Shopping for Lobito began in late April, about six weeks prior to the train’s departure from Pretoria.
As you can imagine, shopping for the Lobito train, which travelled through areas which are sometimes difficult to find on a map, required a significant amount of planning; especially when it came to food and beverages. With no real opportunities for a resupply of fresh produce or items such as wine along the way, most of the stock had to be loaded onto the train in Pretoria.
At Rovos Rail, we work so hard to try and deliver creative food and an array of beverages to our guests on a daily basis which is quite the challenge on a train which is travelling, with six different sets of passengers on six different journeys, a distance of 23 400kms! We caught up with Maryke and Dominique, the matriarchs of our food and beverage department, to find out just how they went about shopping for Lobito.
Dominique, the head of our food and beverage department, advised that the kitchen team on board have a fresh fruit and vegetable resupply at specific points along each of the six trips:
Dar es Salaam to Lobito: A full order of fresh produce is ordered a month in advance and delivered to the train in Dar es Salaam
Lobito to Dar es Salaam: We are able to restock certain items in Lobito so our kitchen teams have to go shopping at local markets for any outstanding fresh produce
Dar es Salaam to Cape Town: Again, a fresh order is delivered to the train in Dar es Salaam and a resupply is ready in Krugersdorp
Cape Town to Pretoria: A full order is delivered to the train in Cape Town
The logistical planning of food, beverages and the supply of water is astounding with our teams persistently following up to reconfirm orders with new vendors who perhaps do not understand how crucial these supplies are to the success of these journeys.
Other interesting and jaw-dropping facts are the quantities of certain items consumed.
4000 to 5000 eggs used for breakfast service and baking
4900 bread rolls
± 890 to 1500kgs of sustainably sourced meat
± 780 to 800kgs of sustainably sourced fish
± 680kgs of dairy produce (milk, yoghurt, creams and a wide variety of cheese options)
It’s impressive, isn’t it?
Dominique tells us that all dry goods are all resupplied at the locations mentioned above because there is not enough space on board to carry it all.
In addition to the stocking of food produce, all liquor, non-alcoholic beverages and bottled water also had to be loaded prior to the train’s departure in Pretoria.
The issue of fresh bottled water, both still and sparkling, has always been a challenge because boxes of water take up much needed space on the train. And as some of you may know, large quantities of bottled water can be costly, especially cross-border in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola – shopping for bottled water in areas such as Kolwezi or Lobito is too difficult and far too expensive.
One of our saving graces is that we had the foresight about 20 years ago to recognise the demand for bottled water (as opposed to tap) so we set up our own water supply company in Cape Town which we called Babamanzi. The company is SANBWA approved and adheres to all the necessary regulations in addition to using plant-based bottles which are also sent back for recycling.
In total, across the six journeys, 600 boxes of still and 300 of sparkling water were loaded onto the train.
And as for the rest of the beverages provided on board. Well, a full bar is loaded onto the train which consists of a variety of wines, spirits, liqueurs, beers, ciders, mixers and a robust supply of non-alcoholic drinks such as cocktails, beers and juices. For these six journeys, our bar team loaded nearly 1000 boxes onto the train with opportunities for any required resupply only available in major city centres.
We spent some time with Maryke, Dominique and the kitchen team, filming behind-the-scenes of chef training, coordinating and packing. We are continuously impressed by our food and beverages team and are always grateful for their ability to learn from each journey so that the preparations for future trips are even more efficient.
Click here to watch the team in action.
The 19th of August, marked the end of our Trail of Two Oceans trip for 2023. The train has successfully travelled from Pretoria to Cape Town, from the Mother City to Dar es Salaam and for the Tanzanian capital all the way to Lobito in Angola and back. It’s the third time we have operated the Trail of Two Oceans and we are proud that each venture, although laboured with all sorts of behind-the-scenes challenges, has been successful!
It’s difficult to believe that the third departure of our Trail of Two Oceans, from Dar es Salaam to Lobito is already done and dusted. We spoke of the inaugural journey’s success here so this time we thought we’d share a few behind-the-scenes details with you such as the trip’s extensive laundry list. This one train actually travels six separate journeys with a total of 23 400kms’s being traversed so the Lobito laundry list is mammoth!
First, a reminder of the six different journeys that this one train operated in two and a half months:
Pretoria to Cape Town (three nights)
Cape Town to Dar es Salaam (14 nights)
Dar es Salaam to Lobito (14 nights)
Lobito to Dar es Salaam (14 nights)
Dar es Salaam to Cape Town (14 nights)
Cape Town to Pretoria (three nights)
Each journey listed above had its own set of guests so the passengers who travelled with us from Pretoria to Cape Town disembarked in the Mother City as we welcomed new guests on board the trip from Cape Town to Dar es Salaam. The train and our crew would have hosted approximately 311 guests across these six separate trips.
