Category : Journeys

Join the Club! Rovos Rail Club

Join the Club!

Over our nearly 30 years we’ve grown the Rovos Club to over 2000 members which is something we find flattering. When guests join the club it means they’re signing on for more than a ‘once in a lifetime experience’ and that brings with it a lovely satisfying feeling.

Throughout our nearly three decades of operation we have always aspired to maintain a high standard of discreet and personal service whilst meeting the individual needs of our wonderful passengers. The Rovos Club is an extension of this policy as it creates an opportunity to thank all of our repeat customers for their continued support and loyalty through a personalised incentive-based programme.

To register with the Rovos Club, one must have travelled with Rovos Rail twice. Club status may be awarded on the booking confirmation of the second journey.

If you are eligible for Club status, please use the Club Registration Form or call Dohné Boshoff on +27 (0) 12 315 8242 or e-mail her on dohne@rovos.co.za.

Rohan affectionately refers to our Club members as ‘Repeat Offenders’, all who are eligible for a variety of incremental discounts. We’ve been fortunate to host some Club members for their 60th, 35th, 20th, 10th and eighth journeys so they really do feel like part of the family and could probably recite the traditional departures speech verbatim!

Should you be interested in joining our club and want to see how it has been structured please click here.

We hope you join our club and look forward to welcoming you on board again soon!

Join the Club!

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Rovos Rail Life with Lardiere

Life with Lardiere

One of the perks of working in the hospitality industry, especially in food and beverage, is getting to experience tastings. We recently visited one of our bespoke suppliers, Lardiere Fine Foods, not only to catch up but also to sample a few of their new creations. Our discovery of this company a few years ago can be likened to finding a diamond in the rough and life with Lardiere has been simple, interesting, creative and delicious.

Our food and beverage team consisting of our owner Anthea, Michelle and our consultant, Markye, have spent many an hour discussing, debating and resourcing nutritious, wholesome and organic products to include in our menus and in all suites on the board the trains. The women have trawled South Africa finding local companies with strong values and a moral compass that aligns itself with ours at Rovos Rail. We also want to work with businesses who have ethical farming and practices so that the food is cruelty-free and is made from the best possible ingredients.

Enter Chef Junelle, the creator of Lardiere. Culinary life for Junelle began with studies at the Cordon Bleu School with career highlights including working with Ben Filmalter, the founder of Mugg & Bean and his wife, Judy, who introduced Junelle to the world of baking. It wasn’t long after that the inspiration and courage came for Junelle to open her own business and Lardier, which in French loosely means “a pantry where food is kept”, opened its doors. We hear the word pantry and are transported back to the kitchens of our childhoods with smells of biscuits and spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon. Taking a peek into Junelle’s pantry, you will always find the best local olive oil, butter, sea salt, and fresh herbs as she believes that no recipe should have more than a handful of ingredients.

And responsible trade is clearly of importance to Junelle. Not only does she want to lay the foundations for new standards in the local hospitality industry but she ensures that her ingredients are locally sourced and that all recipes are preservative-free. There is a strong focus by all chefs working at Lardiere on developing healthy and tasty gluten and wheat-free alternatives as well as vegan options as their production is 70% plant-based. In addtion, Lardiere is accredited to the South African National Halaal Authority and adhere’s to its strict guidelines.

Rovos Rail Life with Lardiere

One of our favourite aspects of life with Lardiere is that it’s made up of only female staff as the company is proactive in the support and upliftment of women. The latest product offering, Bosesi, meaning “sisters” in seTswana, has been created to give the women of the company ownership in a business while taking local South African flavours to the world.

We’ve have a variety of Lardiere’s really fine foods on board. In each suite we have a bespoke box containing Coconut Ice, Rosemary Shortbread and Almond and Cranberry Florentines. We’ve also introduced delights such as Roasted Banana Curd, Luxury Melba and Dried Pineapple Slices. We’ve been lucky enough to taste-test most of what Lardiere has to offer and be part of conversations about new recipes being developed which tickles our taste buds!

It’s a pleasure working with Junelle and her team as the company is wholesome not only in the products they create but also with their overall ethos. We can also guarantee the hygiene of their on-site kitchen as it is the cleanest space we have ever seen and inspired the big renovation we’re currently doing to ours!

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Spring on board the Shongololo!

It’s almost that time of year when we in the southern hemisphere can pack away our coats and feel the delicious beginnings of another beautiful summer. And we have a special offer that we think will put some spring back in your step! If you’re a resident of South Africa or its neighbouring countries then join us on board Shongololo Express, for a fully inclusive two-night trip from Cape Town to Pretoria at a 50% reduced rate!

Guests will board the train at Cape Town Station on Saturday 17 November at 11:00 travelling via Matjiesfontein and Kimberley to Pretoria, arriving Monday 19 November at about 13:30. Shongololo Express will travel the same two-night Cape Town itinerary that has been enjoyed by thousands of Rovos Rail guests over a span of nearly 30 years.

