate this time of year and that others simply just can’t but if you are taking some time off we hope it will be a happy holiday for you. Let there be a lovely meal, quality family time and, even though it’s generally chaotic, let there be rest.

Because there are so many of us here at Rovos Rail we had a couple of different Christmas parties as we can’t all take time off at the same time. Our train management team were treated to limos and a good lunch, our site staff enjoyed a big braai (barbecue) where they played soccer, danced and sang at the top of their lungs! The head office team had a fairly polite cocktail party in our boardroom which next year we will turn into a Winter Wonderland…even in this 40°C heat!

We have a great deal to feel grateful for as business for both the trains and our St James Guesthouses is doing well despite our government doing its best to make it as difficult as possible. Forward business is looking reasonably strong and it is certainly encouraging to note numerous enquiries coming through for 2017, mostly of course for the longer journeys with our golf tours attracting considerable attention. All in all, we are very positive about the trend and are planning accordingly for growth.

We could not do this without our loyal travel agents and tour operators who entrust us with their clients each year and to all of you we say thank you, your much valued support is greatly appreciated. To our guests, especially our Rovos Club members who travel with us on a regular basis, your loyalty does not go unnoticed and we are thankful.

Have a happy holiday, friends! We look forward to sharing a safe and prosperous 2016 with you.

Sincerely,

The Rovos Team

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Rovos Rail Train Management

Thank you, Train Managers

The train manager’s role is diverse and operating our rail journeys can be unpredictable and our managers deserve a big thank you from all of us here at Rovos Rail.

The set of skills required (and acquired) could make up an entire resume. From understanding the mechanics of each coach and what is required to keep them moving forward, overseeing a delicate and sometimes moody electrical system and the water supply to the entire train, wheels which can be a constant headache, managing a full complement of staff and maintaining balance on board with guests who are from all corners of the globe. It is not easy yet our team of train managers handle themselves with courteous professionalism, diplomacy and a level of quick and proactive thinking, which is impressive.

Collectively they have been with us for 81 years with Joe and Daphne leading the pack; Joe sees 26 years with us and Daphne, 22. Joe walked into the Victoria Hotel, a property that was the original 1893 railway hotel and one that we owned, looking for work. Rohan Vos, our CEO, asked him if he could do any carpentry work to which Joe said no. He was hired anyway and 26 years later he is still with us!

All six of our train managers have worked their way into their positions as senior management. Luxury train travel requires staff that understand the ins and outs of every aspect of the train but also of silver service as well as the challenges of overseeing guests and managing expectations.

We start all of our staff as hostesses or butlers so our train managers know how to make beds, clean bathrooms, fold laundry and towels perfectly, conduct stock takes as well as serve four-course meals along with some of South Africa’s finest wines which requires study from their side. These gathered skills are essential in managing a team of young train staff.

Behind every good manager stands his or her Deputies. It’s our Deputy Managers that take care of the finer things on board ensuring that everything is washed, polished and varnished so that the train sparkles. Rarely is there an out-of-place crease or smudged glass as our generals are perfectionists and not often do things go amiss!

It’s a tough job with many sleepless nights especially on a long journey such as Dar es Salaam. When you are reliant on external companies for your traction and service things can go wrong but our on-board warriors handle everything with an enormous amount of patience and insight.

To all of you we say thank you. Your dedication and loyalty to the dynamic roles you play is appreciated and we are grateful for your years of service.

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Elephant Rescue in Kenya

The number of animals living on the land has fallen by 40% since 1970. From forest elephants in central Africa, where poaching rates now exceed birth rates, to the Hoolock gibbon in Bangladesh and European snakes like the meadow and asp vipers, destruction of habitat has seen populations tumble. But again intensive conservation effort can turn declines around. Enter The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Born from one family’s passion for Kenya and its wilderness, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is today the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world and one of the pioneering conservation organisations for wildlife and habitat protection in East Africa.

Most of us who work at Rovos Rail are passionate about animal care and rescue. Over the years we’ve rescued and rehabilitated donkeys, horses, ostriches, pigs, goats, and of course many dogs and cats. Knowing the plight of our wildlife and realising that all we can really do from our HQ in Pretoria is to advocate, raise funds and donate, we started fostering a baby elephant called Arruba who was reported alone and trapped in March last year. You can watch her capture and rescue by clicking here.