We thought it might be interesting to share a few details with you about how some of our departments go about planning and packing for a train which was out for 75 days. We asked Ilana, the manager of our onsite laundry department, just how much linen is packed and she came back to us with the linen count for her Lobito laundry list:
200 towelling robes
200 towelling slippers
256 fitted double sheets
256 flat double sheets
512 fitted single sheets
512 flat single sheets
384 large bath towels
450 linen napkins
We spent some time with Ilana and her team onsite so we could film them in action. Ilana started coordinating her Lobito laundry list in January so that should there be any additional linen required, the order could be placed and delivered in time for the train’s departure. The counting and packing of the towelling robes, curtains, sheets, duvet covers, pillowcases, antimacassars, towels, facecloths, tablecloths and serviettes began in early June and took place in amongst all the other journeys which were operating at the same time which mostly consisted of the Cape Town and Victoria Falls trips.
Aside from food and beverages, linen is probably one of the most complicated issues as our large laundry bags require space which is limited on board. We have three different suite categories on board the train, each with their own size beds and linen requirements so the counting out of sheets, blankets, duvets and covers, pillows and pillowcases is methodical.
Our hardworking team washes and irons bed and table linen every day as well as providing a laundry and pressing service to our guests. The curtains we have in the public coaches are made onsite by our upholstery team and these also need to be removed and cleaned by the laundry team on the train. Suffice to say that the crew is kept very busy. They are honestly magicians because not only is their role incredibly demanding, but their job also requires steady nerves and hands as the train traverses various countries on tracks that are not always that smooth. And they somehow pull this magic off working within confined spaces on board.
Another challenge with all the laundry is water supply. Once the train departs Dar es Salaam, areas which can supply us with water and have the necessary pressure in order for us for to fill up within a reasonable amount of time, are few and far between. A trickling hosepipe will not do so in 2022 we installed three 10 000L water tanks, on six-metre stands, in Kolwezi (Democratic Republic of Congo) and a large volume pump for a guaranteed water supply. A 21-coach train can hold approximately 54000L of water so to have this equipment available to us in Kolwezi is a welcome relief.
The onsite laundry team counted, recounted and packed over 100 laundry bags for the suites and public cars on board this train. Their Lobito laundry lists were endless with each being checked and cross-checked by Ilana and on-board staff so that nothing was short. When the train returned to the Rovos Rail Station in September, the staff had to count each item back into the onsite laundry so that the stock is ready and waiting for the next journey.
There are four siblings in the Vos family, three of whom knew they could not and did not want to take over and be at the helm of the family’s business when it was time. But the youngest, Tiffany, had the fire in her belly from the time she was born but knew that she needed to establish herself on her own merits before joining Rovos Rail. She has been at the company for five years now and there are many positive words used to describe her but the one that stands out the most is “unstoppable”.
We were recently asked by one of our longtime Rovos Club members to describe 2023 in three words and it completely stumped us. The guest then asked us to “zoom in” because she wanted to know specifically what this year had been like for us, the staff.
The small group of employees to whom this question was posed sat pondering for a good while and after some time the consensus was: challenging, stunning and profound.
Challenging because we had to battle through another year with corrupt parastatals like Transnet and Eskom. Stunning because of lovely guests, beautiful views and successful train journeys. And lastly, and this one made us well up a bit, profound because of Rovos Rail’s leadership.
It takes a special kind of chutzpa and a perfect blend of calm, intelligence and logic to keep all Rovos Rail staff feeling safe, confident and appreciated. And it also takes a resilient kind of patience to work with this eclectic, eccentric and passionate group of staff because as with all families, there are daily squabbles and everyone needs attention.
When you have a Chief Operations Officer who is all those things and who is also a wife and mother of two young children, it makes you start to believe that perhaps super humans do exist. The daily challenges and enormous emotional output that Rovos Rail demands would shatter many people, but our Wonder Woman takes it all her in her stride and rarely misses a step. So yes, she is unstoppable.
We haven’t spoken too much about Tiffany Vos-Thane, our COO. Mostly because she doesn’t like too much attention and also because 2023 seems to have gone by in the blink of an eye.
Tiffany is the youngest daughter of Rohan and Anthea Vos, CEO and owners of Rovos Rail Tours (Pty) Ltd. She was born with a spreadsheet in her hand and a determination to conquer whatever she set her mind to whether it was academics or playing for her provincial hockey team as a young girl or beginning her hospitality career in a tough and grey city like London.
On returning to Cape Town, she scooped up a position at Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel where she began as a Guest Services Agent before being promoted to Groups & Incentives Sales. But international adventure was calling and so was an Events Coordinator position at the Imperial College Business School in London. Tiffany moved to the United Kingdom in 2010 where she lived for over a decade.
After a short stint at the Business School, Tiffany returned to the Starwood Hotels & Resorts group and worked in the Events Sales team for Starwood Central London complex. Like Rohan, her father, sales was in her blood and she was determined to learn the skills it took to be an efficient executor of a lucrative sale. It only took a year for Tiffany to be promoted to an Account Executive where she focused on driving sales for the groups & events segment for Starwood Hotels London.