The special offer includes:

Emerald Cabin: R10 885 per person sharing (normal rate is R21 770 per person)
Gold Cabin: R8 240 per person sharing (normal rate is R16 480 per person)
Single Supplement: +50%

Rates include all meals on board, all alcoholic and other beverages on board, the off-train excursions, room service and a limited laundry service.

Not included: Pre- and post-tour accommodation, flights and transfers; staff gratuities; international/French Champagne and souvenirs.

T&Cs apply. Offer applicable to residents of South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Swaziland only.

Should you wish to join us please contact us directly:
reservations@rovos.co.za
+27 (0) 12 315 8242 (Pretoria)
+27 (0) 21 421 4020 (Cape Town)

All we need from you is a copy of your ID, passport or residency and we’ll take the rest from there.

We hope to welcome you on board the Shongololo Express very soon!

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The Lost Art of Train Travel

It’s always a lovely and welcome surprise when guests take it upon themselves to write a story for us. There seem to be many budding writers, poets and filmmakers on board as we are sometimes sent wonderful pieces of writing and video footage which often have the same theme – the lost art of train travel. How we’re all in a hurry to get to the destination so that we can “unwind” but once there we never put our phones down because everything needs to be shared online.

We received the below from Chris Hammond who, in his own words, could imagine himself as a history professor wearing a tweed blazer with leather elbow patches! Chris travelled from Cape Town to Pretoria on the train with his wife, Robyn, and when met on arrival at Rovos Rail Station they said that it surprised them how long it took them to relax and do nothing but eat, drink, sleep and mingle. “Train travel, in this form, is a lost art and it took some getting used to”, they said. “Well, just half a day and then we locked our phones away and didn’t seem them again until we got into Pretoria!”

The Lost Art of  Train Travel by Chris Hammond

Humans haven’t yet figured out a way of travelling through time but that doesn’t exclude us from experiencing the indulgences of a bygone era, which is exactly what Rovos Rail offers the discerning traveler – a step back in time and a tantalising taste of the romance and craft of the Age of Rail.

The furious pace of our modern lives has sadly distorted our opinion of travel. The goal these days, largely, is to get from Place A to Place B in the least possible time, with as little inconvenience as possible. The journey has become a means to an end, the objective to will the time away with distraction after distraction so that we can reach the destination and carry on with our frantic lives. Now is not the time to explore the effect of this ‘always-on’ mentality on our collective psyches and stress levels, but suffice to say that, at the very least, it is unhealthy.

A century ago there were fewer options. We couldn’t jump on a plane in Cape Town and land in Johannesburg two hours later. A trip then necessitated an understanding of the journey and an appreciation of the time that it would take to cover that distance, invariably, by train. With that came an acceptance that the journey would consist of what the modern day traveller might call ‘dead time’ – a period of time where communication with the outside world was effectively impossible and seemingly little could be accomplished. The traveler was forced to seek ways of extracting pleasure from the journey itself, a notion that Rovos Rail has revisited and refined into something of an art form.

From the moment you set foot in the Rovos departure lounge, you are transported to a time that exists now only in books and in memories we hold of stories passed down to us from generations that have gone before. Vaulted, high ceilinged corridors and a rolling, red carpet lead to an elegantly appointed lounge, where the soothing chords of a string quartet float through the air and the sparkle of a glass of champagne on a silver tray welcome the guest to the Rovos experience. There is no option other than to exhale, relax and allow yourself to be transported back in time.

Nothing is rushed. The train departs when it is ready, and the landscapes pass lazily by as passengers are encouraged to unwind, to mingle and to enjoy the scenery. It is easy to forget how vast and beautiful this country is, and to watch through the windows as the space unfolds into the Karoo in front of your eyes is restorative.

Exquisite attention to detail allows for fascinating interactions with the train, as the story and history of each carriage and indeed of Rovos Rail itself is discovered to those intent on finding it. The history revealed is remarkable and enchanting, so much so that had Barney Barnato himself walked into the dining carriage it would not have felt surreal.

Undeniably the sensation of not being rushed, or of having time to spare, has become so unfamiliar to us that it takes some getting used to. It’s not long however, before one can sense the layers of stress falling away and the thrill of adventure return.

Of course, it helps immensely that your every need is catered to. Magnificent meals that seem to emanate from invisible kitchens are sumptuously stretched out into the evening, paired with the finest selection of wines that the country can offer. Guests are left wondering what kind of sorcery enables the waiters to deliver such exceptional fare in such style from within the restrictions of the train environment. Questions of service logistics are quickly forgotten though, as the combination of the dessert wine and the soothing, rhythmical motion of the train draws one into a deep sleep in the surprisingly generous double bed.

Much of the same is to be expected in the days to come, and before long the cycle of eating indulgently followed by prolonged sessions of staring into the vast expanses that present themselves has become second nature. The ‘real world’ worries that seemed so pressing before departure seem to dissipate into the blue South African sky.

Guests are left feeling revived and invigorated as the train pulls slowly into the Private Rovos station in Pretoria.

