Tag Archives: Rovos Rail

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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Darling Namibia and a new video!

We’re all taught not to have favourites, especially when it comes to children, but our seven journeys are like our children and the Namibia Safari is our new darling! We don’t know how it happened but this exceptional train journey has stolen our attention and now every one of us wants to step aboard to experience this remarkable trip.

Perhaps it’s the stark vistas of the Northern Cape, the grandeur of the Fish River Canyon – the second in size to the Grand Canyon – or the untamed beauty of the Kalahari desert. Perhaps it’s the fly-in safari into the Sossusvlei clay pan, which is surrounded by some of the highest sand dunes in the world including Dune 45, which has been penned as “the most photographed dune in the world”. We really don’t know but the Namibia Safari has something special and we feel it whenever guests convey their experience through their comment sheets or wonderful letters.

We’re thrilled that we’ve had to add another departure to the schedule and so now offer two trips each year!

It’s been a goal ours for a few years to capture this trip on camera, both photography and video, but shoots like these are an enormous expense so it always got pushed to the bottom of the list. Brenda, our Communications Manager, has been pestering for budget for years and she finally got her way in 2014!

Brenda contracted one of our favourite photographers and videographers, Ross Hillier, to capture this extraordinary nine-day journey and finally found him space on the Swakopmund to Pretoria leg in May last year. Together with Keenan Ferguson, Ross travelled on the train and went on all the excursions, which is a first as he usually has to chase the train by car!

We think the two artists did a remarkable job and we were so thrilled to be able to hand over the beautiful footage to 10th Street Media to edit for us. In Ross’s words: “I’ll film it but someone else needs to make the edits otherwise you’re going to have a 45-minute video on your hands”. We guess each clip or photograph is a labour of love so someone else needs to decide what stays and what goes!

We finally handed over the hard drive to Darren Kerr and his team from 10th Street Media this year and we think they did a superb job. We look forward to future collaborations with this exceptional team.

Watch the video here.

If you would like any further information on this lovely journey then please do not hesitate to contact Querida Nel on querida@rovos.co.za 

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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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Rovos Rail Namibia Safari

A Lovely Letter

We’re in the fortunate position where our guests send us letters; some nice and not-so-nice! Below is an excerpt from a lovely letter we received from a passenger who travelled one of our nine-day Namibia Safari trips with us this year. She writes so beautifully we want to hire her!

Dear Mr Vos

It is literally one week ago that I was enjoying the final leg of the Rovos Rail journey through Namibia. I am again travelling by train, this time through the Scottish Borders and Northern England and having a very different experience. We are all tightly packed, mainly well behaved, drinking from plastic containers and I have not, as yet, braved the loos! But heigh-ho, horses for courses as the saying goes.

But really I want to compliment and congratulate you on your vision in creating a truly superb rail experience. I am still held in the fabulous fantasy bubble of the journey and continue to delight in ‘mulling over’ the sights, sounds and experiences which we shared.

We were blessed by having a really affable and fun group which, in general, gelled very well but this was in no small part due to the welcoming, friendly, tirelessly engaging and train, headed impeccably by Daphne. Nicholas, the font of all African wisdom and knowledge, added immeasurably to our insight of the political geography of your fascinating continent. We certainly left the train physically more challenged, from all the walks and the delicious food and beverages, and hopefully more educated with with heightened awareness and empathy towards the millions who do not have the numerous privileges that most of the ‘Pride of Africa’ guests enjoy.

On reaching Pretoria and seeing the workshops, loco sheds, the nurturing bird and animal sanctuaries etc. and knowing that a percentage of your profits are ear-marked for charitable causes I really wanted to sign on the dotted line and join up! As I have never worked for anyone else, apart from one and a half years of teaching, that is a compliment to your business and it’s implied ethics.

Excursions on the Namibia Safari were wonderful – in particular the sundowner which turned into a full-blown barbeque – it was fabulously romantic, imaginative and unforgettable. In fact, I think Sossusvlei was a real highlight for most of us. The dune walk was absolutely exhausting, exhilarating, fun-packed and mind-blowing.

I thank you and praise you again for your realised vision and would, God willing, that I may be permitted to travel Africa by Rovos Rail again.

Click here to watch our Namibia Safari video.

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Slow Train through Africa with Griff Rhys Jones

Slow Train through Africa

For Rovos Rail to be part of this special programme for the ITV Network and to work with the charming Griff Rhys Jones was an honour. We confess that we had no idea who Griff was but after a quick Google search we discovered that he is a Welsh comedian, writer, actor and television presenter with a career spanning over two decades. 

“Slow Train through Africa” has Mr Jones attempting five remarkable train journeys across Africa travelling from Casablanca to Cape Town, through desert sands, river valleys, vast plains and dense forests. His journey concluded in South Africa with Griff joining us on part of our Cape Town journey where he played barman, butler and took a bath in our Royal suite bathroom!

It’s a great piece and the aerial shots they have of the train winding through the beautiful Western Cape are enviable. In fact, we’ve been in touch with production team to see if they’ll send us some of the footage!

To watch the Rovos episode click on the following link – Slow Train through Africa with Griff Rhys Jones

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Weddings at Rovos Rail Station

Weddings with Rovos

Oh, how Rovos Rail loves weddings! With a predominantly female reservations and sales team, romantic weddings are on the list of what we love to do and supply us with wistful office chat on Monday mornings.

Weddings with us are different. Very different. The bride arrives not by classic car or horse-drawn carriage – or, for that matter, riding a horse – but on one of our beautiful vintage steam locomotives, the oldest dating back to 1839. The intimate ceremony is held in our charming red-brick station building with speeches given as the locomotive moves off the platform to collect the train that will host the wedding party on a four-hour loop around Pretoria. Guests step aboard our ‘Champagne Train’, for a four-course meal paired with some of South Africa’s best wines. The mood on board is celebratory and sweet with the couple’s most near and dear enjoying their special day.

Once dinner is over and guests have enjoyed apré dinner drinks in the observation car, the train chugs its way back to Rovos Rail Station where perhaps a band is waiting on the platform for some dancing and just a little more bubbly. The couple share their first dance as Mr & Mrs and then, a bit later, coffee and the cutting of the cake. Summer evenings in Pretoria are always warm and with the silhouettes of our big Jacaranda trees casting a dreamy backdrop, the station’s platform makes for an idyllic venue for couples looking for something extraordinary.

We’re so chuffed to recently have been voted one of Pretoria’s top wedding venues by I Do. The couples who have chosen to host their weddings here, at our station, and then on board the train have been lovely and all happy with their choice of venue which tickles us Rovos girls pink!

Depending on the number of guests, our little Events Train can host, with a full bar, a four-course sit-down dinner for up to 120 guests, a three-course sit-down meal for up to 240 guests in two sittings or, for 250 guests, hot snacks, canapés and cocktails served for the duration of the journey.

AlexanderSmith - M&C-492 RVR-EventsWine-LRes RVR-Dining2Seater-LRes

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South African flag

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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