Rovos Rail is unique amongst private train lines in that they can boast their very own private train station.
The magnificent old building in Capital Park is a historical gem close to Pretoria’s CBD. Its renovation is part of the Rovos Rail story and a piece of South Africa’s railway heritage.
This busy hub is world-class in terms of efficiency and attention to detail and is in keeping with the style and luxury that is synonymous with the Rovos Rail standard.
Capital Park serves as the departure or arrival point for most of the train journeys and also the headquarters of Rovos Rail’s entire operation. It houses the luxurious departure lounge, offices, meeting rooms, a lecture room, a repair and maintenance depot, laundries, state-of-the-art kitchens, carriage and locomotive sheds, and well-stocked storerooms.
Stepping into the station building is like entering a bygone era, even before setting foot on the luxury train itself. The station lounge has an old-fashioned elegance and is the place where friendships between passengers are first formed or where farewells to new friends are said.
It was a massive undertaking to bring the site to its current level of excellence. Rovos Rail gave the station a full renovation to restore it back to its former glory and to preserve what little is left of the golden era of steam rail travel.
Built in 1948 it first belonged to South African Railways but when they moved their operation to another depot the station became dilapidated. When Rovos took over the site in 1999 the tracks were covered in thistles, the buildings were deserted and vandalised. The area had been earmarked for development but a comprehensive proposal from Rovos Rail’s founder Rohan Vos highlighting the economic and tourism benefits of a renovation persuaded Transnet to grant him a long lease.
The main station, a magnificent low red-brick building, was gutted, and an elegant balcony overlooking the platform was added to the façade. A new 300m platform was constructed and an authentic signal box and clock tower were erected to further enhance the ambiance.
The vast carriage and locomotive sheds were renovated to house teams of dedicated personnel who keep the stock in perfect order. This roofed workshop of 10 000m2 straddles 15 railway lines with concrete inspection pits below and is the ultimate repair and maintenance facility for any train operation.
Around the refurbished buildings, hundreds of new shrubs and over 3 000 trees were planted, to provide a lush garden setting. And to complement this a miniature farmyard with horses, donkeys and peacocks was created.
The entire renovation project was envisaged and directed by Rohan Vos himself who embraced it with the same enthusiasm he has for the trains, supported by his wife Anthea who shares his vision and passion.
Initially the site was 12 acres, but over the years it has grown steadily to the current 60. As tenants around the original site moved out, Rovos Rail negotiated leases on those properties, which then had to be rebuilt or rehabilitated. This activity, although costly, was executed with a view to Rovos Rail eventually acquiring the property from Transnet. Therefore, no corners were cut and as it stands now, the buildings and grounds are in top-level operating condition.
The property is also home to a museum with an ever-expanding collection of rail memorabilia. As custodians of a rich part of South Africa’s rail history it is the Vos family’s goal for the Rovos Rail Station to become the leading working train museum globally.
The museum is small and quaint and takes passengers back to their childhoods with an original phone box, parking meter and old trains, as well as special collector’s items that have been beautifully kept. A superb model-railway display complete with semaphore signals and a footbridge, recreates the atmosphere of a fully-fledged railway system.
A visit to the museum and a site tour of the property gives guests a glimpse into the behind the scenes nuts and bolts of the company. Passengers are encouraged to build time into their travel schedules if they would like to experience these offerings.
Capital Park has become an added highlight to a Rovos Rail journey – boarding or disembarking the train in this unique and historic atmosphere creates an element of excitement where lasting memories are made.
It’s difficult to believe that the third departure of our Trail of Two Oceans, from Dar es Salaam to Lobito is already done and dusted. We spoke of the inaugural journey’s success here so this time we thought we’d share a few behind-the-scenes details with you such as the trip’s extensive laundry list. This one train actually travels six separate journeys with a total of 23 400kms’s being traversed so the Lobito laundry list is mammoth!
First, a reminder of the six different journeys that this one train operated in two and a half months:
Pretoria to Cape Town (three nights)
Cape Town to Dar es Salaam (14 nights)
Dar es Salaam to Lobito (14 nights)
Lobito to Dar es Salaam (14 nights)
Dar es Salaam to Cape Town (14 nights)
Cape Town to Pretoria (three nights)
Each journey listed above had its own set of guests so the passengers who travelled with us from Pretoria to Cape Town disembarked in the Mother City as we welcomed new guests on board the trip from Cape Town to Dar es Salaam. The train and our crew would have hosted approximately 311 guests across these six separate trips.