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Durban Safari with Stacie Flinner

Rovos Rail Durban Safari Stacie FlinnerTravel adventures are just some of the beautiful experiences Stacie Flinner shares on her exceptional blog. Stacie and her husband joined us on our gorgeous little Durban Safari, travelling from Durban to Pretoria, and her words and images are so lovely that we feel we need to spread the joy!

It’s often tricky hosting media on board because like the box of chocolates you just never know what you’re going to get or whether she or he will actually enjoy their Rovos Rail experience. We’ve had a few misses but thankfully most have been hits.

KwaZulu Natal, with Durban at its helm, is in our opinion one of the most under-rated and under-valued provinces in South Africa. It is incredible to us that just one short flight away one lands in a lush, tropical and humid paradise full of cultural diversity and history, a sea in which one can actually swim (your limbs just about fall off in Cape Town as the water is freezing), some of the best game viewing and lodges the country has to offer and a near-perfect year-round climate! Winter in some parts of Natal is a treat as you can still walk around in shorts and flip flops unlike most other parts of the country.

And let’s not forget the Midlands. The Midlands Meander is a region in beautiful KwaZulu Natal that stretches from just beyond Mooi River in the north, Hilton in the south, Karkloof in the east and the foothills of the Drakensberg in the west. Suffice to say that the scenery is breathtaking and with the train meandering its way slowly through the heart of it, also travelling across The Valley of a Thousand Hills, the Durban Safari has to be one of the most beautiful journeys we offer.

We digress. Back to Stacie and her lovely review on her trip with us. Click on the link to read all about her sojourn with us and to see her gorgeous images.

(Top image by Stacie Flinner)

RVR-DurbanHillsMeadow-LRes

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A Dad and his Daughter go on a Train Date

Rovos Rail Dad and daughter date

We recently received a lovely letter from a Dad who decided to treat his 11-year old daughter to a train trip. What fun and what a special Dad and and daughter date!

Mr Pflaum travelled our two-night Cape Town journey with his daughter, Léonie, and other than a glowing report they also sent us images and a video from their time on the train and in South Africa!

Dear Brenda,

I don’t have words to describe our journey a few days ago. It was just a blast! It was a dream of mine for several years to do that – but I had to wait, until my oldest daughter was old enough to realize all of it and enjoy it. Léonie (my daughter) is 11 years old and she never felt bored on the whole journey – she would like to extend for another 1 or 2 nights! I pick out one of my girls for some of my travels and this time Léonie was the one who could enjoy South Africa with me. I attached a few photos of us ;-D

We’ve expected a lot – but all our expectations were surpassed! From the Pretoria station, the train, the stops, the great crew on board (with Heinrich – our favorite in the restaurant ;-D) and the great welcome speech of your father. The most impressive part – beside of all the overwhelming rest – was, that your father even made it to Cape Town to say Good Bye with a handshake and some nice words. I was stunned and the journey was worth every Rand we spent – even much more! I can’t describe it with words…!

Thanks to the whole team – in the front and in the back to make something like that possible! Not only to invest with an “all-in” strategy in something new, to have a vision of something great and to realize the vision in an even better way – but to keep it up so many years and still be in the front, searching the contacts with the costumers directly and share the vision as a “once in a lifetime experience”!

I really hope that I can come back very very soon to show this to the rest of my family – my other two daughters and my wife. Thank you all so much and keep everything as it is! My English is limited, so I don’t have other superlatives for everything. But please hug your father from our side – as well from my daughter! Next time, if we see him, we will do it personally! THANK YOU!!!

Here you find a little trip report video from us, which I just created with my iPhone (together with a little soundtrack, which I created together with a good friend back in Kingston, Jamaica). If you have some time, feel free to watch it: https://youtu.be/krB0iYX6YE8

Ah yes: Did I say THANK YOU already? If not: THANK YOU for everything! I had and I will spread this great experience with many others!

And Dad of the month goes to you Mr Pflaum! Thank you for your kind words, they certainly brightened up our Monday and made us feel very content with the work we do here at Rovos Rail.

To all Dad’s out there – bring your daughters on a date with us! As you can see it’s a spoil that does wonders for what is a very special relationship.

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Rovos Rail’s Taunina Teddies

Rovos Rail Taunina Teddies

The tale of our Rovos Rail teddies began 19 years ago with our journey finding us in the capable and talented hands of Taunina.

On an early Dar es Salaam trip we had two delightful Australian ladies, Dawn and Annike, who travelled everywhere accompanied by teddies they collected the world over. At their suggestion, the Rovos collection of limited-edition teddies slowly evolved when, in 1998, Anthea met Bev Duncan who had a small barrow in the V&A Waterfront Shopping Centre full of her handmade teddies.

This chance encounter spanned a 17-year friendship with Bev painstakingly producing 20 collections (50 to a set) of customised, handmade Rovos teddies and 600 kiddies bears. Bev took great delight at the thought of her teddies living worldwide.

