Category : Our Team

Rovos Rail Durban Safari

A Wonderful Trip!

It’s always a happy when we receive feeback about a wonderful trip! Mr and Mrs Padiachy celebrated part of their 32nd year of marriage on our Durban Safari and we were so thrilled to be a part of it. Thank you and we look forward to welcoming you on board again one day!

HI REGARDO

WHAT A WONDERFUL TRIP WE HAD ON THE 18 JANUARY 2016, IT WOULD BE ONE THAT WILL STAY IN OUR FOND MEMORIES FOR YEARS TO COME. IT MADE CELEBRATING OUR 32ND YEAR OF MARRIAGE FEEL VERY SPECIAL.

I ALSO WANT TO TAKE THIS OPPORTUNITY OF THANKING YOU FOR THE VERY PROFESSIONAL MANNER IN WHICH YOU ARRANGED THIS ENTIRE TRIP FOR US.

MAY I ALSO COMMEND ROVOS RAIL STAFF ON THE TRAIN FROM MART, ADAM, HENNIE, CAMERON, IVANKA, CHANTEL, MICHELE, ANGELIQUE, NAZEERAH, JAKLIEN, MATTHEW, ANNIQA S WELL AS YOUR KITCHEN STAFF

FOR THEIR FRIENDLY MANNER AND SERVICE THEY ALL GAVE US.

AND ABOVE ALL ELSE TO HAVE BEEN MET BY MR VOS PERSONALLY ON OUR ARRIVAL, IMPRESSED US VERY MUCH.

YOU CAN BE SURE,I’LL BE BACK!!!!! THIS TIME WITH FRIENDS

THANK ALL YOU GUY’S ONCE AGAIN

SIELAN AND DELIA PADIACHY

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Good Work Foundation Rovos Rail

South Africa Needs Education

Written by Brenda Vos

The story of how I came to know the Good Work Foundation (GWF) all started with a book. Rovos Rail is nearly 27 years old and when my parents started this business there were others taking enormous risks too. Before her recent passing, I got to meet the grand doyenne, Liz McGrath, of The Collection by Liz McGrath, and she regaled stories of attending international trade shows with my parents, none of them having a clue what they were doing, and how she thought my Dad’s vision for Rovos Rail was inspiring but mad! Another couple who were starting out at the same time, and who might also have been considered crazy for their vision, was Dave and Shan Varty of Londolozi Game Reserve. And it was their son, Boyd, who wrote the book Cathedral of the Wild that introduced me to this wonderful foundation.

Through a series of events, Boyd was educated by a formidable woman, Kate Groch, and it is Kate who pioneered this organisation. As founder of the Good Work Foundation, Kate believes in the potential of all people. “It should never matter where you are born, you must have the opportunity to fulfil your potential and to add value to your own community.”

Like Kate, we at Rovos Rail believe that education is the key to empowering South Africa’s population and a vital element in reducing poverty, crime and violence. Empowering the less fortunate in South Africa, arming them with an education, is the biggest gift all of us will ever receive. And the beauty of GWF is that they are empowering their students with digital learning: “Our philosophy is simple: deliver English literacy support in conjunction with information-communication technology access and training. If rural people are literate in the digital lingua franca and they can ‘drive’ a computer, then they have the same access to information as everyone else in the world. And that opens up opportunities that never before existed.”

I couldn’t agree more. For years I, and Rovos Rail, have been donating books and stationery to schools and it never crossed my mind that digital learning is pivotal to the success of every job applicant, which amazes me because I use my laptop and phone for everything! All the research, work, reading and news-gathering I do happens on-line so it’s fairly obvious that contributing to GWF’s digital learning centres is what is going to assist in propelling rural South Africa forward.

We recently experienced something quite profound in the history of South Africa. The University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg announced a 10% fee increase in 2016 which prompted a group of students to form a protest movement which swept across the country in a wave of discontent in most major universities and culminated in the storming of parliament in Cape Town. This 10% increase must be seen in the context of an existing fee and bursary structure that is both inaccessible and unrealistic for many young South Africans.

GWF stood in support of the message of the movement and released an official press release with powerful statements, one of them being: “The only way that wealth can be shared; the only way that we can reduce a skills gap; the only way that we can address one of the world’s most apparent inequality challenges is through ACCESS TO EDUCATION”.

Kate and her team are passionately dedicated to their work. Kate is a woman that we should all aspire to be because she’s living her truth and just getting on with it. I haven’t met her yet but she seems to be a force of nature and I look forward to the day when I get to shake her hand. In 2013 she delivered a pretty motivating Ted Talk in Edinburgh.

Our relationship with them is young but my hope is that Rovos Rail can be a driving force behind the success of GWF. It’s foundations such as GWF that are absolutely essential to keeping our country healthy, strong and moving forward. They also have one of the best websites I have ever seen and I would highly recommend a visit! 

Good Work Foundation Rovos Rail  Kate-and-Linky

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Happy Holidays!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Rovos Team

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Rovos Rail Train Management

Thank you, Train Managers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Elephant Rescue in Kenya

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

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

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

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

Born To Be Wild   orphelinat-elephants

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Rovos Rail Dar es Salaam

A Royal Letter

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

Dear Mr Vos,

Journey Cape Town to Dar es Salaam, 17thJanuary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you and congratulations on your achievements.

