Category : Our Team

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 beating under our previous governmental administration. Jacob Zuma’s presidency left this country bleeding and the consequences of his reckless actions can be felt in most industries. Sometimes it feels like we’re watching our reputation being dismantled right in front of our eyes and we can be left feeling quite powerless.

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 business of locomotives is not an avenue we ever wanted to pursue. They are expensive and also present enormous logistical issues so we were more than happy to sign on the dotted line three decades ago.

Fast forward to the present and we find ourselves entangled in a relationship with the most reluctant landlord only now the infrastructure has deteriorated. From 2009 to February of 2018, very little was invested into maintaining the railway infrastructure so signals and panel boards are sometimes not working, locomotives overheat and breakdown, drivers are absent from shifts and sections of railway line are bumpy. This is what prompted us to purchase nine electric and 14 diesel locomotives, and to recruit trained drivers, so that we can haul or our own trains.

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 pretty much run without a hitch in five years. So our big gamble is paying off.

Our second biggest challenge and one over which we truly have no control, is the monster that is cable theft. Again, this is not a new phenomenon plaguing Transnet and police but one that has certainly grown in efficiency and pace. When before it was a sporadic problem it is now something over which we 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 Southern 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 literally given the company blood, sweat and tears to not only create memorable experiences but also to turn the tide on global opinion of South Africa in the early 90’s and be a success story of triumphant South African entrepreneurship. And slowly but surely ruthless and reckless politics, thoughtless leadership and an understaffed parastatal is unravelling the reliable and big reputation we have built for ourselves.

When delays occur our teams on the trains and on the ground perform logistical somersaults to keep guests comfortable and when necessary, to disembark them in remote locations so they don’t have to wait the sometimes long hours with us. Over the years we have had to hire private vehicles and buses. We’ve chartered private aircraft at great personal expense so that we can transfer guests to the nearest airport to fly them out of the remote areas in which the train was brought to a standstill. We are under no obligation to perform these small feats and cannot claim from insurance for the additional and sometimes enormous costs. We do it because we know how upsetting it is for our guests when their once-in-a-lifetime trip has to be cut short due to delays.

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 the 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.

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 all 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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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

A Tulip is Born

Picture credit: Bianca Vos-Lynch

In January of this year we wrote a post entitled An Australian, his Bride and a Cow which told the story of one of Rohan’s daughter’s, Bianca, and how her fiancé, Brandon, purchased a gorgeous female Nguni cow as Lobola for his future bride. Brandon named her Mia Bella, meaning my beautiful one, and told us that she was a heifer – pregnant with her first calf – and due in February. Well, February became March, which became April and finally the vet told us to expect the little one in September! We’re not sure how the Nguni cow farmer miscalculated that one but a little girl eventually arrived on September 24th, Heritage Day in South Africa, and a Tulip was born!

You’ll see from the original story that we decided that Mia Bella would need a friend so we purchased another pregnant female who we called Camilla. Her calf, Alfie, was born in June and he is growing into a handsome and quite randy little fella! So all our fingers were crossed that Mia would have a little girl. Eventually, on September 24th (Heritage Day in South Africa), a calf arrived looking very gangly but very sweet – a girl who we called Tulip. In a moment of territorial aggression, Camilla kicked her around so she spent her first few days with a mild concussion, wobbling about, but is now latching and flourishing alongside her relieved mother.

Her name might sound a bit odd to some but there is personal meaning behind it for the Vos family as it honours Anthea’s father who recently passed – he was nicknamed Jimmy the Tulip by his grandchildren after a movie character and, serendipitously, that is how our little Tulip got her name. And she also decided to come into the world on Jimmy’s birthday which made her birth all the more lovely.

Welcome to the world and to Rovos Rail, Tulip Vos-Lynch! We’ll adore you and take care of you forever.

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