Very sadly, Bev developed a brain tumour in December 2013 and after a long, hard-fought battle we lost her in April 2015.

Anthea, deeply saddened by the loss of her friend, pressed pause on the creation and production of our teddies and it’s only recently that Taunina have taken up the helm.

The Taunina story is one of great courage and compassion for the commerce lies intertwined with community upliftment. The company focuses on improving lives of disadvantaged people who operate in communities where opportunities may be limited but where creativity and passion are abundant.

“We provide our artists with the support and market access they need to make a living by using skills many of them learned at an early age. And we actively involve them, sharing in the success of the business. Artists receive a steady income (vs. piece rate pay) in the form of wages that are significantly higher than market-related salaries. In addition, they will receive 30% of the before-tax profits of the company: 20% through the Bear Essentials Fund (which contributes towards the housing, healthcare and education of their families) and 10% in the form of productivity-related cash bonus payments.”

To date, Taunina have created 10 bespoke teddies for us each in the Rovos green, old gold and maroon in keeping with our corporate colours and each with a paw pad and ear in leopard print. The other paw pad carries with it a little Rovos Rail charm. Our first three bears went out on the Dar es Salaam train in August last year with Thebolo, Munaki and Nyenyedzi finding homes in Germany!

All the teddies carry the initials of the women who make them, symbolic of their sense of dignity and pride. Each bear travels in a handcrafted hatbox with his or her very own bespoke passport. A Taunina creation is a work of art, an heirloom to be passed from one generation to the next. It’s a gift that changes lives.

“The name Taunina is an anagram of the African word ‘TAU’, meaning ‘lion’, and ‘NINA’, an acronym for ‘No Income, No Assets’. Taunina gives women who were once without income and assets the power to become lions of their own destinies.”

We’re proud of our association with this fantastic company and are encouraged and inspired by their story. For many, living in South Africa simply means surviving so for women to stare such adversity in the face and create gorgeous teddies that live across the world is just remarkable.

Click here to watch the Taunina video.

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Rovos Rail Cape Town journey

The Luxury of the Slow Lane

We recently hosted journalist, Eugene Yiga, on board one of our Cape Town journeys and we’re still talking about what a lovely gentleman he is! Thank you for travelling with us Eugene and thank you too for the articles you’ve written, the most recent being for Business Day Live.

Rovos Rail bring back luxury of slow lane

The dinner gong sounds. Is it 7.30pm already? I can’t believe I’m going to be late because I can’t choose a tie. Why did I pack so many? And why can’t I remember how to make a knot?

I put on my jacket and head down the passage, unsure for a moment whether I’m going the right way. Then I arrive at the table, take a seat and sigh in relief. My rushing thoughts are forced to quiet when I find myself captivated by the scene.

This is the dining carriage of Rovos Rail, recently voted by Wired.com as one of the seven most luxurious train in the world. My first impulse is to reach for my phone — not to distract myself with a podcast or an e-book, but to take photographs of the crystal wine glasses, the silverware and the rest of the luxurious scene.

The same impulse strikes when the first course arrives. Given my work as a writer, the standard procedure would be to “compose” the plate, angle the camera, take the picture, crop, filter, tag, tweet and post. Then there’d be endless refreshing in the hopes of “likes” and retweets, all the while hoping the food would still be warm when I took my first bite.

But it’s different here. With no phones allowed at meals, all I can do is sit back and savour the highlights that never fail to impress. Balsamic and lemon-marinated slices of ostrich fillet served on a potato, beetroot, walnut, and watercress salad. Grilled Cape rock lobster tails with a haricot-flavoured bisque cream, Mediterranean vegetables, and lemon rice. Garlic and lemon grilled prawn skewer on a green salad, with a julienne of peppers, mange tout, and cucumber, drizzled with coriander and ginger dressing.

Alone with my thoughts, I wonder about our tendency to document every moment with our smartphones, instead of just experiencing them for what they are. Are we trying to make our Facebook friends jealous of what we remember or are we afraid of what we might forget? And are we, as Om Malik wrote in The New Yorker, a society that photographs everything, but looks at nothing?

At the end of the meal, as many jetlagged passengers retire to their suites with weary smiles and polite nods, I sip on mint tea, grateful that a single dinner seating on all Rovos Rail train trips means no rushing guests out to prepare for the next group. My thoughts turn to the nature of our journeys through life, which has been on my mind since my 30th birthday two days before.

I look out the window and see an airplane overhead, its lights flashing like a pulse against the night sky. I wonder about the passengers travelling the same distance in two hours that I’ll do in two days. And I reflect on the stress of my most recent flight: repacking bags at the counter, breathing artificial air that almost made one sick and experiencing turbulence so severe that all I could do was laugh.

Of course, road journeys are no better when you consider that a bus is like a smaller, slower plane and a car is like a smaller, faster bus. You might not be next to the understandably frazzled mother and her screaming twins or the overweight man and his overpowering cologne, hogging the armrest and disturbing your nap every time he opens another bag of chips.