Two years later, she earned another promotion to Sales Manager for Business Travel where she focused on driving sales and revenue for the Corporate segment for Starwood Hotels in London. The hotels included the Park Tower Knightsbridge, Sheraton Park Lane Hotel, Le Méridien Piccadilly, W London – Leicester Square & Aloft London Excel.
Tiffany was in her Sales Manager position for a year before she was again promoted to Account Director of Business Travel where she managed the corporate segment for all Starwood Hotels in London.
If you’ve ever worked in London, you’ll know how cutthroat the business travel sector is and how smart you have to work to have any kind of success. For Tiffany to have achieved what she did in five years is impressive and reiterates to us that not only did she have hospitality woven through her DNA, but that she could stand on her own, proving to herself and others that she was smart, unafraid of challenges and always willing to go the extra mile.
In amongst all this determined hard work, there was a great deal of personal travel which took her through Europe, including a magical Christmas spent in Iceland, extensive travel through the United States and a three-month adventure through South America.
In 2017, Tiffany earned a position as the Assistant Director of Sales for Business Travel for Marriott International but South Africa, family and Rovos Rail were calling her home. She felt it was time to create a space for herself within her family’s business and to prove to herself and Rohan that she could be his second-in-command as well as instill confidence in the market about her leadership abilities. After all, Rovos Rail needed a succession plan and Tiffany, with her siblings in full support, knew she could do it.
After getting married in early 2017, Tiffany and her husband went back to London to pack up their lives before moving permanently back to South Africa. Tiffany joined Rovos Rail in an official capacity in 2018 and it quickly became apparent that she was well suited for a Chief Operations Officer position which was awarded to her in June of 2019.
In her first two years, she overhauled the entire food and beverage department, renovated the entrance to the station and began the long, painfully tedious task of implementing a new and integrated reservations system. In many ways, she brought operations into the 21st century – we can laugh about it now but goodness, some of the systems we had in place prior to her arrival were archaic!
Tiffany has spent countless hours with both Rohan and Anthea listening and learning. Rohan has spent a considerable amount of time explaining his thought processes regarding operations, the railway infrastructure and working alongside Transnet as well as other national railway authorities. It’s an enormous and sometimes overwhelming side of the business but with time, Tiffany has started to navigate on her own with Rohan standing by should her decision-making process need to be revised or her course of action pivoted.
With Anthea, Tiffany has learned about the ordering of stock – anything from bed linen to glassware to amenities or to wine. Anthea has taken Tiffany with her to look at new fabrics for the upholstery on board the trains, passing on lessons learned from experience over the course of 35 years.
And then came the Covid-19 pandemic. Together with Rohan, Tiffany had to mindfully manage this crisis which essentially shut Rovos Rail down for two years. As it was for many people across the world, the pandemic was an incredibly challenging and devastating time and something we could not have navigated without Tiffany’s calm communication and unwavering support.
In 2021, she gave birth to her daughter which was followed by the birth of her son in January 2023. Justin, Tiffany and the kids live in Cape Town with Tiffany commuting to Rovos Rail’s headquarters in Pretoria every second week.
Tiffany now manages 17 departments across Rovos Rail which includes HR, Training, Finance, Procurement, F&B, Laundry, Upholstery, Locomotive Department, Workshops, Train Operations, Train Staff, Reservations, Sales & Marketing, IT, Security, Hardware, Health & Safety.
As for the future? Tiffany’s main focus for 2024 will be staff training across all departments but specifically the train teams. There is so much that goes into working on the trains and because we have been so busy, she feels that we have fallen short in equipping these young staff members with the knowledge and confidence they need.
Rovos Rail also has a determined passion for sustainability and although enormous strides have been taken to be as earth-friendly as possible on board the trains, there is still more work to be done at Rovos Rail Station. Tiffany is determined to continue on with the “green” audit of each of the 17 departments she oversees in order to further minimize unnecessary waste.
As always, research into new and adventurous routes will continue be a priority because above all things, Rohan is a pioneer and with Tiffany having inherited his ambition and spirit for adventure, we are certain we will be bundu-bashing through different African countries for years to come.
Rohan and Tiffany will continue to work together for years to come as this “handover” is complex. Having already spent five years in training, it will be interesting to see what the next five will bring as there have already been so many efficient and positive changes made to our day-to-day operations. Father and daughter will undoubtedly continue to butt heads because they are both stubborn, confident and incredibly passionate about operating a successful business.
The future of Rovos Rail is in good hands, not only with Tiffany as its helm but also with a strong and experienced management team in place. Both Rohan and Tiffany are ensuring a smooth transition but if we’re being honest, if you know Rohan, you know he is not going anywhere so our tall and lanky leader will be breaking boundaries for many years to come with his daughter watching and learning from the wings so that when the time is right, she is more than ready.