We thought it might be interesting to share a few details with you about how some of our departments go about planning and packing for a train which was out for 75 days. We asked Ilana, the manager of our onsite laundry department, just how much linen is packed and she came back to us with the linen count for her Lobito laundry list:
200 towelling robes
200 towelling slippers
256 fitted double sheets
256 flat double sheets
512 fitted single sheets
512 flat single sheets
384 large bath towels
450 linen napkins
We spent some time with Ilana and her team onsite so we could film them in action. Ilana started coordinating her Lobito laundry list in January so that should there be any additional linen required, the order could be placed and delivered in time for the train’s departure. The counting and packing of the towelling robes, curtains, sheets, duvet covers, pillowcases, antimacassars, towels, facecloths, tablecloths and serviettes began in early June and took place in amongst all the other journeys which were operating at the same time which mostly consisted of the Cape Town and Victoria Falls trips.
Aside from food and beverages, linen is probably one of the most complicated issues as our large laundry bags require space which is limited on board. We have three different suite categories on board the train, each with their own size beds and linen requirements so the counting out of sheets, blankets, duvets and covers, pillows and pillowcases is methodical.
Our hardworking team washes and irons bed and table linen every day as well as providing a laundry and pressing service to our guests. The curtains we have in the public coaches are made onsite by our upholstery team and these also need to be removed and cleaned by the laundry team on the train. Suffice to say that the crew is kept very busy. They are honestly magicians because not only is their role incredibly demanding, but their job also requires steady nerves and hands as the train traverses various countries on tracks that are not always that smooth. And they somehow pull this magic off working within confined spaces on board.
Another challenge with all the laundry is water supply. Once the train departs Dar es Salaam, areas which can supply us with water and have the necessary pressure in order for us for to fill up within a reasonable amount of time, are few and far between. A trickling hosepipe will not do so in 2022 we installed three 10 000L water tanks, on six-metre stands, in Kolwezi (Democratic Republic of Congo) and a large volume pump for a guaranteed water supply. A 21-coach train can hold approximately 54000L of water so to have this equipment available to us in Kolwezi is a welcome relief.
The onsite laundry team counted, recounted and packed over 100 laundry bags for the suites and public cars on board this train. Their Lobito laundry lists were endless with each being checked and cross-checked by Ilana and on-board staff so that nothing was short. When the train returned to the Rovos Rail Station in September, the staff had to count each item back into the onsite laundry so that the stock is ready and waiting for the next journey.
There are four siblings in the Vos family, three of whom knew they could not and did not want to take over and be at the helm of the family’s business when it was time. But the youngest, Tiffany, had the fire in her belly from the time she was born but knew that she needed to establish herself on her own merits before joining Rovos Rail. She has been at the company for five years now and there are many positive words used to describe her but the one that stands out the most is “unstoppable”.
We were recently asked by one of our longtime Rovos Club members to describe 2023 in three words and it completely stumped us. The guest then asked us to “zoom in” because she wanted to know specifically what this year had been like for us, the staff.
The small group of employees to whom this question was posed sat pondering for a good while and after some time the consensus was: challenging, stunning and profound.
Challenging because we had to battle through another year with corrupt parastatals like Transnet and Eskom. Stunning because of lovely guests, beautiful views and successful train journeys. And lastly, and this one made us well up a bit, profound because of Rovos Rail’s leadership.
It takes a special kind of chutzpa and a perfect blend of calm, intelligence and logic to keep all Rovos Rail staff feeling safe, confident and appreciated. And it also takes a resilient kind of patience to work with this eclectic, eccentric and passionate group of staff because as with all families, there are daily squabbles and everyone needs attention.
When you have a Chief Operations Officer who is all those things and who is also a wife and mother of two young children, it makes you start to believe that perhaps super humans do exist. The daily challenges and enormous emotional output that Rovos Rail demands would shatter many people, but our Wonder Woman takes it all her in her stride and rarely misses a step. So yes, she is unstoppable.
We haven’t spoken too much about Tiffany Vos-Thane, our COO. Mostly because she doesn’t like too much attention and also because 2023 seems to have gone by in the blink of an eye.