You might even remember to pack your own food, lest you waste money on stale petrol station pies. But with traffic jams causing delays and the physical stress of driving, you end up just as tense.

But life is different on the train. With an average speed of just 45km/hour, there’s no rush to get from Point A to Point B. It doesn’t even matter that there are often delays outside the operator’s control — they share tracks, after all — because it’s easy to make up the time later. Besides, it’s not like anyone notices. All that matters to me and the 35 other passengers is using the journey as an opportunity to press pause.

And so, after leaving Pretoria on Friday afternoon, touring Kimberley on Saturday, and visiting Matjiesfontein on Sunday, we approach Cape Town. As we enjoy our final afternoon tea in the observation car, the international guests gasp and point, their cameras out to capture what they’ve been waiting for. It’s Table Mountain and their excited expressions are much like the one I had when I saw the Pyramids of Giza for the first time. But I can’t share in their joy because the moment I’ve been dreading is upon me. Cellular signal is back.

My phone spasms, tempting me to attend to it the way it always does. I take one look at the screen’s cluttered notifications and set the device to flight mode to enjoy a few more moments of peace. Even when we arrive at Cape Town station, and I’m taking a short Uber trip home, the city I’ve lived in for 12 years feels brand-new.

Journey over, I continue to wonder why we’re always rushing from one moment to the next; moving and chasing and striving instead of just slowing and stopping and being.

Why are we so afraid to be still, alone with nothing to distract us but our thoughts?

And why did this weekend journey, out of all the experiences I’ve been fortunate to have, leave me feeling so blissed out? Perhaps it’s because, as the modern world continues to yank us into the future at an ever faster pace, taking time out to slow down and relax is the greatest luxury of all.

To contact Eugene, visit his website or e-mail him on hello@eugeneyiga.com

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The Rainbow Nation: exploring the colourful cultures of South Africa

South Africa is truly a unique country. Where else would one find such a melting pot of diverse cultures and languages thriving together in one beautiful Rainbow Nation? Journey with us as we explore some interesting traditional cultures of South Africa we feel everyone should witness when visiting our country.

Zulu

The Zulu tribe is the most recognised traditional tribe in South Africa. Originally from KwaZulu Natal, the Zulus have occupied the land since the late 18th century. Zulus are traditional hunter-gatherers but have relied on cattle for their primary subsistence for many years.

Wealth and status, for a Zulu man, lies in the number of cattle he owns. When a young man proposes to a Zulu man’s daughter, he will need to pay his future father-in-law before the wedding. The payment is known as lobola. Zulus wear different types of traditional dress depending on the occasion. Women dress according to their marital status while the men wear a leather belt made from hide.

Zulu huts are called iQukwane and are constructed from braided reeds and grass. Sturdy tree trunks reinforce the structure and doors are created especially low to prevent intruders from entering the hut. To enter the hut, one needs to crawl on hands and knees or bend low.

 

Traditional zulu woman

 

Ndebele

The Ndebele tribe are part of the Nguni tribes, which represent a large population of South Africa. The Ndebele are divided into two groups; the Central Nguni and the Southern Nguni tribes and are then divided further by differences in languages and culture.

Ndebele architecture is strikingly beautiful. Their homes are painted by the Ndebele women in patterns with bold colours ranging from purple, green, turquoise and yellow. Women express their status by adorning themselves with intricate beaded jewellery, blankets and ornaments. Once an Ndebele woman marries, she expresses her devotion to her husband by wearing brass rings around her neck, arms and legs. These brass rings can weigh up to a whopping 20kg. Visiting a Ndebele cultural village is highly recommended if you’d like to witness astounding architectural and artistic talent.

 

Traditional colourful hut

 

Xhosa

Xhosa people constitute approximately 7 million people in South Africa. The majority of Xhosas live in the peaceful, rural Eastern Cape. Xhosa language is easily recognised by the clicking sound the speaker makes, thus earning the nickname ‘click’ language.

In Xhosa culture, women decorate their faces with colourful dots and wear beautiful turbans and heavy dresses. You can tell if a woman’s marital status by the style of her turban.  It’s not unusual to see women sitting together and smoking their long-handled pipes.

Like the Ndebele, Xhosa women also create beautiful beadwork, which is an intergral part of their tradition. What one may often notice in summer, despite the incredible heat, is Xhosa men and women wearing blankets wrapped around their shoulders. This is part of their traditional dress. If you get the opportunity to admire one of these blankets, you’ll notice intricately sewn designs.

 

Traditional clothing

 

Cape Malay

The Cape Malay people originated mostly from Indonesia and came to the Cape many years ago aboard Dutch East India Trading Company ships. The Western Cape is home to many diverse ethnic groups but the Cape Malay people are the most distinguishable with their silky black hair and tanned skin.

The Bo-Kaap in Cape Town is the historical and cultural centre of the Cape Malay community, and a visit there will result in an encounter with brightly coloured homes, which are one of Cape Town’s famous landmarks which should be on your travel itinerary.