1948 saw the beginning of David Sheldrick’s renowned career within the Royal National Parks of Kenya, where he worked unwaveringly for over two decades transforming Tsavo’s Eastern Sector, a previously unchartered and inhospitable land, into Kenya’s largest and most famous National Park. David Sheldrick stands out, even today, as one of Africa’s most famous and proficient Pioneer National Park Wardens of all time. He held his post as Warden of Tsavo East until he was transferred to head the Planning Unit for all of Kenya’s Wildlife Areas based in Nairobi at the end of 1976. Sadly David died 6 months later, but the legacy he left in Tsavo endures. For over 25 years Kenya-born Daphne Sheldrick lived and worked alongside her husband, during which time they raised and successfully rehabilitated many wild species. Daphne Sheldrick’s involvement with wildlife has spanned a lifetime, and she is now a recognised international authority on the rearing of wild creatures and is the first person to have perfected the milk formula and necessary husbandry for infant milk-dependent elephants and rhinos. Since the death of her husband, Daphne and her family have lived and worked in the Nairobi National Park, where they have built the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and its pioneering Orphans Project, into the global force for wildlife conservation that is today.

Our luxury trains travel throughout Southern Africa and on our journeys guests see a true cross section of life in South Africa as well as some of our neighbouring countries. Poverty is rife and to combat this most companies dig deep to assist with food, clothing, the building of homes, fresh water and basic education. Preserving our wildlife has always been high on our priority list and in time we hope to be able to contribute more to The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust as they are on the forefront of elephant rescue and rehabilitation. There are so many ways to help too. One can donate via their website to help fund the orphan’s project, the de-snaring programme which involves eight teams, the aerial surveillance unit, the saving’s habitats project, the mobile veterinary unit and to their various community initiatives. To read further on other ways to assist click here.

Born To Be Wild   orphelinat-elephants

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Rovos Rail Dar es Salaam

A Royal Letter

It’s not every day we receive a royal letter and lovely feedback such as the below is always welcome by all here at Rovos Rail.

Dear Mr Vos,

Journey Cape Town to Dar es Salaam, 17thJanuary

My wife Cammy and I have just returned from Dar – having thankfully not availed ourselves of the rest of the Noble Caledonia tour, by boat. (I particularly dislike the sea; my overriding interest was in your train!)

I wanted to write to say how absolutely enthralled we both were in what you provide! I am not a “train buff” in that I could not tell you the gauges of the railway in Canada, Cambodia or Cameroon (as some of our fellow passengers could – and did), but I have always been fascinated by Edwardian travel details – from early limousines to showman’s caravans and of course the wonderfully extravagant rail cars of American 19th century industry barons.

What you have done in creating the Pride of Africa train surpasses all and nothing short of amazing! There was no reason for me to look for fault, but if I had I could not have found it – the cabins were brilliant, the beds were exceptionally comfortable and including a shower room is quite extraordinary.

It was a total joy to sit watching Africa roll by – or perhaps more truthfully, given the state of some of the tracks, rumble by. How marvellous, in this age of safety and correctness, to be able to open the windows; how fantastic to sit on the observation deck – surely unique? My wife had never been to Africa and there can be few better ways to see it and none in such comfort. We loved every minute.

As for the service and friendliness – and efficiency – of your staff, it surpassed everything. From being greeted with champagne by the line of beautifully dressed hostesses and helpers (I persisted in calling it champagne on the basis that your South African wines are a match for any. And it is easier to say…) to the unexpected and clever touches of cold water when setting out and damp towels on dusty returns and we were looked after at breakfast, lunch and dinner. There were so many brilliant details.

We so appreciated being met in Cape Town by you, something commented on by several people, both on this trip and previous ones.

Eric Annandale, your train manager, was a star. He worked ceaselessly to overcome any operational obstacles. Craig Geater was wonderful – a great help in all matters – not only in the incredible luxury of having a hair stylist on board, but with information and organisation on trips as well.

The food was amazing, always unusual, always delicious and just the right amount. The South African wines were outstanding. The dining room and bar staff were brilliant and always ready to change menu in individual cases, willingly and efficiently. The dining car itself is superb.

Thank you too for the various splendid gifts that came with the tour – including a very fine tie and the magnificent Rovos tog bags!

All in all a most magnificent experience and one we are sure to share with our family and friends for many years.

Thank you and congratulations on your achievements.

Sincerely, 

Lord Cranworth

If you would like information on our Dar es Salaam journey then please do not hesitate to contact Alicia on alicia@rovos.co.za 

Photo credit: Jos Beltman from Icento Treinreizen in Holland.