Caring, responsible and a go-getter. I couldn’t agree more with the three words chosen by Rovos Rail train manager, Renolda Motha, when asking how she would describe herself.
Her accomplishment of rising through the ranks from her first job with the company as a room hostess, to one of the top jobs as train manager in her 14 years with Rovos Rail is testament to her go-getter drive.
Her incredibly demanding position requires Renolda to be quick thinking and creative in looking after her passengers and staff, resolving problems, and finding solutions. She is on call 24/7, overseeing all aspects of the successful management of the train both in terms of transport logistics, as well as hospitality which entails taking care of her guests’ every need and supporting her staff.
Humility is an important value to Renolda, and she takes her inspiration from Rovos Rail’s founder and owner Rohan Vos whom she talks about with great admiration – from the way he conducts himself whilst travelling on the train to how he acknowledges and interacts with all staff members.
Renolda believes that dealing with people from different cultures and spheres of life has taught her to be humble. Interacting and exchanging information with a diverse range of personalities has broadened her knowledge and increased her skills.
Communication is an integral part of Renolda’s job, and she appreciates the upskilling that the company invests in their staff. A recent communications course she feels has enhanced her management style, improved her communication skills, and developed her conflict resolution abilities. Her role requires her to communicate constantly – both staff and guests rely on her to provide ongoing updates to plans and schedules.
Renolda has hosted a wide range of international celebrities who’ve travelled on Rovos Rail – they include politicians, royalty, musicians and multi billionaires. One that stood out due to her humility was Nelson Mandela’s daughter, Zinzi. But it’s also the ordinary guests who have saved their money to tick a Rovos Rail trip off their bucket list that are inspiring to her.
Her favourite Rovos destination is Victoria Falls. One of the reasons is because as soon as the train crosses the border into Zimbabwe, they are able to use their own locomotives and train drivers which normally ensures seamless travel and a guarantee that they keep to their time schedules. Renolda also enjoys the excursions offered on this journey which range from walks in the unique Matobo Hills to safaris in Hwange National Park where guests are almost always fortunate enough to see the Big Five.
On being asked to share something that people might not know about her, Renolda chuckled and told me that she likes the finer things in life such as sports cars and motorbikes! And that she has a fear of snakes which has created some tricky situations during her travels around Southern Africa.
When she’s not working and travelling Africa on the train, Renolda prioritises spending time with family and loves treating them to travel opportunities that she has been fortunate to experience. In her free time, she enjoys reading non-fiction educational type books, watching documentaries and cooking.
In keeping with her go-getter persona, Renolda has set her sights on achieving her LLB degree, something that she has already begun, in order to improve her business skills. Her long-term dream is to graduate, and ultimately start her own business, a travel agency or events company.
She is passionate about Rovos Rail, she says it’s a family, not only because it’s a family-owned business, but also because everyone works so closely together for long periods of time, the relationships formed are close, supportive, and transparent. She would not hesitate to recommend Rovos Rail to anyone considering a career in hospitality.
Renolda is a true example of what she describes as the biggest life lesson she has learned during her time with Rovos Rail, that being humble and working hard can secure a great future.
On every Rovos Rail trip Renolda sets herself the challenge of giving guests the very best African experience that they could possibly imagine – it’s the highlight of her job to see this come to fruition. And it’s a privilege for Rovos Rail guests to have Renolda in charge of their train journey ensuring that their Rovos adventure is just that – the best.
Melody Maishman, our dynamic Train Operations Manager, is the next megastar staff member to be highlighted for August Women’s month. The role Melody plays within the Rovos Rail family is to ensure that the company upholds the standards and values that the Rovos brand has come to be known for.
Her responsibility for the operational portfolio entails the planning and co-ordination of the train configuration and supply for each of the regular routes as well as the customised charters, dinner-runs and the many different annual journeys. Stores, staffing, training, and numerous other maintenance duties for the train fall under her direct responsibility.
Melody has been with Rovos for 28 years. She applied for a hotel job that she spotted in a newspaper ad, only to discover during the interview that it was for a train position. She was offered the job and has enjoyed working on the trains ever since.
She began her “journey” with Rovos Rail as hostess, gaining experience in various train departments, and through on the job training she gradually climbed the ranks to reach a management position.
In answer to the question about what she enjoys most about her job, Melody described the rush of adrenaline, the constant busyness and the immense pressure that comes with finding solutions to unexpected obstacles. She enjoys the incredible learning and growth opportunities which she is exposed to every day. She values the feeling of being cherished and essential within the Rovos family which makes her job all the more rewarding.
Melody believes that through her job experiences she has learnt the value of patience and grasped that unanticipated events are a part of the logistics despite meticulous planning. These challenges have taught her to be adaptable and to think creatively on the spot. Interacting with diverse individuals, both guests and staff, from various cultural backgrounds has provided her with valuable insights into the essence of humanity.