Colourful buildings

If you wish to experience South Africa and its unique cultures, go on a safari tour with Rovos Rail. Choose from different itineraries, such as the Durban safari where you’ll have the opportunity to visit Ardmore Ceramics, which is a celebration of Zulu culture and tradition.

 

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A Rovos Rail trip from Cape Town To Pretoria: John and Carolyn’s Story

We received this interesting description from John detailing his and his wife, Carolyn’s rail trip from Cape Town to Pretoria on the Rovos Rail. We enjoyed reading about their wonderful adventure so much that we simply had to share it with you.

Written by John

A mere month or so after our Chobe River and Victoria Falls adventure, we embarked on a rail trip from Cape Town to Pretoria on the Rovos Rail, the most luxurious train in the world. Ah, we can hear some of you already expressing doubt with comments like, “But I thought that the Orient Express was the most luxurious train in the world.” Au contraire, bru’s.The Orient Express most emphatically was the most
luxurious of its era, and the modern incarnation
certainly has been authentically restored exactly as
it was in its hey-day. However, while cool no doubt,this historic preservation means that, although the
accommodations are deluxe, there are no showers
or baths on the Orient Express nor is there air conditioning.

On the Rovos Rail, you not only travel on meticulously restored Victorian/Edwardian carriages, but you also have suites with air conditioning and en-suite baths with showers, and even a few “Royal” suites with both a tub and shower. What’s more, the communal spaces are absolutely incredible. Piqued your curiosity? All aboard! It’s time to choo-choo with our soon-to-be chuffed chinas.

Lucky Reservations

Carolyn had read about the Rovos Rail around the time that we arrived in South Africa. Early in 2015, we looked into reserving on the Pretoria to Victoria Falls route, the most popular; however, not surprisingly, this trip was fully booked for 2015 and part way into 2016.

Rats!

But some good came of the inquiry: Carolyn got on the mailing list of a travel consultant at Rovos, and he emailed her some special low season rates for South African residents. Carolyn was able to book two guests for the price of one on the Cape Town to Pretoria route.

So, we were in business.

A Warm Reception at the Departure Lounge

Rovos Rail has its own private departure lounge across the street from the Cape Town Train Station. We arrived, and were immediately met by liveried Rovos staff who tagged our luggage with custom-made luggage tags printed with our names and berth number. They checked us in and offered us cold beverages including some South African bubbly. As you can see, the departure lounge has an air of understated luxury. A harp and strings were playing classical music. We sat down and almost immediately met a fascinating South African couple, Ian and Sandy – more about them later.

Cool Rovos Traditions and a Class Act

Rovos Rail has many cool traditions, not the least of which is that Rohan Vos personally sees off nearly every train. He was there for our departure, and gave everyone a brief orientation. His dry sense of humor was very entertaining. After asking if there were any Aussies or Kiwis on the train, several hands went up. Rohan shook his head and said, “That’s unfortunate because if your rugby teams continue to beat South Africa, I think that I will no longer allow you to ride on the train.”

After Rohan finished, we were called by name into small groups to be led by our host or hostess across the street to the train and our suites. As we walked out of the departure lounge, Rohan shook everyone’s hand and treated the repeat guests as if they were old friends.

What a class act!

All on Board!

The Deluxe Suite

Our assigned host led us to our deluxe suite. As you can see, it was very roomy and inviting (3 deluxe suites take up an entire carriage). As we settled in, the restaurant manager and chef arrived to discuss Carolyn’s request that her food contain no garlic as it strongly disagrees with her. After a short discussion, the Rovos team assured Carolyn that her culinary requirements would pose no problem.

Wow, what service!

Observation Car

After unpacking in our suite, we headed to the Observation Car at the rear of the train. Check out this one, chinas.

There was a bar and plenty of comfortable seating plus an outdoor area for those wishing to take the air. We took a couple of wingback chairs and ordered some pre-lunch bubbly. Did we mention that all food and drinks (spirits, beer, wine, soft drinks) are included in the price?

“They’re going to lose money on you,” laughed Carolyn.

“Not sure what you mean,” I replied. “I’m eating a lot less since my big 30 lb. weight loss.”

Carolyn merely shook her head and smiled. About this time, our new friends from the departure lounge, Ian and Sandy, arrived. I waved at them, and they joined us at the back of the car. We spent the hour and a half before lunch getting to know each other and enjoying these amazing views as the train made its way through the Cape Winelands past Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Franschhoek, into the Slanghoek Valley, and then eventually onto the Groot Karoo.

First Day – Delicious Lunch

At 1 PM, we went to the dining car. Ian and Sandy had gone before us and were at a table for four, and insisted that we join them.

Turns out that the trip was in celebration of Sandy’s birthday, so we were flattered that they would want to hang out with us, rather than having some alone time. Over the course of our conversation, we learned that Ian is a lifelong entrepreneur who has started various companies.

Lunch, by the way, was delicious. Following lunch, we made a quick stop to check out the beautiful Lounge Car.

