Category : Station

Oom Gert and the Rovos Museum

Oom Gert

By Janine Avery at 5 Star StoriesImage: Tammy Booyzen at 10th Street Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How We Roll

How We Roll

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

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

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

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

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

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Rovos Rail Big Reputation

Big Reputation

by Brenda Vos-Fitchet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other words, we are not giving up.

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

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Happy Birthday Rovos Rail

Happy Birthday Rovos Rail!

Image: Rohan and Anthea Vos

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

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

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

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

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

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

RVR-30Logo GOLD

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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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the spinach king rovos rail

The Spinach King

By Brenda Vos-Fitchet 

As I sit here writing this blog post I am eating one of the Spinach King’s vegan and gluten-free spinach muffins. It is a tasty, chewy treat. And when I say chewy I mean it has a delicious consistency that doesn’t feel like you’re eating sand and nor does fall apart in your hands. As someone who has to be gluten-free I have tasted products from all over South Africa and had yet to find a something that tastes good and has a more-ish texture. Enter the Spinach King and his delicious baked goods!

Lufefe’s Nomjana’s story is one of those remarkable narratives that is made up of an idea and the courage, self-confidence and determination to pursue it no matter the naysayers or the challenges. In this video, which to me resembles an episode of Chef’s Table, we see Lufefe talking about his life growing up in Khayelitsha, a township located 30km outside of Cape Town’s city centre. He saw how his community was running out of food on a daily basis and it occurred to him that the answer to the food shortages lay in the land on which they walked every day and thus began his idea of community growing, baking and selling spinach-based goods.

Lufefe’s journey begins in 2011 when he had only R40 in his pocket and his big idea. He used a friend’s oven to bake 24 loaves of bread a day and then went pedaling door-to-door. Not only was he busy baking and selling but he was also studying Entrepreneurship Development at the Raymond Ackerman Academy and graduated in 2012. In 2013 he moved to the Khayelitsha Spar where he turned 24 loaves into 120 and earned enough money to purchase his own equipment, buy bicycles and employ five people.

2014 was a catalyst for exciting developments at Spinach King as Lufefe won the SAB Innovation Award and used the prize money to open his first bakery. It was also the year he met the Managing Director of Virgin Active and together with the health club brand, Spinach King Health Food Cafe and Bakery opened its doors in 2016! It should also be mentioned that there was quick visit to Italy the year before to attend the We Feed the Planet Expo where Spinach King not only negotiated a supply deal with Hotel Verde but also took home the Western Cape Premier’s Entrepreneurship Recognition Award for Best Emerging Agro-Processing Business! 

Fast forward to July 2018 and Rovos Rail is in business with Lufefe. We wrote about our food and beverage consultant, Markye Reuvers, in a previous post and how she has been scouting local businesses with ethical and sustainability practices who can meet our produce demands. We’re thrilled to have Lufefe and his spinach on board with us!

Walking through our brand new kitchens earlier I just happened upon a chest freezer that contained bags of these delicious muffins. I’m now on my second and pretending that it doesn’t matter that I’m guzzling them down because it’s all in the name of “research” to ensure that our guests are satisfied. Which they will be.

All hail Lufefe, the Spinach King and his environmentally conscious business! It’s a story that inspires and one of which all Capetonians and South Africans can be proud.

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Rovos Rail Food and Beverage

Welcome Tiffany and Maryke!

The purpose of this blog post is two-fold. To let you know that we welcomed Tiffany Vos-Thane in an official capacity to Rovos Rail and that soon after her arrival she recruited the expert services of Maryke Reuvers, a professional chef and consultant. Tiffany is Rohan Vos’s youngest daughter and the last of the family to join the business. We’re thrilled to have her and the 12 years of hospitality expertise she brings with her. Welcome on board!

It did not take Tiffany long to realise that our Food & Beverage department required a fair amount of TLC. Rovos Rail has grown substantially in the past few years with the opening of three guest houses in Cape Town, the acquisition of our new train, the Shongololo Express as well as launching a new 15-day journey, the Trail of Two Oceans, from Tanzania to Angola. In addition, our workshop teams have been hard at work building new coaches so that we can now have five Rovos trains out at once. An impressive feat for a small, privately-owned company. But back to Tiffany and Markye.

Having mostly sales experience in the UK hospitality industry, but with a passion for all things food and wine, Tiffany got to work finding someone who could share in her vision and overhaul our entire Food & Beverage department. It was time to refresh menus, upgrade the bar and wine lists, renovate all the train kitchens and rebuild a brand new on-site kitchen. Chef and kitchen-staff training was also overdue as was food and beverage service. Enter Markye and wow, did she not know what she was getting herself into! It’s been months of spring-cleaning, throwing out, list-making, rearranging, implementing new training and systems, stream-lining and updating current protocols as well as embarking on site visits to newly discovered meat and dairy farms for authentic organic and fresh produce. Markye has also spent time on the trains travelling most of the journeys and working with our chefs in the on-board kitchens. It’s been a ride! And she’s not even halfway done yet.

Markye has spent over 17 years in the food industry and has been regaling us with fascinating stories of expeditions to the Russian Arctic, the Greek Islands and of course the South of France. Her work has taken her to many global destinations but now she is based in Cape Town making weekly commutes to our home-base in Pretoria where she can often be found on her all fours cleaning, scrubbing, inspecting or counting stock. We’ve never worked with a chef with such a strong A-type personality so it’s been an incredible experience for us and we have learned a great deal.