One of the aspects of her work that fills Melody with pride is the many repeat guests that choose Rovos Rail for their holidays time and again. It is a sign of the success of Melody and her team, that they are delivering on the experience that they offer. The commitment of the staff members who work in operations ensures that Rovos journeys become memorable trips for guests. And with the many challenges that come with our rail system every small victory adds up.
Melody’s favourite Rovos destination is Namibia. She describes how it stands out because the train track traverses a part of the desert, providing a unique and picturesque experience during the journey. The stunning desert landscapes and the sense of adventure make Swakopmund a popular choice among passengers.
In response to what three words she would use to describe herself, Melody picked “energetic”, “agile” and “committed”.
These characteristics are endorsed by Melody’s colleagues who have been known to describe her as “superhuman” and one of the most hard-working people in the company – her light is always the last to go off and she’s usually first in at the office. Working in such a close-knit environment for 28 years her colleagues know her well – they have witnessed all aspects of her first hand in a multitude of different circumstances.
Melody is known for her passion for animals and has rescued many that now live at the Rovos Rail offices. When not working Melody loves spending time with her animals and getting together with friends or family. She uses her leave time to unwind, recharge, and fully immerse herself in the things she loves doing the most.
Her goals include taking care of the well-being of her family, continuing to enjoy her work and to keep learning and growing in her experience with Rovos Rail.
Melody could write a book about all the interesting stories she has been a part of during her Rovos Rail adventures. But the one that stands out most for her is the Rovos story itself. How a man with a dream and a vision, through many, many, difficult situations can still triumph thanks to the buy-in and support of those around him in order to realise this vision.
We had no idea that our travelling teddy bears would draw such a crowd or that the travelling teddy bear “scene” had the sweet and very dedicated fanbase that it does.
I had a delightful chat with Sonja Peters from HiBearNation to get some insight into the heart-warming story behind the travelling teddy bears.
Max, an 80cm tall beautiful Steiff teddy bear seated beside Sonja joined us for part of the interview!
The Rovos limited-edition teddy bears came into being 25 years ago, and these adorable collectors’ items have been available for sale to guests ever since, in either the train gift shop or at the Rovos Rail Station.
Bev Duncan was the original creator of the Rovos teddy bears after Anthea Vos discovered her work in a small barrow at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront. A 17-year friendship transpired in which time Bev produced 20 collections of 50 customised, handmade Rovos teddies as well as 600 kiddies’ bears. Very sadly, Bev took ill and passed away in 2015, Sonja and her husband Björn took over production the following year.
Sonja’s love for teddy bears was sparked on a visit to a character filled teddy bear shop in Knysna over 20 years ago. Soon after she attended a Teddy Bear Fair at Buitenverwachting, a Cape Town wine farm, where she purchased another special bear to add to her collection. Wanting a partner for this bear and being unable to find anything suitable, Sonja decided to create one herself.
Little did she realise that this would mark the beginning of a rewarding and successful teddy bear business which has seen her lovingly made creations find homes across the globe.
Sonja’s first big step (and leap of faith!) in this venture was her attendance as an exhibitor at the same Teddy Bear Fair that had inspired her first creation. With over 100 of her own handmade bears of different shapes and sizes the fair turned out to be a great success for Sonja and it was here that she met Anthea Vos and her association with Rovos Rail began.
In keeping with Rovos Rail’s reputation for luxury and excellence, Sonja’s bears are all handmade with the best workmanship and the finest quality materials. The use of natural substances is a priority, and this includes mohair, cotton, seed paper and recycled matter. Attention to detail is paramount with each bear having embroidered footpads, double stitched seams and the cutest miniature accessories from binoculars and spectacles to pocket watches and covered buttons, all handmade locally or sourced and imported from abroad. The intricate items of clothing that adorn each bear are painstakingly designed and made by Sonja.
Mohair is the perfect fibre for the Rovos teddy bears – often called the “noble fibre” or the “diamond fibre” – it is soft, durable, luxurious, and warm to the touch and the mohair story is a fascinating one in itself. A product of the Angora goat originating in Asia and imported to South Africa in the mid-19th century, there were over four million Angora goats in South Africa by the early 20th century and we are currently the largest producer of mohair in the world. The South African Responsible Mohair Standard ensures best practice of farmers including both land management and respect for the goats.
Sonja receives the mohair in large rolls, and after stencilling the pattern pieces on the back of the fur the pieces are cut with small scissors one-by-one by hand and then each pattern piece is sealed around the edges to prevent fraying – no mean feat considering that each bear has an average of 23 pieces! The pieces are then pinned together, and each seam is double stitched with a sewing machine. Once sewn together the pieces are kept separately in what Sonja calls her “incubator” before each bear is jointed and stuffed. After the stuffing process every opening on every arm, leg and body is closed by hand with ladder stitching. All Rovos Rail bears are branded with their embroidered suede footpads, which are cut out and sewn into the leg pieces. The teddies are jointed with a selection of wooden discs and nuts, bolts and washers which allow their arms, legs, and head to move.
