Happy birthday, Rovos Rail!

happy birthday rovos rail
Image by freelance writer, Andrew Thompson

Another clickety-clack around the sun! We can hardly believe it. Happy birthday, Rovos Rail! 35 years. What an achievement.

Some of you are familiar with our story but, for those who aren’t, we’re a small family-owned and operated business that launched our first overnight journey on 29 April 1989. When we celebrated our 30th birthday in 2019, we produced a short film where you will meet the family and team members who narrate the Rovos Rail tale and now, five years later, we have so much to add to our story.

Since resuming our services post-pandemic, we introduced the new 15-night African Trilogy journey. We have now operated this trip four times and on the last sojourn we sent a film crew to capture its magic (click here). We’re proud of this adventure because we feel the African Trilogy shows our guests a true cross-section of Southern Africa from its east coast to Namibia in the west.

We also sent trains all the way to Angola and back on our Trail of Two Oceans and Copper Trail trips. And wow, what a challenge these journeys are to operate given that water, electricity and any kind of formal tourism are in short supply. But we succeeded and our brave band of intrepid travellers had a good time, which is all that matters.

Unfortunately some of you reading this would have experienced delays and other obstacles due to infrastructure failures within South Africa. Transnet (national railway authority) and Eskom (national electricity provider) are in a bind, which has presented problems for all trains on the railway network. To combat these issues, our formidable CEO, Rohan, and his problem-solving COO daughter, Tiffany, treated the company to its biggest birthday presents ever by purchasing combination electric and diesel locomotives. Should there be power outages or other challenges, we can seamlessly switch from electric to diesel for the journey to continue. This has not been an inexpensive endeavour and the business of hauling our trains with our own locomotives is not something we ever wanted but, with South Africa currently navigating significant crises, we figure the less reliant we are on parastatals the better it will be for our passengers and our team.

Since we last celebrated a significant milestone, we have said farewell to long-serving staff who either moved on or retired. We have also welcomed many new members to our team who took up key positions in human resources, sales, marketing, reservations, finance and in our workshops. We had to rebuild our staff complement after the pandemic and it finally feels like we once again have a robust team in place.

Over the past five years, our incredible workshop team has built two new train sets in between renovating and repairing existing stock, so we now have six full train sets! There have been some moments over the past few years where our yard at Rovos Rail Station has been empty of carriages because they have all been out on various journeys; these moments have felt rewarding and certainly made us feel proud.

We remember back in 1988 when we first put the word out that we were launching a vintage luxury train in South Africa, many people thought Rohan was crazy and didn’t believe he would succeed. We don’t blame them; sometimes we feel the same but, here we are, 35 years on, and we have Rohan and his wife, Anthea, to thank. Working at Rovos Rail is a wild ride with no day ever the same. To not be bored or feel stuck on a hamster wheel is a gift and, although the stress can feel overwhelming at times, there is never a dull moment and for that we are grateful. We are a quirky and eclectic bunch who care deeply about Rovos Rail and who genuinely love our beautiful trains!

A heartfelt thank you to our industry colleagues and the media who have supported us over the years. And to our guests, especially our Rovos Club members, we would not be here without you and it is our privilege to have welcomed you on board. Thank you for travelling with us.

Congratulations to Rohan, Anthea, Tiffany and the rest of the family and a very big happy birthday to Rovos Rail!

Rohan and Anthea Vos with Rohan’s late mother, Marjorie, and Brenda, Bianca, Shaun and Tiffany.

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Three cheers to the Trilogy!

We’re in a celebratory kind of mood here at Rovos HQ. With Rohan, our formidable CEO’s birthday, just a few weeks past and the company’s 35th clickety-clack around the sun fast approaching, we thought we’d also say three cheers to the African Trilogy journey! We have operated this 15-night trip four times and all, for the most part, have been a resounding success.

The maiden voyage departed on 9 February 2022 on what was then our Shongololo Express train. It was a brave thing to do for us and our guests because there were still parts of the world in various levels of lockdown and people were just beginning to dip their toes back into international sojourns. However, our band of intrepid travellers arrived and, with our excited train team, set off on this two-week adventure.

