Tag Archives: Rohan Vos

East to West Success!

Images courtesy of Jos Beltman 

Our train arrived back from its mammoth journey on Friday, 6 September and we feel quite proud of this success. This train essentially travelled six different journeys, each with its own group of guests, and is the first passenger train in history to travel the east-to-west Copper Trail, from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Lobito, Angola. We called it the Trail of Two Oceans and did we mention that our maiden voyage was a success?!

The six journeys included:
* Pretoria to Cape Town
* Cape Town to Dar es Salaam
* Dar es Salaam to Lobito
* Lobito to Dar es Salaam
* Dar es Salaam to Cape Town
* Cape Town to Pretoria

Our one train travelled a distance of 23 400kms!

Daphne Mabala, our ever graceful and fearless train manager, over saw the operations of our new east-to-west route and we feel that the journey’s success was in large part due to her dedicated management. She was supported by her management team and our owner/CEO, Rohan, who seemed to spend most of his time shaking the hands of dignitaries, politicians and tribal leaders whilst posing for photographs.

Also on board were historian and raconteur, Nicholas Schofield, hair stylist and guest liaison, Craig Geater, a formidable management team, our own locomotive drivers and mechanics, hostesses, dining car staff, barmen and women, an excellent kitchen team, a strong maintenance duo and of course our laundry team who, together with the barmen and chefs, are the real stars of the show.

The trip was a great success in both directions with minimal adjustments to the running schedule. The receptions at Lubumbashi and Kolwezi were a surprise while the officialdom and huge crowds meeting the train in Angola was unbelievable. Governors, ministers, tribal leaders, mayors, railwaymen, clergy and many other dignitaries all dressed up in their finest were on hand to meet the train at all major stations, accompanied by numerous musical groups and tribal dancers.

The tourism department and railways went way beyond the call of duty to ensure a safe and successful journey, while the journalists and TV crews had a field day giving our visit huge publicity. Our thanks to everyone who met us along the way with such enthusiasm and support – you added a memorable and touching element to the journey that we could not have anticipated or hoped for.

The saying goes “save the best for last” and the best of this entire experience had to be our wonderful guests. Our band of intrepid travellers who braved this new route with us! Thank you for travelling with us and helping make it the success that it was. Thank you too for your wonderful feedback and constructive suggestions on how we might improve the itinerary all of which are being fiercely debated between Rohan and journey coordinator, Regárdo! The journey is sold out in 2020 and our commitment to a memorable and once-in-a-lifetime experience for our guests is almost stubborn so your feedback is much valued and appreciated.

Our motto at Rovos Rail is to celebrate our wins but never rest on our laurels so planning for 2020 and beyond is well underway. And because Rohan is not one to sit still and because Research and Development is his passion, we suspect that not only will he tweak the Trail of Two Oceans itinerary to perfection but that he’ll be flying all over Africa exploring additional routes too.

Stay tuned!

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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 (national railway authority) 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 can be as self-reliant as possible. 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 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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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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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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Rovos Rail Shongololo Express

Rovos Rail Purchases Shongololo Express

Early in January of 2016 Rovos Rail purchased the Shongololo Express train of 19 coaches and agreed to employ all the personnel.

“Operating a three-star train had always been at the back of my mind. When I learned that the Shongololo Express was on offer the timing seemed serendipitous and so an opportunity not to be missed”, says Rohan Vos, owner and CEO of the Rovos Rail Group, of the purchase.

The train has been repainted in green and cream and an additional dining car plus an observation car have been added. The accommodation of six Emerald suites (± 10sqm) and 30 Gold cabins (± 7sqm) will remain as is.

The three itineraries, Southern Cross – Pretoria to Victoria Falls (12 days), Dune Express – Pretoria to Swakopmund (12 days), Good-Hope – Pretoria to Cape Town (15 days); have been rebuilt with more stationary time at night and less road time spent on the excursions.

Golf has been introduced to the Good-Hope trip, renamed Good-Hope Golf, with courses such as the Arabella Golf Estate, Ernie Els Oubaai, Fancourt, Champagne Sports Resort, Durban Country Club, Zimbali, Royal Swazi and Leopard Creek being available to guests.

All journeys are available in reverse and, as before, guests can purchase optional extras that include visits to cultural, historical or heritage sites and overnight stays at safari lodges. The rates do not include most lunches, beverages and laundry.

“A three-star product offering will be different for us and I’m sure there will be a few initial teething problems but we’ve been doing this for 28 years so I think we will be able to manage this exciting new adventure”, comments Rohan.

For further information please contact shonogololo@rovos.co.za, call + 27 (0) 12 315 8203 or visit www.shongololo.com. Any media enquiries to brenda@rovos.co.za / + 27 (0) 82 961 9433.

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Exploring New Routes

BD26A68B5CBE50CD85256AD100665A32_0 Angola_map

To keep things challenging and a step ahead, we are not only continuously looking for ways to improve our services but are always open-minded to exploring new routes and itineraries. One has to keep things interesting and, as many of you will know, we like to be the most interesting!

With this in mind, Rohan Vos, owner and CEO of Rovos Rail, visited Angola and the Congo to explore:

 In December 2014 I visited Angola with the intention of travelling by train on the newly rebuilt C.F.B. line between the port of Lobito, Benguela and the border town of Dilolo, 1350km to the east. This Chinese rebuilt line is a remarkable milestone in Angola’s return to normality after 20-odd years of civil war. The intention is to open the way for copper and other minerals to be exported from Kolwezi in the Katanga Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and obviously to facilitate imports from the coast to Lubumbashi. The only obstacle to this is the parlous state of the line in DRC from Dilolo to Lubumbashi.

To investigate this line, I hired a motorised trolley from the S.N.C.C. Railways and with driver, technician and translator travelled along the 425km line between Kolwezi and Dilolo. This took four days and was an adventure to say the least. The line is used once a month or so for passengers and due to the lack of undergrowth control it can take the train a week to traverse the 400-odd kilometres. Derailments are also a common occurrence on this stretch.

So, regrettably, the idea of running our train from Zambia through to the Angolan port of Lobito is not practical at present. When the DRC section is rehabilitated it will be feasible. I can only speculate that the undertaking of this task will now become high priority with major pressure being exerted by the Angolans with their shiny new line having nowhere to go! Update next year.

So, no new exciting African adventures for us this year but there is something big we’ll be announcing next week! Stay tuned.

Rohan Vos in Dilolo on the DRC Angolan border           Derailment in Klowezi         benguela

Images, from left to right: Rohan at the Dilolo Station on the DRC Angolan border. During an inspection of the Kolwezi Dilolo (DRC) line, the group derailed after hitting a well-placed tree. The new Benguela Station.

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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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