The aspect of her work that Sonja enjoys the most is when she gets her creative juices flowing in the idea and design stage of creating new pieces. Much research and planning goes into the conception and production of each bear, followed by the sourcing of materials and finishes to make her ideas come to life.
An exciting step in the process for Sonja is when the bears get their eyes as that’s when they come alive – she says it gives meaning to the saying that the eyes are the window to the soul!
Sonja has created 22 collections of 20 bears for Rovos Rail as well as 50 ShweShwe fabric bears for Shongololo Express. These sets include the popular Engineer (which has taken its inspiration from Rohan Vos!) and Golfer (with a miniature driver handmade by Björn), to teddy bears named after Vos family members all personalised to each one of them.
One of the most popular Rovos bears is the Safari bear with its sleeveless bush jacket and camouflage safari hat. Even the safari fabric was painted and printed by Sonja by hand to create a miniature camo pattern. Artist Manda Theart in Pretoria constructs the tiny camera and binoculars out of polymer clay which is baked in an oven.
Rovos Rail bear collectors can look forward to an enchanting new range of bears to be launched towards the end of this year, one of the new designs is a gorgeous Coal Stoker bear. A practical new touch now comes with every bear purchase – a hemp drawstring bag with the Rovos Rail crest, in which to keep the bear protected during travel.
Sonja’s passion for her teddy bears is contagious, and her talents ranging from imaginative and artistic to resourceful and practical, are inspiring. Proud owners of a Rovos teddy bear can appreciate the time, love, thought and expertise that goes into creating these unique collectors’ pieces. Those who are not yet Rovos bear owners will no doubt agree with the words of much-loved teddy bear Winnie the Pooh: “I know I don’t need one, but I’d like one very, very much, please.”
The Rovos limited-edition teddy bears are available for sale to guests, in either the train gift shop or at the Rovos Rail Station.
We’ve spoken a bit about our efforts to be as earth friendly as possible, which included revising our toilet systems; a process we began in 2018.
During the pandemic, the eco warriors at Rovos Rail undertook the task of overhauling our toilet facilities on board with the goal of saving water.
We can at times have as many as 100 guests and staff on board, with each person flushing 10 litres approximately five times a day. This equates to five kilolitres of water per day so 25 tons for a five-day journey, which has to be pumped when required.
Starting out, we knew what we didn’t want which was a replica of the toilets they have on airlines. We did not want the same bowl and we needed something which did not use a strong-smelling disinfectant to flush the toilet clean.
We had already succeeded in finding forest-friendly toilet paper, which spoke about on our blog here. We have been working with Güdco for a few years, with their two-ply sugarcane rolls being used on board the trains and at our two guesthouses in Cape Town.
But now we needed a toilet system to work with our new loo rolls!
It took us a fair amount of time to research various companies who provide comprehensive solutions for sustainable sanitary requirements. We did our due diligence and the blush-inducing conversations we first had when starting out quickly faded as we dived deep into the world of efficient ablution facilities!
We finally found a local company who brings in equipment from an organisation in Sweden called JETS and these have now been installed. All South African trains have fail-safe vacuum brake systems and when the flush button is pushed, the vacuum in the system empties the bowl into a tank under the carriage (similar to the systems on airplanes).
Vacuum toilets use air instead of water to transport sewage. This advantage significantly reduces water usage, while the airflow vents away odours and dramatically reduces the risk of spreading airborne and waterborne pathogens.
The new system has reduced our water consumption by 90%. This feels like a great accomplishment especially given that on our three-night Cape Town journey or the 15-day sojourn between Tanzania and Angola, there are either water restrictions or very few facilities on route where we are able to fill the train.
Not a company to rest on its laurels, we will keep our fingers on the pulse of any new water-saving innovations so this much needed resource is not wasted.
In celebration of Women’s Month in August, Rovos Rail is honouring three of our amazing female staff members.
First up is Daphne Mabala, described by colleagues as “Superwoman” who is one of six of Rovos Rail’s hard working and passionate train managers.
It’s a fitting month to pay tribute to Daphne as August also marks her 30-year anniversary of employment with Rovos Rail – a testament to her job satisfaction and loyalty to the Rovos family.
After qualifying with a Diploma in Hotel Management, Daphne began her career with Rovos Rail in 1993 working as a waitress at the Victoria Hotel in Pretoria which was then on lease to Rovos Rail as their dedicated overnight offering for passengers.
In 2000 Daphne’s application for a train position as a hostess was successful and she has remained on the trains ever since. She worked through the ranks of admin and deputy manager before progressing to the challenging role of train manager in 2008.
When asked what she likes about her job Daphne responded that she doesn’t like her job she loves it!
She liked her role of welcoming guests into her home and ensuring that all aspects of hosting them is done correctly and in a professional way.