First Stop – Matjiesfontein and the Lord Milner Hotel

After lunch, we spent some time enjoying the scenery from our suite. At about 4:30 PM, the train made its first stop in the small town of Matjiesfontein.

One of the reasons that the town is so well preserved is that when its founder, James Logan, passed away in 1920, the town was shut down and boarded up until 1968 when hotelier David Rawdon bought the town and restored it, even buying a red double-decker bus to give the town some additional character (as if it needed it). Rawdon died in 2010, and we have heard that his heirs cannot agree on what to do with the place, so once again it has been partially shut down and its future is uncertain.

Another interesting feature of the town is that there are said to be ghosts that haunt the Lord Milner Hotel and surrounding grounds. For us, the only near such paranormal encounter when we stayed at the Lord Milner was when we heard scratching at our room door after check-in only to find the hotel cat outside in the hallway looking for attention. After a brisk walk around the town, we returned to the train for sundowners in the Observation Car.

Bliss!

First Day – Delectable Dinner

Dinner on the Rovos requires minimum jacket and tie for men and the equivalent for women. We went to the dining car and secured a table for two, as we were sure that our new friends, Ian and Sandy, would want a romantic dinner alone in celebration of Sandy’s birthday.

Dinner was a lovely, long and leisurely affair featuring fantastic foods and inspiring wine pairings. Following dinner, we retired to our suite, where our host had laid out tea, coffee, and after-dinner drinks should we so desire. We finally went to bed, the movement of the train lulling us to sleep.

Now some folks, we understand, find it difficult to sleep on a moving train. Rovos has found a solution. From about midnight until 6:00 AM, the train was pulled off on a siding, so everyone could enjoy a motionless rest.

Ah, that Rohan, he thinks of everything.

Second Day

After a great sleep and rather exciting shower on a moving train, we headed to the dining car for breakfast. Ian and Sandy were there already and insisted we join them. After a delightful breakfast and more scintillating conversation, we headed to the on-board store where I bought a Rovos Rail golf shirt. We then spent time in the Lounge Car, after which we returned to our room to read and relax. Cell phone reception on the train is poor at best, and the use of phones is prohibited in the public spaces, so it is a relaxing, retro experience.

Before lunch at 1:30 PM, we went to the Observation Car where we again enjoyed pre-lunch libations with Ian and Sandy, then off to another exquisite lunch in the dining car.

Our next stop and excursion was coming up after lunch – Kimberley.

Kimberley – The Diamond Town

Kimberley is the capital of the Northern Cape Province. It is located approximately 110 km east of the confluence of the Vaal and Orange Rivers. The city has considerable historical significance due to its diamond mining past and the siege during The Second Boer War. Notable personalities such as Cecil Rhodes and Barney Barnato made their fortunes here, and the roots of the De Beers Company can be traced to the early days of the mining town.

Kimberley’s station is well preserved. All it needed was some people in period costumes to provide the illusion of a bygone era. We boarded a bus and set off through the town to see the Diamond Museum, described by Rovos Rail Journeys magazine as “an intensely interesting and a carefully constructed display of historical memorabilia housed next to the ‘Big Hole,’ which is the largest man-made [i.e., hand-dug] excavation worldwide.

Second Day – Dinner

We returned to the train station where the Rovos staff was waiting with “welcome back” bubbly. We retired once again to the Observation Car and saw an amazing flamboyance of flamingoes, as a flock is sometimes called. We enjoyed the scenery and Ian and Sandy joined us for pre-dinner cocktails. Afterwards went to our suites to change for dinner.

Rovos Rail Station

The next morning after breakfast, we arrived at the Rovos Rail private station at Capital Park, Pretoria. This once bustling hub of steam locomotion in the old Transvaal is now the headquarters for Rovos Rail. The site was derelict when Rohan Vos purchased it but has been transformed and includes a gracious colonial-style railway station, a repair, maintenance, and provisioning facility, and a railroad museum.

Prior to entering the rail yard, the diesel locomotives were detached from the head of the train and a steam locomotive was attached to the rear of the train to bring us into the station. The train engineer even let me climb up into the engineer’s cab to see the controls up close, something that I’ve always wanted to do since childhood when he watched the 1950’s TV show Casey Jones.

Our train trip over, we bid farewell to Ian and Sandy after exchanging contact details and promising to get together in Cape Town, (which we did just a few weeks ago at the Durbanville Hills Wine Festival). On to Pretoria!

Pretoria Perambulation

The Tour

Carolyn arranged with Rovos Rail to have a tour guide meet us at the Capital Park station. We decided that having a guide would allow us to cover the ground more quickly and see the most important sites. Our guide, Geert, was a most agreeable Afrikaner whose knowledge can only be described as encyclopedic. He also had a very good sense of humor.