Tiffany is the youngest daughter of Rohan and Anthea Vos, CEO and owners of Rovos Rail Tours (Pty) Ltd. She was born with a spreadsheet in her hand and a determination to conquer whatever she set her mind to whether it was academics or playing for her provincial hockey team as a young girl or beginning her hospitality career in a tough and grey city like London.
On returning to Cape Town, she scooped up a position at Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel where she began as a Guest Services Agent before being promoted to Groups & Incentives Sales. But international adventure was calling and so was an Events Coordinator position at the Imperial College Business School in London. Tiffany moved to the United Kingdom in 2010 where she lived for over a decade.
After a short stint at the Business School, Tiffany returned to the Starwood Hotels & Resorts group and worked in the Events Sales team for Starwood Central London complex. Like Rohan, her father, sales was in her blood and she was determined to learn the skills it took to be an efficient executor of a lucrative sale. It only took a year for Tiffany to be promoted to an Account Executive where she focused on driving sales for the groups & events segment for Starwood Hotels London.
Two years later, she earned another promotion to Sales Manager for Business Travel where she focused on driving sales and revenue for the Corporate segment for Starwood Hotels in London. The hotels included the Park Tower Knightsbridge, Sheraton Park Lane Hotel, Le Méridien Piccadilly, W London – Leicester Square & Aloft London Excel.
Tiffany was in her Sales Manager position for a year before she was again promoted to Account Director of Business Travel where she managed the corporate segment for all Starwood Hotels in London.
If you’ve ever worked in London, you’ll know how cutthroat the business travel sector is and how smart you have to work to have any kind of success. For Tiffany to have achieved what she did in five years is impressive and reiterates to us that not only did she have hospitality woven through her DNA, but that she could stand on her own, proving to herself and others that she was smart, unafraid of challenges and always willing to go the extra mile.
In amongst all this determined hard work, there was a great deal of personal travel which took her through Europe, including a magical Christmas spent in Iceland, extensive travel through the United States and a three-month adventure through South America.
In 2017, Tiffany earned a position as the Assistant Director of Sales for Business Travel for Marriott International but South Africa, family and Rovos Rail were calling her home. She felt it was time to create a space for herself within her family’s business and to prove to herself and Rohan that she could be his second-in-command as well as instill confidence in the market about her leadership abilities. After all, Rovos Rail needed a succession plan and Tiffany, with her siblings in full support, knew she could do it.
After getting married in early 2017, Tiffany and her husband went back to London to pack up their lives before moving permanently back to South Africa. Tiffany joined Rovos Rail in an official capacity in 2018 and it quickly became apparent that she was well suited for a Chief Operations Officer position which was awarded to her in June of 2019.
In her first two years, she overhauled the entire food and beverage department, renovated the entrance to the station and began the long, painfully tedious task of implementing a new and integrated reservations system. In many ways, she brought operations into the 21st century – we can laugh about it now but goodness, some of the systems we had in place prior to her arrival were archaic!
Tiffany has spent countless hours with both Rohan and Anthea listening and learning. Rohan has spent a considerable amount of time explaining his thought processes regarding operations, the railway infrastructure and working alongside Transnet as well as other national railway authorities. It’s an enormous and sometimes overwhelming side of the business but with time, Tiffany has started to navigate on her own with Rohan standing by should her decision-making process need to be revised or her course of action pivoted.
With Anthea, Tiffany has learned about the ordering of stock – anything from bed linen to glassware to amenities or to wine. Anthea has taken Tiffany with her to look at new fabrics for the upholstery on board the trains, passing on lessons learned from experience over the course of 35 years.
And then came the Covid-19 pandemic. Together with Rohan, Tiffany had to mindfully manage this crisis which essentially shut Rovos Rail down for two years. As it was for many people across the world, the pandemic was an incredibly challenging and devastating time and something we could not have navigated without Tiffany’s calm communication and unwavering support.
In 2021, she gave birth to her daughter which was followed by the birth of her son in January 2023. Justin, Tiffany and the kids live in Cape Town with Tiffany commuting to Rovos Rail’s headquarters in Pretoria every second week.
Tiffany now manages 17 departments across Rovos Rail which includes HR, Training, Finance, Procurement, F&B, Laundry, Upholstery, Locomotive Department, Workshops, Train Operations, Train Staff, Reservations, Sales & Marketing, IT, Security, Hardware, Health & Safety.