The role of train manager on Rovos Rail is a demanding one, being on call 24/7, and it requires a diverse range of skills and experience. This includes overseeing the staff on board, interacting with guests, and ensuring that all their needs are met, being proactive to prevent problems occurring, and dealing with the multiple technical and logistical challenges that come with travelling across countries and dealing with different railways around southern Africa.
As a train manager Daphne ensures that she is always one step ahead, she makes it her mission to get to know all of her staff in order to lead and support them well. She places a high value on education in all aspects of hospitality to ensure that she and her staff are able to deliver service excellence. This requires keeping abreast with international and local travel developments, being up to date with bar and culinary trends, and having a good knowledge of guests’ cultures and countries.
This ethos sees Daphne doing research before guests arrive in order to understand their nationalities, customs, likes and dislikes. Meeting and interacting with people from around the world is one of the highlights of her job, she enjoys learning about other countries and how people live.
As a manager of Rovos Rail trains it’s necessary to think out of the box and to be able to make an alternative plan when things don’t turn out as expected. Just one example of the many quick solutions that Daphne has had to find was when a trip had to be improvised due to a train derailment that obstructed the journey. Passengers were offered a variety of alternative options, one of them being to remain on the train waiting for the track to re-open, and this turned out to be a bonus for guests who ended up getting additional nights on the train that they hadn’t expected.
In response to my asking her to list three words that she feels describe her, Daphne came up with “ambitious,” “professional” and “organised”.
Her ambition is clearly evident in how far she has come from humble beginnings in a 4-roomed house in a township near Polokwane. Daphne always wanted to succeed in her career, and it is because she enjoys working with people that she chose to pursue a career in hospitality, she realised that succeeding in life is not based on a person’s background but rather hard work and determination.
One of the hallmarks of Rovos Rail is the attention to detail that is applied to every aspect of the company. This is something that Daphne is proud to have learnt from Rohan Vos himself when he was hands on in running the trains.
Daphne loves travelling across Africa and visiting different destinations which all have their own beauty and appeal. One of her favourites is the Namibia Safari due its remoteness and the unique landscape of the sand dunes.
Daphne’s achievements in successfully managing Rovos Rail trains for the past 15 years have taught her the importance of hard work, making sacrifices in order to get results and that it is possible to start at the bottom and grow from there.
When she’s not working Daphne likes to spend her holidays visiting family and pursuing her hobbies of hiking, swimming, reading, and researching. One of her future goals is to eventually own a safe place to accommodate the elderly and disabled.
Daphne’s passion for her work and her pride for Rovos Rail is palpable. Guests travelling on a train with Daphne at the helm are privileged to be taken care of by someone who clearly gives her job her all whilst most importantly loving doing it.
Two trains travelling to Angola, via the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), at the same time, is beyond anything we could have ever imagined completing. In our 33 years, we at Rovos Rail have managed to pull off some pretty crazy things but this could possibly top the list!
The first journey to depart Pretoria was Trail of Two Oceans, which left Rovos Rail Station on the 28th of June. It travelled six separate journeys with six different groups of guests:
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
With manager, Hennie, at its helm, the train travelled about 23 400kms (14 540 miles). It was gone so long that at times we forgot it was out but Hennie and his team returned safely back to Pretoria on Friday, 9 September after 73 days travelling through South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, the DRC and Angola.
The Copper Trail train departed Pretoria on the 29th of June for Victoria Falls after which train manager, Lawrence, and his team had a few days to make their train sparkle before welcoming guests on July 7th for the maiden voyage of the Copper Trail.
The train travelled four separate trips with four different groups of guests:
Pretoria to Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls to Lobito (Angola)
Lobito to Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls to Pretoria
About 9 000kms was travelled with the team being out for 39 days. They returned safely on August, 15th to a warm welcome and many guys from all of us.
Neither journey came without challenges which included the Chambeshi bridge closure, unexpected mining debris left on the railway line causing minor derailments, unforeseen and costly Covid-19 testing enforced by over-zealous border control authorities, visa acquisition as well as water supply.
One of the ways we tried to alleviate the stress of the water issue was to sponsor three 10,000L tanks on six-metre stands right next to the existing water supply infrastructure in Kolwezi, DRC. Things did not go as planned as only one 5,000L tank was installed so we had to purchase a bigger volume pump in Kolwezi to fill the train faster.
One has to make a decision when travelling through countries such as the DRC and to some extent, Angola, because a culture exists of greasing palms in order to get anything done. We chose not to participate in this because we do not want to be part of what perpetuates this cycle but it made our planning and operational objectives a great deal more difficult and things moved extremely slowly. This was by far the most stressful aspect of coordinating these two journeys and we would like to say a big thank you to our operations manager, Joe Mathala, for flying back-and-forth between Angola, the DRC and South Africa to keep things moving along. We feel the process might have aged Joe by hundreds of years but as always, he got the job done and on time so we are deeply grateful for his hustle!
Our intrepid band of travellers hailed from countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, the United States, the United Kingdom and South Africa.