The Union Buildings

From Wikipedia: “These form the official seat of the South African government and also house the offices of the president. The imposing buildings are located atop Meintjieskop. Though not in the centre of Pretoria the Union Buildings occupy the highest point of Pretoria, and constitute a South African national heritage site. They were designed by the architect Sir Herbert Baker in the English monumental style, and are 285 meters (935 feet) long. They have a semi-circular shape, with the two wings at the sides; this serves to represent the union of a formerly divided people. The clock chimes are identical to those of Big Ben in London. The east and west wings, as well as the twin-domed towers, represent two languages, English and Afrikaans, and the inner court symbolises the Union of South Africa. These buildings are considered by many to be the architect’s greatest achievement and a South African architectural masterpiece.”

 

The buildings are most impressive. President Nelson Mandela gave his inaugural speech in front of these buildings. There is now a 9 metre (30 feet) high statue of Mandela in front of the buildings. If you saw the movie Invictus, you may recognize the buildings.

Melrose House

Melrose House was built in 1886 by George Jesse Heys, a prominent business mogul in Pretoria at the time, who made his fortune running a fleet of post (stage) coaches, among other things.

Lord Roberts, commander of the British Forces during the Second Anglo-Boer war, requisitioned Melrose House in June 1900 as the headquarters of the British forces, after Pretoria was invaded. Later in the war, Lord Kitchener, Roberts’ replacement, used it as well. The Peace Treaty of Vereeniging, the crucial document that ended the war, was signed in 1902 in the dining room. When George Heys died a decade or so later, his family closed the house and decamped to England.

The city of Pretoria acquired the property in the 1960’s and turned it into a museum. Because the house was shuttered, nearly all of the original furniture and furnishings are still there, including a little girl’s porcelain tea set and toys.

The grand interior of Melrose House includes beautiful stained glass windows, plush carpets in opulent colours, paintings by British artists, exquisitely ornate fireplaces and ceilings, and an array of gorgeous porcelain ornaments. We have never seen such a superbly preserved house. We almost did not get into the house, as we arrived on a Monday when the museum is normally closed. However, our guide spoke to a sympathetic museum employee who allowed us inside for a private tour. We took a few photos after which we realised there were signs forbidding photography. Oh well.

Kruger House

Kruger House is the historical Pretoria residence of the Boer leader and President of the South African Republic, Paul Kruger. It was built in 1884 by architect Tom Claridge and builder Charles

Clark. Milk was used, instead of water, for mixing the cement from which the house was constructed, as the cement available was of poor quality. The house contains either the original furnishings or items from the same historical period, some of the many gifts that were presented to Kruger, as well as other memorabilia including the presidential private rail carriage. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed here either, so we only have photos of the exterior and Kruger’s church across the street.

 Voortrekker Monument

The Voortrekker Monument stands over 40 meters tall (131 feet) on its hilltop home and is visible from a large part of Pretoria. It was built to commemorate the history of the Afrikaner pioneers who left the Cape Colony, where they had suffered under British rule, to travel to the interior of the country from 1835 to 1854 on what has come to be known as the Great Trek. Both within and around the monument, every aspect of the building has a historic or symbolic significance. The front gate is in the form of Zulu assegais (stabbing spears). The walls around the monument are in the form of a laager of the wagons used by the Voortrekkers. A unique marble Frieze circles the inside walls of the Monument. In bas-relief, 27 panels depict the story of the Great Trek from 1835 to 1852.

The Great Trek and the Zulus

The Frieze not only shows the history of the Great Trek but also shows how the Voortrekkers went about their everyday lives. Moreover, it provides an insight into the religious beliefs and work methods of the Voortrekkers, as well as important conflicts, such as the Zulu slaughter of Piet Retief and his party and the Battle of Blood River where 470 Voortrekkers led by Andries Pretorius (the city of Pretoria is named after him) defeated an estimated 15,000-20,000 Zulus, inflicting over 3000 casualties.

Interestingly, in our 2-1/2 years in South Africa, we have heard about Blood River from several points of view. The Zulus believe that they lost due to “bad medicine,” i.e., their gods turning against them. The Voortrekkers, on the other hand, recorded that they had the advantage of a very defensible position that made a perfect killing ground plus a dense fog that concealed them from the Zulus until it was too late. As the Voortrekkers were deeply religious and believed that God would manifest himself through nature (in this case, the fortuitous fog), they believed that God had shown his favor and that they were his chosen people.

Many English, on the other hand, seem absolutely certain that the Voortrekkers exaggerated both the total number of Zulus present as well as the number killed.

A Commemoration

Cenotaph Hall is located on the lower floor and houses the Cenotaph (empty tomb) and an amazing tapestry depicting The Great Trek. Every year on December 16, the date of the Battle of Blood River, the sun shines down through a small hole in the center of the Voortrekker Monument roof onto the Cenotaph, lighting up the inscribed words: “Ons vir jou, Suid Africa” (“We for thee, South Africa”)

Return to Cape Town

With that, we went off to spend the night in Sandton, a suburb of Johannesburg, and then back to Cape Town the next day.

So there you have it, china’s. We hope that you enjoyed our double feature. Do come to Africa – we’re always ready to rant and “rail” with all of our lekker bru’s.

See you next time,

John and Carolyn

 

 

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