As for the future? Tiffany’s main focus for 2024 will be staff training across all departments but specifically the train teams. There is so much that goes into working on the trains and because we have been so busy, she feels that we have fallen short in equipping these young staff members with the knowledge and confidence they need.
Rovos Rail also has a determined passion for sustainability and although enormous strides have been taken to be as earth-friendly as possible on board the trains, there is still more work to be done at Rovos Rail Station. Tiffany is determined to continue on with the “green” audit of each of the 17 departments she oversees in order to further minimize unnecessary waste.
As always, research into new and adventurous routes will continue be a priority because above all things, Rohan is a pioneer and with Tiffany having inherited his ambition and spirit for adventure, we are certain we will be bundu-bashing through different African countries for years to come.
Rohan and Tiffany will continue to work together for years to come as this “handover” is complex. Having already spent five years in training, it will be interesting to see what the next five will bring as there have already been so many efficient and positive changes made to our day-to-day operations. Father and daughter will undoubtedly continue to butt heads because they are both stubborn, confident and incredibly passionate about operating a successful business.
The future of Rovos Rail is in good hands, not only with Tiffany as its helm but also with a strong and experienced management team in place. Both Rohan and Tiffany are ensuring a smooth transition but if we’re being honest, if you know Rohan, you know he is not going anywhere so our tall and lanky leader will be breaking boundaries for many years to come with his daughter watching and learning from the wings so that when the time is right, she is more than ready.
Caring, responsible and a go-getter. I couldn’t agree more with the three words chosen by Rovos Rail train manager, Renolda Motha, when asking how she would describe herself.
Her accomplishment of rising through the ranks from her first job with the company as a room hostess, to one of the top jobs as train manager in her 14 years with Rovos Rail is testament to her go-getter drive.
Her incredibly demanding position requires Renolda to be quick thinking and creative in looking after her passengers and staff, resolving problems, and finding solutions. She is on call 24/7, overseeing all aspects of the successful management of the train both in terms of transport logistics, as well as hospitality which entails taking care of her guests’ every need and supporting her staff.
Humility is an important value to Renolda, and she takes her inspiration from Rovos Rail’s founder and owner Rohan Vos whom she talks about with great admiration – from the way he conducts himself whilst travelling on the train to how he acknowledges and interacts with all staff members.
Renolda believes that dealing with people from different cultures and spheres of life has taught her to be humble. Interacting and exchanging information with a diverse range of personalities has broadened her knowledge and increased her skills.
Communication is an integral part of Renolda’s job, and she appreciates the upskilling that the company invests in their staff. A recent communications course she feels has enhanced her management style, improved her communication skills, and developed her conflict resolution abilities. Her role requires her to communicate constantly – both staff and guests rely on her to provide ongoing updates to plans and schedules.
Renolda has hosted a wide range of international celebrities who’ve travelled on Rovos Rail – they include politicians, royalty, musicians and multi billionaires. One that stood out due to her humility was Nelson Mandela’s daughter, Zinzi. But it’s also the ordinary guests who have saved their money to tick a Rovos Rail trip off their bucket list that are inspiring to her.
Her favourite Rovos destination is Victoria Falls. One of the reasons is because as soon as the train crosses the border into Zimbabwe, they are able to use their own locomotives and train drivers which normally ensures seamless travel and a guarantee that they keep to their time schedules. Renolda also enjoys the excursions offered on this journey which range from walks in the unique Matobo Hills to safaris in Hwange National Park where guests are almost always fortunate enough to see the Big Five.
On being asked to share something that people might not know about her, Renolda chuckled and told me that she likes the finer things in life such as sports cars and motorbikes! And that she has a fear of snakes which has created some tricky situations during her travels around Southern Africa.
When she’s not working and travelling Africa on the train, Renolda prioritises spending time with family and loves treating them to travel opportunities that she has been fortunate to experience. In her free time, she enjoys reading non-fiction educational type books, watching documentaries and cooking.
In keeping with her go-getter persona, Renolda has set her sights on achieving her LLB degree, something that she has already begun, in order to improve her business skills. Her long-term dream is to graduate, and ultimately start her own business, a travel agency or events company.
She is passionate about Rovos Rail, she says it’s a family, not only because it’s a family-owned business, but also because everyone works so closely together for long periods of time, the relationships formed are close, supportive, and transparent. She would not hesitate to recommend Rovos Rail to anyone considering a career in hospitality.