Rovos Rail is proud to welcome Fable Mountain Vineyards to our family and excited to serve their delicious wine to our guests.
Fable Mountain Vineyards is a remote artisanal winery in the Tulbagh region, tucked high up against the rugged slopes of the Witzenberg Mountain range, approximately two hours from Cape Town.
Although a fairly young wine farm – it was originally called Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards – it has a history worth noting.
The Scott and Austin families purchased this 180 hectare farm on the edge of the region’s wheat belt in 2000. Construction of the cellar started two years later and the search began to find a winemaker who could share the vision of organically working the farm.
Chris Mullineux joined the venture in 2002 straight out of Stellenbosch University and was quickly joined by an assistant from the US, a young woman named Andrea who was to become his wife. The two would later become shining stars in the Cape wine industry.
Although still a novice, Chris had a passion for the vineyards, seeing himself as a winegrower rather than winemaker; a concept rather unfamiliar in the Cape at that time. This philosophy continued after the departure of the Mullineux’s and through the tenure of Callie Louw, who is now in charge at Porseleinberg in the Swartland.
Between 2005 and 2010, this isolated farm quickly became one of the most talked about projects when it came to wine. Following a visit to the farm in 2006, Tim Atkin, Master of Wine, wrote: “I’d go so far as to say that this is one of the most exciting new wineries I’ve come across in the past decade.”
Then it all went quiet and the farm was put up for sale. Charles Banks, who headed up an American consortium, acquired Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards in October 2010 and changed its name to what it is now known as today, Fable Mountain Vineyards. The same year also saw the arrival of winemakers Rebecca Tanner and Paul Nicholls.
In the autumn of 2016, a circle was completed when Tremayne Smith, who was assistant to Chris and Andrea Mullineaux, arrived on the farm to take charge of the cellar; his first vintage was 2017. Smith has subsequently left to focus on his own label with Francois Haasbroek now at the helm.
One thing has remained constant throughout; the dedication and attention to the vineyards and the quality of the wines themselves.
The higher parts of the farm adjoin a wilderness nature reserve and, at an elevation of between 400m and 650m, was identified as being ideal for the growing of grapes. This site is significantly cooler than the valley floor, and the steep mountain slopes offer shade to the vineyards into the late morning, with the constant breeze ensuring a healthy canopy.
The soils are made up of ancient vertical shale and saprolite, providing excellent drainage and giving the resulting wines a good sense of minerality.
Fable focuses on producing pure expressions of Rhône varieties: Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre are the farm’s main plantings as they thrive in this hot, arid climate. Fable Mountain also makes a white wine which is sourced from vineyards in the Swartland.
The site is a challenging one with bush fires, extreme weather and natural dangers ever present during the growing season. Under the watchful eye of Haasbroek, the vineyard team at Fable Mountain continue to use a biodynamic and agro-ecological approach to ensure that the integrity of the site is maintained.
In addition to the 32 hectares of vineyards, Fable Mountain strives to maintain a balanced, diverse farm ecosystem. During the winter months, herds of Nguni cattle and Merino sheep graze through the vineyards. This, combined with ample cover cropping, provides natural compost and aids in building the soil for future vintages.
The winemaking process at Fable Mountain is hands-on; all grapes are hand harvested and fermented naturally in small tanks and barrels. The team employs a gravity-fed system in their renovated cellar, keeping pumping to a minimum. It ensures gentle extraction and subtle tannin development.
The rosé of choice on your next Rovos Rail adventure is the Fable Mountain Vineyards Belle Flower Rosé 2019, which is named after the abundance of beautiful wild flowers that appear every spring on the mountain.
This is a Provence-style rosé made from carefully selected parcels selected for their quality and fragrance. The grapes are picked early so maintain a good alcohol in the final wine. The grapes are whole bunch pressed before being settled and racked into old 500 litre French oak barrels where they undergo a natural fermentation; malolactic fermentation* is allowed to take place as well.
All the different batches of fruit are kept separate and blended only at the end with maturation lasting 14 months before bottling.
The colour of the Belle Flower Rosé is pale pink with salmon hues. The nose is beautifully layered and complex with wild strawberries, rose petals and hints of mandarin orange and citrus blossom. Strawberries carry through on the palate accompanied with honeydew melon and baking spices such as nutmeg and cardamom with subtle hints of dill and a stone minerality. The finish is long with soft creamy layered flavours and mineral and fresh lingering acidity.
It pairs wonderfully with a variety of dishes including tapenade, a salad Niçoise, paella or grilled chicken.
Residual sugar 2.8 gl
Alcohol 13.5 %
Total acid 5.1 g/l
Free SO2 11 mg/l
Total SO2 69 mg/l
*Also called malo or MLF, malolactic fermentation is a process where bacteria converts tart malic acid in wine to softer, creamier lactic acid (the same acid found in milk). The process reduces acidity in wine, enhancing the body and flavour persistence of wine, producing wines of greater palate softness.