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Darling Namibia and a new video!

We’re all taught not to have favourites, especially when it comes to children, but our seven journeys are like our children and the Namibia Safari is our new darling! We don’t know how it happened but this exceptional train journey has stolen our attention and now every one of us wants to step aboard to experience this remarkable trip.

Perhaps it’s the stark vistas of the Northern Cape, the grandeur of the Fish River Canyon – the second in size to the Grand Canyon – or the untamed beauty of the Kalahari desert. Perhaps it’s the fly-in safari into the Sossusvlei clay pan, which is surrounded by some of the highest sand dunes in the world including Dune 45, which has been penned as “the most photographed dune in the world”. We really don’t know but the Namibia Safari has something special and we feel it whenever guests convey their experience through their comment sheets or wonderful letters.

We’re thrilled that we’ve had to add another departure to the schedule and so now offer two trips each year!

It’s been a goal ours for a few years to capture this trip on camera, both photography and video, but shoots like these are an enormous expense so it always got pushed to the bottom of the list. Brenda, our Communications Manager, has been pestering for budget for years and she finally got her way in 2014!

Brenda contracted one of our favourite photographers and videographers, Ross Hillier, to capture this extraordinary nine-day journey and finally found him space on the Swakopmund to Pretoria leg in May last year. Together with Keenan Ferguson, Ross travelled on the train and went on all the excursions, which is a first as he usually has to chase the train by car!

We think the two artists did a remarkable job and we were so thrilled to be able to hand over the beautiful footage to 10th Street Media to edit for us. In Ross’s words: “I’ll film it but someone else needs to make the edits otherwise you’re going to have a 45-minute video on your hands”. We guess each clip or photograph is a labour of love so someone else needs to decide what stays and what goes!

We finally handed over the hard drive to Darren Kerr and his team from 10th Street Media this year and we think they did a superb job. We look forward to future collaborations with this exceptional team.

Watch the video here.

If you would like any further information on this lovely journey then please do not hesitate to contact Querida Nel on querida@rovos.co.za 

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“Let’s Open Guesthouses!”

“Let’s open guesthouses”, he said. “Should be a piece of cake compared to the trains”, he added. We all closed our eyes and watched him jump into another business venture with arms and bank account wide open! The he we’re referring to is of course, Rohan Vos, our formidable owner and CEO.

In 2009, Rohan purchased two properties within walking distance from one another. The first was no. 94 Main Road, a house called ‘The Homestead’, and the second was no. 108 Main Road which we called St James Manor. Both homes are in a beautiful area of Cape Town called St James, which is in between Muizenberg and Kalk Bay on the southern peninsula. St James is historically known as ‘millionaire’s mile’ and this well-to-do little suburb is squeezed between the rocky shore and a steep mountain, and measures about 200m by 2 km. St James beach is well known for its trademark colourful Victorian bathing boxes and large tidal pool. 

In April of 2010, after an extensive renovation, Rovos Rail officially opened the door to its first guesthouse, St James Manor. Built over 100 years ago, the Manor has an aura of grandeur and old-world charm with a magnificent wood-panelled staircase leading up to five large suites and a standard twin, each of which bears the name of historic, local characters of St James.

St James Homestead, the second guesthouse, sat quietly for two years before Rohan began renovating this beautiful home. In fact, the work done almost constitutes a rebuild as the house was originally built in the 1800’s and needed a great deal of careful and meticulous craftsmanship to preserve its historic aesthetics.

The Homestead’s story is one of humour and drama, which is quite fascinating. Upon taking ownership of The Homestead in 1867, Heinrich Pieter Hablutzel made additions to the existing building, one of which — the “Wall of Hate” — was to gain him notoriety. This occurred after the owner of next door Seaforth House, William Farmer, built a home closer to the Main Road (despite agreeing not to) and blocked out the view from The Homestead across the bay to Simon’s Town. In response, Hablutzel built a high wall on the edge of his property closest to Seaforth, which cut out part of its view of False Bay and the Hottentots Holland mountains as well as some early morning sun which Farmer had enjoyed. A court case ensued where Farmer tried to compel Hablutzel to demolish the wall, but he lost the case. Hablutzel then raised the wall by another two metres (six feet). He owned The Homestead for 35 years and his estate sold it to Archbishop William West Jones, first Archbishop of Cape Town, in 1902.

Interestingly, Rohan purchased Seaforth House in December of 2010 and officially opened it as St James Seaforth in 2011.

And, so now, we’re in the business of guest houses. We think we might try ships next!