Renolda is a true example of what she describes as the biggest life lesson she has learned during her time with Rovos Rail, that being humble and working hard can secure a great future.
On every Rovos Rail trip Renolda sets herself the challenge of giving guests the very best African experience that they could possibly imagine – it’s the highlight of her job to see this come to fruition. And it’s a privilege for Rovos Rail guests to have Renolda in charge of their train journey ensuring that their Rovos adventure is just that – the best.
Melody Maishman, our dynamic Train Operations Manager, is the next megastar staff member to be highlighted for August Women’s month. The role Melody plays within the Rovos Rail family is to ensure that the company upholds the standards and values that the Rovos brand has come to be known for.
Her responsibility for the operational portfolio entails the planning and co-ordination of the train configuration and supply for each of the regular routes as well as the customised charters, dinner-runs and the many different annual journeys. Stores, staffing, training, and numerous other maintenance duties for the train fall under her direct responsibility.
Melody has been with Rovos for 28 years. She applied for a hotel job that she spotted in a newspaper ad, only to discover during the interview that it was for a train position. She was offered the job and has enjoyed working on the trains ever since.
She began her “journey” with Rovos Rail as hostess, gaining experience in various train departments, and through on the job training she gradually climbed the ranks to reach a management position.
In answer to the question about what she enjoys most about her job, Melody described the rush of adrenaline, the constant busyness and the immense pressure that comes with finding solutions to unexpected obstacles. She enjoys the incredible learning and growth opportunities which she is exposed to every day. She values the feeling of being cherished and essential within the Rovos family which makes her job all the more rewarding.
Melody believes that through her job experiences she has learnt the value of patience and grasped that unanticipated events are a part of the logistics despite meticulous planning. These challenges have taught her to be adaptable and to think creatively on the spot. Interacting with diverse individuals, both guests and staff, from various cultural backgrounds has provided her with valuable insights into the essence of humanity.
One of the aspects of her work that fills Melody with pride is the many repeat guests that choose Rovos Rail for their holidays time and again. It is a sign of the success of Melody and her team, that they are delivering on the experience that they offer. The commitment of the staff members who work in operations ensures that Rovos journeys become memorable trips for guests. And with the many challenges that come with our rail system every small victory adds up.
Melody’s favourite Rovos destination is Namibia. She describes how it stands out because the train track traverses a part of the desert, providing a unique and picturesque experience during the journey. The stunning desert landscapes and the sense of adventure make Swakopmund a popular choice among passengers.
In response to what three words she would use to describe herself, Melody picked “energetic”, “agile” and “committed”.
These characteristics are endorsed by Melody’s colleagues who have been known to describe her as “superhuman” and one of the most hard-working people in the company – her light is always the last to go off and she’s usually first in at the office. Working in such a close-knit environment for 28 years her colleagues know her well – they have witnessed all aspects of her first hand in a multitude of different circumstances.
Melody is known for her passion for animals and has rescued many that now live at the Rovos Rail offices. When not working Melody loves spending time with her animals and getting together with friends or family. She uses her leave time to unwind, recharge, and fully immerse herself in the things she loves doing the most.
Her goals include taking care of the well-being of her family, continuing to enjoy her work and to keep learning and growing in her experience with Rovos Rail.
Melody could write a book about all the interesting stories she has been a part of during her Rovos Rail adventures. But the one that stands out most for her is the Rovos story itself. How a man with a dream and a vision, through many, many, difficult situations can still triumph thanks to the buy-in and support of those around him in order to realise this vision.
We had no idea that our travelling teddy bears would draw such a crowd or that the travelling teddy bear “scene” had the sweet and very dedicated fanbase that it does.
I had a delightful chat with Sonja Peters from HiBearNation to get some insight into the heart-warming story behind the travelling teddy bears.
Max, an 80cm tall beautiful Steiff teddy bear seated beside Sonja joined us for part of the interview!
The Rovos limited-edition teddy bears came into being 25 years ago, and these adorable collectors’ items have been available for sale to guests ever since, in either the train gift shop or at the Rovos Rail Station.
Bev Duncan was the original creator of the Rovos teddy bears after Anthea Vos discovered her work in a small barrow at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront. A 17-year friendship transpired in which time Bev produced 20 collections of 50 customised, handmade Rovos teddies as well as 600 kiddies’ bears. Very sadly, Bev took ill and passed away in 2015, Sonja and her husband Björn took over production the following year.