Both Maryke and Tiffany have been a breath of fresh air we didn’t know we needed, which we think is the best kind. Often, when heads are down and teams are working furiously, the small things begin to slip through the cracks and left unchanged become larger issues. It was time to rehabilitate everything to do with food and beverage and we are thrilled to have these two talented and hard-working women at its helm.

We look forward to sharing in our new bar, wine and food menus with you and welcome your feedback.

Cheers, saluti and santé to Tiffany and Maryke, a big welcome and thank you!

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Convair 340 (ZS-BRV)

Statement regarding the crash of Convair 340 (ZS-BRV)

On Tuesday, 10 July 2018, the Convair took off from Wonderboom Airport in Pretoria for a scenic flight before its planned departure for Holland the following day. In April this year Rovos Rail donated the aircraft to Aviodrome, an aviation museum and theme park situated in Leylstad which is approximately 50km from Amsterdam.

The flight was being piloted by Captain Ross Kelly and Doug Hayward, two experienced pilots from Australia who had successfully flown sister Convair ZS-ARV to Australia in August  2016. Rovos Rail had donated the aircraft to the Historical Aviation Restoration Society based at Albion Park south of Sydney.

On Tuesday afternoon the plane experienced engine failure on takeoff and crashed just outside Wonderboom Airport. Sadly engineer Chris Barnard died in the accident.  He was an experienced engineer and pilot and had been intimately involved with the Convairs for 17 years.

Captains Ross Kelly and Doug Hayward were injured and transported by helicopter to Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg where they are in induced comas, but stable. The prognosis is optimistic.

Rovos Rail is supporting Aviodrome and the SA CAA with the subsequent investigation.

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Station Stories and Sentiments

From our humble beginnings in 1989 a focus of ours has always been preserving what little is left of the era of steam and the golden age of rail travel. In our 29 years we have collected artifacts, yes, but the most incredible and incredulous stories and sentiments. Our museum at our private station in Pretoria is one way we treasure not only our history but also all the stories, some of which are legend. Guests have expressed their sentiments at us being custodians of a rich part of South Africa’s rail history and the stories which we tell in our little museum.

Renate Engelbrecht from Travelling Mystery Guest visited us recently and penned a piece on our station, Oom Gert and his careful curatorship of our museum.

Like the Rovos Rail family business, the Capital Park station has many stories to tell. It’s a historical gem tucked away among Pretoria’s CBD, the National Zoological Gardens and African tuck shops. The station, built in 1948, from which Rovos Rail departs, also plays its role of heyday holiday start-off point and preserver of all things train, very well.

The station grounds are filled with animals – from lamas lying in the staff’s garages that greet you with weird looking faces, to an on-site Nguni herd. But, it is Oom Gert who welcomes you at the Railway Museum.

Oom Gert, a humble soul, is tall and skinny with a voice that tells the story of life on trains. He has been around since even before Rovos Rail. He started as a stoker in 1969 and eventually worked his way up to train driver. It was not long after his retirement that he was called up again to man the Railway Museum. Trains are his passion. “You can’t see nature from a car like you can from a train,” he says. Every person is important to him. He does, however, enjoy the Japanese visitors most. Still, he has never had people arrive at the station with an attitude other than excitement. “For them it is the beginning of an exciting journey. They are already comfortable and meet people from different countries in the museum. So, when they get onto the train, they already know each other.”

The 40-hectare station first belonged to South African Railways, with many different locomotives and train drivers that drove these trains into many different directions. After moving to another depot, though, the station became dilapidated and was later taken over by Rovos Rail, who has brought the station back to its former glory. Today Rovos Rail’s trains depart from here to Cape Town, Durban, Victoria Falls, Namibia, Dar Es Salaam and soon also Angola, with the whole complex posing as a museum.

Rovos Rail has given the station a proper revamp and kept historically relevant artifacts intact for train passengers and visitors to appreciate. The main station building, previously a dining hall for artisans, has been prettied up and they’ve added a clock tower to enhance the station’s ambiance. The steam and diesel loco shed has also been cleaned up. Most of the structures have either been rebuilt or are converted ex-SAR buildings. The on-site Railway Museum is mainly focused on the tourists embarking on their Rovos Rail journeys, but Oom Gert, the curator, welcomes anyone. The museum is constantly developing, and it is the Vos family’s goal for 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.

It’s like exploring a bygone era when you step into the station building. Even before you set foot on the luxury train that has been voted one of the top seven trains in the world by wired.com, you are taken on a trip down memory lane. The station lounge has a certain elegance to it and takes you back to a time when you had to dress up for dinner and where sophistication was key. Rovos Rail Station serves as the departure and arrival point for all eight journeys on offer and passengers rave about the welcoming experience and the colonial atmosphere of the station.

Rovos Rail’s guests are received with elegant welcoming drinks and canapes at the station and are often given an introductory speech by the owner, Rohan Vos, which sets the tone for the exciting journey ahead. Vos then also habitually takes guests on an informative and educational tour around the station grounds before the train’s wheels start turning, explaining the workshops and loco sheds to them with unfailing enthusiasm. The museum, marshalling yards, train renovation and repair facilities and welcome centre are all run by him.

Owner, Rohan Vos, is an enthusiast of note and with the help and support of his family, he has brought Rovos Rail and its station to what it is today.

 

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