Sincerely, 

Lord Cranworth

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

Photo credit: Jos Beltman from Icento Treinreizen in Holland.

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“Let’s Open Guesthouses!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rovos Rail Guest Houses  Rovos Rail Guest Houses

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

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Our thoughts on Ebola

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Cancer Warriors at Pink Drive

Being Breast Cancer Awareness Month we decided to write about something that means a great deal to us and we’re sure to many of you. Cancer, in all its forms, seems to be slithering into homes everywhere and is not a disease that happens to “other people”. Many of us here at Rovos Rail have been affected by cancer so our association with Pink Drive is meaningful to many of us.

Carole, from our sales team, has worked with Founder & Director of Pink Drive, Noelene Kotschan for many years and last year both Carole and Brenda attended the Pink Tie dinner where Rovos Rail donated a trip on the train to the auction. The event was a great success and never have we seen so many beautiful women in one place wearing so much pink!

The latest statistics issued by Pink Drive (September, 2014):

Rovos Rail supports Pink Drive

Now that’s impressive! How do they achieve the above? In amongst all their fundraising and awareness initiatives, they operate two “Pink” mobile breast check units as well as three educational cars and in March this year they launched South Africa´s first Mobile Women’s Health Unit in the form of a fourteen ton truck! Described as a Doctor’s Room on Wheels, the unit boasts a state-of-the-art gynaecology area for pap smears and examinations, a reception area for administration and a radiology area. This unit addresses cervical cancer as well as offering mammograms.

It’s hard to believe what Noelene and her team have achieved in just five years! A huge congrats to all of you – the work you is tireless and invaluable. You all save lives so in our books you are all superheroes!

Click here to find out how you might be able to support Pink Drive.

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Chasing Trains

Written by Brenda Vos

Chasing trains to make movies. What a way to kick off 2013! I had no idea how exhausting, hot or nerve-racking it would be. At one point we were driving through the Karoo, car doors open with our cameraman hanging out to “get the shot”.

But let me start at the beginning.

It was quite soon into my new role at Rovos Rail that I realised our video collateral needed some serious updating. These shoots cost a pretty penny and it’s easy to push them to bottom of the list because operating trains is a costly business. But the way of the world is video and I wanted to create movie magic.

I enlisted the assistance of a production company, Big House, along with our trusted photographer and videographer, Ross Hillier. We’ve known Ross a long time and his work is beautiful. Plus he’s always up for any adventure and chasing trains ranks high on a list of cool things to do!

So off we set on a hot Pretoria afternoon to follow the train to Cape Town. None of us really knew what to expect and, if I’m really honest, I still can’t believe that not one punch was thrown! The temperatures were fierce, the driving fast and tedious, the nights late with only about two hours sleep each evening and meals were sporadic and junky. We waited alongside the train tracks in De Aar, in the Karoo, for over an hour and the recorded temperature was 42°C. But even in these tough conditions the funny banter never stopped and there were times when we all cried from laughter. There is just something special about putting the right group of people together, magic happens, and that’s what we shared on our three-day 1 500km quest.

Now fairly addicted to the adrenalin of a film shoot, I decided we needed to capture our Durban Safari too. KwaZulu-Natal and its Midlands has some of the most spectacular scenery that South Africa has to offer. The vegetation is tropical, lush and so blindingly green that the contrast between the arid Karoo, I knew, would make for beautiful footage.

So off we set again and aside from an initial vehicle breakdown that resulted in a hilarious afternoon spent in a mechanic’s garage in Alberton, this trip was far easier. The travel distance was just much shorter so there was less driving and more sleeping! But wow, did we see South Africa’s raw beauty. The train passes through a tiny station called Balgowan at about 6am, which is right next to Michaelhouse in the Midlands, and the mist that morning was all the colours of the most beautiful sunrise which seemed to blanket the train as it meandered slowly and quietly passed us. It was a sight and a feeling I will never forget. Another special moment was filming a time lapse of the sunrise on Mount Alice. Rovos Rail guests enjoy a fascinating lecture on the Anglo-Boer War on Mount Alice so we snuck up a bit earlier to capture the valley at sunrise and to film the lecture given by raconteur, Ray Herron.

It was a few months later, at the beginning of winter, that I realised I didn’t have enough footage of guests on board so I sent the crew on another Cape Town journey but this time they got to travel on board. On the second evening, the train parks at a siding called Gemsbok, situated somewhere in the Karoo, and the crew braved the wintry temperatures to film a time-lapse of the beautiful night sky. Being city slickers, a sky on fire is not something often seen so it had to be captured and was a magical experience even in the sub-zero temperatures.


My only real job on all of these shoots was to ensure guests were happy, to keep the crew fed and to pay for fuel! But one thing I did do was film our adventures on my iPhone. The footage was used to make a behind-the-scenes video which, I admit, is mostly just for our memory banks and entertainment but if you would like to see the escapades then click here.

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