Sonja’s love for teddy bears was sparked on a visit to a character filled teddy bear shop in Knysna over 20 years ago. Soon after she attended a Teddy Bear Fair at Buitenverwachting, a Cape Town wine farm, where she purchased another special bear to add to her collection. Wanting a partner for this bear and being unable to find anything suitable, Sonja decided to create one herself.
Little did she realise that this would mark the beginning of a rewarding and successful teddy bear business which has seen her lovingly made creations find homes across the globe.
Sonja’s first big step (and leap of faith!) in this venture was her attendance as an exhibitor at the same Teddy Bear Fair that had inspired her first creation. With over 100 of her own handmade bears of different shapes and sizes the fair turned out to be a great success for Sonja and it was here that she met Anthea Vos and her association with Rovos Rail began.
In keeping with Rovos Rail’s reputation for luxury and excellence, Sonja’s bears are all handmade with the best workmanship and the finest quality materials. The use of natural substances is a priority, and this includes mohair, cotton, seed paper and recycled matter. Attention to detail is paramount with each bear having embroidered footpads, double stitched seams and the cutest miniature accessories from binoculars and spectacles to pocket watches and covered buttons, all handmade locally or sourced and imported from abroad. The intricate items of clothing that adorn each bear are painstakingly designed and made by Sonja.
Mohair is the perfect fibre for the Rovos teddy bears – often called the “noble fibre” or the “diamond fibre” – it is soft, durable, luxurious, and warm to the touch and the mohair story is a fascinating one in itself. A product of the Angora goat originating in Asia and imported to South Africa in the mid-19th century, there were over four million Angora goats in South Africa by the early 20th century and we are currently the largest producer of mohair in the world. The South African Responsible Mohair Standard ensures best practice of farmers including both land management and respect for the goats.
Sonja receives the mohair in large rolls, and after stencilling the pattern pieces on the back of the fur the pieces are cut with small scissors one-by-one by hand and then each pattern piece is sealed around the edges to prevent fraying – no mean feat considering that each bear has an average of 23 pieces! The pieces are then pinned together, and each seam is double stitched with a sewing machine. Once sewn together the pieces are kept separately in what Sonja calls her “incubator” before each bear is jointed and stuffed. After the stuffing process every opening on every arm, leg and body is closed by hand with ladder stitching. All Rovos Rail bears are branded with their embroidered suede footpads, which are cut out and sewn into the leg pieces. The teddies are jointed with a selection of wooden discs and nuts, bolts and washers which allow their arms, legs, and head to move.
The aspect of her work that Sonja enjoys the most is when she gets her creative juices flowing in the idea and design stage of creating new pieces. Much research and planning goes into the conception and production of each bear, followed by the sourcing of materials and finishes to make her ideas come to life.
An exciting step in the process for Sonja is when the bears get their eyes as that’s when they come alive – she says it gives meaning to the saying that the eyes are the window to the soul!
Sonja has created 22 collections of 20 bears for Rovos Rail as well as 50 ShweShwe fabric bears for Shongololo Express. These sets include the popular Engineer (which has taken its inspiration from Rohan Vos!) and Golfer (with a miniature driver handmade by Björn), to teddy bears named after Vos family members all personalised to each one of them.
One of the most popular Rovos bears is the Safari bear with its sleeveless bush jacket and camouflage safari hat. Even the safari fabric was painted and printed by Sonja by hand to create a miniature camo pattern. Artist Manda Theart in Pretoria constructs the tiny camera and binoculars out of polymer clay which is baked in an oven.
Rovos Rail bear collectors can look forward to an enchanting new range of bears to be launched towards the end of this year, one of the new designs is a gorgeous Coal Stoker bear. A practical new touch now comes with every bear purchase – a hemp drawstring bag with the Rovos Rail crest, in which to keep the bear protected during travel.
Sonja’s passion for her teddy bears is contagious, and her talents ranging from imaginative and artistic to resourceful and practical, are inspiring. Proud owners of a Rovos teddy bear can appreciate the time, love, thought and expertise that goes into creating these unique collectors’ pieces. Those who are not yet Rovos bear owners will no doubt agree with the words of much-loved teddy bear Winnie the Pooh: “I know I don’t need one, but I’d like one very, very much, please.”
The Rovos limited-edition teddy bears are available for sale to guests, in either the train gift shop or at the Rovos Rail Station.