Rovos Rail Guest Houses  Rovos Rail Guest Houses

Rovos Rail Guest Houses  Rovos Rail Guest Houses
Together with Big House, a production company in Cape Town, we put together a video to showcase our lovely properties.

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Rovos Rail Namibia Safari

A Lovely Letter

We’re in the fortunate position where our guests send us letters; some nice and not-so-nice! Below is an excerpt from a lovely letter we received from a passenger who travelled one of our nine-day Namibia Safari trips with us this year. She writes so beautifully we want to hire her!

Dear Mr Vos

It is literally one week ago that I was enjoying the final leg of the Rovos Rail journey through Namibia. I am again travelling by train, this time through the Scottish Borders and Northern England and having a very different experience. We are all tightly packed, mainly well behaved, drinking from plastic containers and I have not, as yet, braved the loos! But heigh-ho, horses for courses as the saying goes.

But really I want to compliment and congratulate you on your vision in creating a truly superb rail experience. I am still held in the fabulous fantasy bubble of the journey and continue to delight in ‘mulling over’ the sights, sounds and experiences which we shared.

We were blessed by having a really affable and fun group which, in general, gelled very well but this was in no small part due to the welcoming, friendly, tirelessly engaging and train, headed impeccably by Daphne. Nicholas, the font of all African wisdom and knowledge, added immeasurably to our insight of the political geography of your fascinating continent. We certainly left the train physically more challenged, from all the walks and the delicious food and beverages, and hopefully more educated with with heightened awareness and empathy towards the millions who do not have the numerous privileges that most of the ‘Pride of Africa’ guests enjoy.

On reaching Pretoria and seeing the workshops, loco sheds, the nurturing bird and animal sanctuaries etc. and knowing that a percentage of your profits are ear-marked for charitable causes I really wanted to sign on the dotted line and join up! As I have never worked for anyone else, apart from one and a half years of teaching, that is a compliment to your business and it’s implied ethics.

Excursions on the Namibia Safari were wonderful – in particular the sundowner which turned into a full-blown barbeque – it was fabulously romantic, imaginative and unforgettable. In fact, I think Sossusvlei was a real highlight for most of us. The dune walk was absolutely exhausting, exhilarating, fun-packed and mind-blowing.

I thank you and praise you again for your realised vision and would, God willing, that I may be permitted to travel Africa by Rovos Rail again.

Click here to watch our Namibia Safari video.

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A 50th birthday surprise on board Rovos Rail

A Surprise 50th Birthday!

A surprise 50th birthday. Five envelopes. An elated husband and an even happier wife! All the ingredients that make for a wonderful half century celebration.

For many, a train journey with us is a bucket list item so when Natasja Rabe decided to surprise her husband, Jaco, with this gift she not only made a dream trip come true but she also did it in the most cunning of ways!

On the Thursday before the train’s departure Natasja asked Jaco to pack his bags as she was taking him on a little holiday. He had no idea what was going on but was given an envelope telling him to pack for two nights and that he would have to include a dinner jacket and tie. Sneaky!

The following morning, the couple rose at the horrific hour of 3am to prepare for their trip and Jaco was given a second envelope to say that a luxury car would be collecting them shortly which would be transferring them to the airport. On arrival a third envelope was handed over revealing that the aircraft would be carrying them to Johannesburg.

When landing at OR Tambo International, the fourth envelope revealed that a trip on the Gautrain would be following next. “This is when I started to feel really excited. Confused but very excited”, says Jaco. “I kept thinking that my wife was out of her mind but I played along because I knew she would have planned something really special”.

The Gautrain stop was Pretoria Main Station where the fifth and final envelope was handed over revealing that they would shortly be arriving at Rovos Rail Station to board the train for the luxurious train journey to Cape Town “I knew it would be good but I had no idea it would be this good! I was over the moon as a trip on Rovos is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time”!

“Pulling into Rovos Rail Station was a sad moment because it meant our trip was over and we had to return to normal life. It was such a let down as our journey on the train was exceptional and we couldn’t have asked for anything better”, comments Natasja.

You are both welcome any time and Jaco, a very happy birthday from all of us at Rovos Rail!

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Weddings at Rovos Rail Station

Weddings with Rovos

Oh, how Rovos Rail loves weddings! With a predominantly female reservations and sales team, romantic weddings are on the list of what we love to do and supply us with wistful office chat on Monday mornings.