In celebration of Women’s Month in August, Rovos Rail is honouring three of our amazing female staff members.
First up is Daphne Mabala, described by colleagues as “Superwoman” who is one of six of Rovos Rail’s hard working and passionate train managers.
It’s a fitting month to pay tribute to Daphne as August also marks her 30-year anniversary of employment with Rovos Rail – a testament to her job satisfaction and loyalty to the Rovos family.
After qualifying with a Diploma in Hotel Management, Daphne began her career with Rovos Rail in 1993 working as a waitress at the Victoria Hotel in Pretoria which was then on lease to Rovos Rail as their dedicated overnight offering for passengers.
In 2000 Daphne’s application for a train position as a hostess was successful and she has remained on the trains ever since. She worked through the ranks of admin and deputy manager before progressing to the challenging role of train manager in 2008.
When asked what she likes about her job Daphne responded that she doesn’t like her job she loves it!
She liked her role of welcoming guests into her home and ensuring that all aspects of hosting them is done correctly and in a professional way.
The role of train manager on Rovos Rail is a demanding one, being on call 24/7, and it requires a diverse range of skills and experience. This includes overseeing the staff on board, interacting with guests, and ensuring that all their needs are met, being proactive to prevent problems occurring, and dealing with the multiple technical and logistical challenges that come with travelling across countries and dealing with different railways around southern Africa.
As a train manager Daphne ensures that she is always one step ahead, she makes it her mission to get to know all of her staff in order to lead and support them well. She places a high value on education in all aspects of hospitality to ensure that she and her staff are able to deliver service excellence. This requires keeping abreast with international and local travel developments, being up to date with bar and culinary trends, and having a good knowledge of guests’ cultures and countries.
This ethos sees Daphne doing research before guests arrive in order to understand their nationalities, customs, likes and dislikes. Meeting and interacting with people from around the world is one of the highlights of her job, she enjoys learning about other countries and how people live.
As a manager of Rovos Rail trains it’s necessary to think out of the box and to be able to make an alternative plan when things don’t turn out as expected. Just one example of the many quick solutions that Daphne has had to find was when a trip had to be improvised due to a train derailment that obstructed the journey. Passengers were offered a variety of alternative options, one of them being to remain on the train waiting for the track to re-open, and this turned out to be a bonus for guests who ended up getting additional nights on the train that they hadn’t expected.
In response to my asking her to list three words that she feels describe her, Daphne came up with “ambitious,” “professional” and “organised”.
Her ambition is clearly evident in how far she has come from humble beginnings in a 4-roomed house in a township near Polokwane. Daphne always wanted to succeed in her career, and it is because she enjoys working with people that she chose to pursue a career in hospitality, she realised that succeeding in life is not based on a person’s background but rather hard work and determination.
One of the hallmarks of Rovos Rail is the attention to detail that is applied to every aspect of the company. This is something that Daphne is proud to have learnt from Rohan Vos himself when he was hands on in running the trains.
Daphne loves travelling across Africa and visiting different destinations which all have their own beauty and appeal. One of her favourites is the Namibia Safari due its remoteness and the unique landscape of the sand dunes.
Daphne’s achievements in successfully managing Rovos Rail trains for the past 15 years have taught her the importance of hard work, making sacrifices in order to get results and that it is possible to start at the bottom and grow from there.
When she’s not working Daphne likes to spend her holidays visiting family and pursuing her hobbies of hiking, swimming, reading, and researching. One of her future goals is to eventually own a safe place to accommodate the elderly and disabled.
Daphne’s passion for her work and her pride for Rovos Rail is palpable. Guests travelling on a train with Daphne at the helm are privileged to be taken care of by someone who clearly gives her job her all whilst most importantly loving doing it.
Rovos Rail founder and CEO, Rohan Vos, with his daughter and COO, Tiffany Vos-Thane
February 2022 was an important month for us at Rovos Rail. The first of the month marked 677 days since South Africa went into hard lockdown and it also marked the day we were officially back on track.
With the ever-moving goal posts of the Covid-19 pandemic we found ourselves holding on a little tighter with each announcement from our own government, politicians overseas and from the WHO. It felt like every few weeks we were postponing our contingency plans until at last we were able to say that February would realistically be when we could let our industry partners know that we were back on track and fully operational. It was indeed a relief and also a very happy month!
We have operated numerous journeys since February, including exceptional private charters which have been lovely successes. Our first advertised Cape Town to Dar es Salaam trip departed on 2 July with train manager, Hennie, at its helm. Despite one or two unforeseen challenges, guests and staff enjoyed a fabulous trip with the team receiving the highest of compliments! Thank you to our wonderful group of guests for their joviality and positivity.
Hennie’s and his team had a few days off in Dar es Salaam before the train, carrying a new band of intrepid travellers, set off on our second ever Trail of Two Oceans sojourn which will take guests from the Tanzanian capital through Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with journey’s end in Angola. The sojourn was certainly an adventure and the train arrived safely into Lobito on 3 August.
The maiden voyage of our 15-day Copper Trail trip also departed in July and the first leg of the journey was a lovely success with guests thoroughly enjoying themselves and giving us constructive feedback so that we can further improve the itinerary. Train manager, Lawrence, and his team travelled through parts of Africa none of us have ever seen and sent through some funny, heartwarming and wild stories!
In amongst these two long trips, we have also operated shorter journeys to Durban, Cape Town and Victoria Falls so it is safe to say we are back on track! Our train teams are busy, Rovos Rail Station is once again a busting hive of activity and our inboxes are full.
To celebrate our restart and in many ways a new beginning, we put together a photo and video shoot with new faces, new coaches and new energy!
We would like to sincerely thank Simone Dominique Shapiro from The Safari Gals for being our lady of the day, Jonathan Boynton-Lee for being our dapper gentleman, Ross Hillier for his phenomenal photographic talent and Dylan Hohls from Motionworx for capturing it all on video. You were a dream team and we hope to be able to work with you all again one day soon.
We are delighted to be able to share our video with you and will be releasing our new photographic content soon.
It feels so good to be back on track and we can’t wait to welcome you on board one of our journeys soon.
We would like to welcome Ellie & May to our Rovos Rail family. It never ceases to inspire and amaze us when people turn pain into proactivity. The strength it must take for a family to not only grieve the loss of a loved one but also turn their passing into something meaningful and beneficial is awesome.
It’s one of the many reasons why Rovos Rail is now stocking items produced by the lovely folks from Ellie & May and we are so thrilled to have the McMillan family on board with ours.
The sudden and tragic passing of their brother, son and friend, Mike, inspired them to create a lifestyle apparel brand which contributes to raising awareness about elephant conservation in Southern Africa. Mike was passionate about wildlife and after graduating high school with distinction, he studied a Bachelors in Science with Conservation Ecology as the principal focus at Stellenbosch University.
Whether we like it or not, there is an evolutionary component to pain and often the bereaved turn their grief into action which is how the Mike McMillan Nature Fund was born. A beautiful documentary, featuring Amy McMillan, called Burning Embers was produced to honour Mike’s memory but also to raise awareness and funds for the continuing fight to preserve elephant life in Southern Africa.
There are three different types of products including Ellie buckets, Ellie caps and Ellie beanies. Each cap comes with an Ellie and May sticker with which you can spread the word and the love. Snap a pic whenever you see an Ellie and May sticker and tag @ellie_andmay and #jointheherd to unite all on Instagram.
The caps embody a vibrant personality while being trendy, brightly coloured, and adventurous. All products are locally made, which we also love, and it feels like the love and passion of the McMillan family is woven into every cap, hat and beanie that is delivered into the world.
Please note that Ellie & May items are subject to availability and not are always in stock and available on board.
On the 9th of February this year, a group of adventurous travellers will board our Shongololo Express train for the maiden voyage of African Trilogy. It’s always exciting when we launch a new route and this trip was a labour of love from beginning to end. African Trilogy on board the Shongololo Express is set to be a marvellous 15-day sojourn that will engage with all our guests’ imaginations and curiosities.
Rovos Rail purchased the Shongololo Express in 2016 and spent the following year renovating, refurbishing and breathing new life not only into the coaches but also the itineraries. We first wrote about the procurement of our new train in 2016 and since then have operated the 12-day Southern Cross and Dune Express itineraries as well as the 15-day Good Hope trip. To be able to include an additional 15-day adventure, the African Trilogy, is a real accomplishment and we believe this new journey will provide guests with a true cross-section of some of Southern Africa’s most varied scenery.
We hope to welcome you on board one day soon and share in many memorable experiences with you.