Weddings with us are different. Very different. The bride arrives not by classic car or horse-drawn carriage – or, for that matter, riding a horse – but on one of our beautiful vintage steam locomotives, the oldest dating back to 1839. The intimate ceremony is held in our charming red-brick station building with speeches given as the locomotive moves off the platform to collect the train that will host the wedding party on a four-hour loop around Pretoria. Guests step aboard our ‘Champagne Train’, for a four-course meal paired with some of South Africa’s best wines. The mood on board is celebratory and sweet with the couple’s most near and dear enjoying their special day.

Once dinner is over and guests have enjoyed apré dinner drinks in the observation car, the train chugs its way back to Rovos Rail Station where perhaps a band is waiting on the platform for some dancing and just a little more bubbly. The couple share their first dance as Mr & Mrs and then, a bit later, coffee and the cutting of the cake. Summer evenings in Pretoria are always warm and with the silhouettes of our big Jacaranda trees casting a dreamy backdrop, the station’s platform makes for an idyllic venue for couples looking for something extraordinary.

We’re so chuffed to recently have been voted one of Pretoria’s top wedding venues by I Do. The couples who have chosen to host their weddings here, at our station, and then on board the train have been lovely and all happy with their choice of venue which tickles us Rovos girls pink!

Depending on the number of guests, our little Events Train can host, with a full bar, a four-course sit-down dinner for up to 120 guests, a three-course sit-down meal for up to 240 guests in two sittings or, for 250 guests, hot snacks, canapés and cocktails served for the duration of the journey.

AlexanderSmith - M&C-492 RVR-EventsWine-LRes RVR-Dining2Seater-LRes

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South African flag

Our thoughts on Ebola

Ebola; one of the most frightening words circling our world at the moment. We think about the fear and panic in West Africa and the grief of the families who have lost their loved ones and it stops us in our tracks – the loss is truly devastating and we, like everyone else around the globe, express our sincerest sympathies to those who have suffered.

However, we sadly don’t live in a world where everything stops when there is an international tragedy. We continued with our lives when the 2004 Tsunami devastated Indonesia and we all kept going when the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster struck Japan in 2011. So when, on an online platform, we were asked how can we continue to promote our product in a “country ravaged by Ebola?” our immediate thought was that there are many things South Africa is ravaged by, at the top of the slope is corruption, but nowhere on that list is Ebola. Another post on Facebook: “I will never travel to South Africa because I’ll probably catch Ebola and die”. Now hang on a second, we understand if travellers are hesitant to travel, we would be too, but we feel that opinions should be expressed and decisions made on information that is actually accurate.

And before we get into the facts, it’s worth mentioning that Europe is closer to West Africa than both Kenya and Cape Town and that the confirmed Ebola cases in Dallas, USA, have not stopped Americans from travelling through the States for business or pleasure.

So here are the facts as presented to us by South African Tourism as per the World Health Organisation:

1. Ebola is a virus transmitted primarily via bodily fluids. It is not airborne. As such, it is still safe to make use of our airlines.

2. The incidents of infection and death are reported and prevalent in West African countries, most notably Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and the DRC. South Africa does not share borders with any of the countries in that region, nor do our neighbouring countries.

3. The geo-location of the countries affected makes it very difficult for a person with the virus to enter the country via the land borders. Owing to the quick infection to fatality rate of this virus, people with the disease often succumb to the virus within a few days of infection.

4. The South African National Department of Health have stated unequivocally that there are no cases of Ebola in South Africa. Having said that, we remain on high alert for any potential threat or infection.

5. To safeguard against the deadly virus, a decision has been made by the South African National Department of Health that should a foreign national test positive, they will be denied entry into South Africa.

It should also be noted that as of Tuesday, 21 October 2014, the WHO officially declared Nigeria free of Ebola after six weeks with no new cases. The same declaration was made for Senegal on Friday, 17 October. Click here to read the BBC article.

Africa, although not the size of America or Asia, is a large continent with distances of thousands of miles between the effected countries and major South African cities such as Johannesburg and Cape Town. To give you an idea, the distance from Monrovia (Liberia’s capital) to Johannesburg is 10 081kms which equates to 6 265 miles.

Although we recognise that consumer confidence in travelling to Southern and East Africa has been shaken as a result of the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, we feel it’s imperative to reiterate that South Africa has not had one reported case. We are not telling you to immediately pack your bags and book a flight here but we are asking that you decide on your travel plans based on factual, un-sensationalised information.

We trust that this has been helpful and hope to welcome you to our beautiful country.

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