The train departed from Rovos Rail Station in Pretoria and made its way to the famed Kruger Park for a safari experience. It then travelled to the Kingdom of eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) and the Hluhluwe wildlife reserve where guests enjoyed a game drive before touring Durban and its tropical botanical gardens. From here it traversed the Valley of a Thousand Hills and the breathtaking Drakensberg Mountains to the 1870s mining village of Kimberley. Guests were transported to a different world in the arid Karoo, through Upington and on to the impressive Fish River Canyon. Once in the Kalahari Desert, guests saw the quiver trees in Garas Park before boarding a light aircraft for Sossusvlei where they overnighted at a lodge surrounded by the imposing dunes of the Namib-Naukluft Park. Back on board, the train meandered to Namibia’s capital, Windhoek, and a cheetah conservation project before guests enjoyed another overnight stay at the game-rich Etosha National Park. Journey’s end was on the wild Atlantic coast in Walvis Bay.

Sounds marvellous, doesn’t it? Well, we can do you one better because we sent a two-person film crew to capture the journey and today we get to share a short snippet with you.

Dylan from Motionworx helped us create the reassuring “We’re Back” video after the Covid-19 shutdown so it only made sense that we recruit his exceptional skills again. Together with John, the talented drone operator, the two artists waited on muddy mountain slopes, chased the train by car and rose before the sun on many occasions to get the perfect shot. They chatted with our guests, filmed the staff at work and got to know the game rangers and guides on the various excursions. They were committed to capturing the feeling of this beautiful trip and we believe they did a wonderful job! Below are a few snapshots taken by the crew and you can watch the video here or below.

The African Trilogy journey is so varied in scenery as the train moves from the lush and tropical east coast to the vast and dry deserts of the west. There are a few suites left on the 2-17 October 2024 trip with a 5% discount if booked before 31 July 2024. And next year’s February journey is filling up fast so, if this trip tickles your fancy, please get in touch soon.

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Murder mystery on Rovos Rail

By Linda Sparks

Eight passengers, a group of cousins from England and South Africa, with a great sense of fun and adventure, had the privilege of experiencing Rovos Rail’s world-renowned luxury travel together on the 4-night journey from Victoria Falls to Pretoria. 

They decided to add some extra entertainment to their voyage by playing a murder mystery game over the duration of their trip. 

On the first day of their journey Ro, Paul, Linda, Peter, Abi, Luke, Loic, and Lara gathered in the train’s plush lounge and sat around a table in front of three hats filled with cards – one with the players’ names, another with murder weapons, and the third with murder venues.

Rovos Rail train

The rules were simple, yet the game held the potential for elaborate schemes and covert actions. Each participant drew a name, a murder weapon, and a murder venue. Their objective: to surreptitiously carry out the crime by passing the chosen weapon to the selected passenger in the designated venue. 

There was an air of suspense as each cousin drew their cards. Smiles were exchanged mischievously as everyone started plotting their plans. 

Ro discovered that she had to execute her murder with a lipstick in the bar and that her unsuspecting target was Lara. Meanwhile, Peter learned that he had to “kill” Loic with a bottle of water in the kitchen. The game was afoot. 

Over the course of the journey, alliances formed and dissolved, secret conversations were exchanged in hushed tones, and stealthy plans were set into motion. The passengers navigated the train’s elegant carriages, trying to position their victims in the right place at the right time. 

As the train snaked its way through the breathtaking landscapes of Zimbabwe and northern South Africa, the murder mystery game unfolded with unexpected twists. Linda, armed with a serviette, lurked in the shadows of the passage outside the kitchen, waiting for the opportune moment to strike. Abi, plotted her moves in the dimly lit bar, eyeing her prey discreetly. 

The bar, dining room, passage outside the kitchen, lounge, and observation deck became stages for clandestine acts of murder.  

Paul, armed with a Jägermeister shot, concocted a plan to eliminate his assigned target amidst the lively chatter on the observation deck

Rovos Rail sunset while playing a murder mystery game

There was much laughter and intrigue as players executed their devious plans, always watchful for the unsuspecting victims who unknowingly accepted their fate. Everyone embraced the challenge, relishing the thrill of outsmarting their fellow participants. 

By the end of the trip, one cunning strategist emerged victorious. With a bread knife carefully hidden behind his phone, Luke had managed to eliminate every other player in the group.  

The players were now able with great hilarity to reflect on the game and openly share their plots – both successful and failed! 

As the train approached Pretoria, the cousins reflected on what an exceptional train trip it had been. All agreed that Rovos Rail had exceeded their expectations and did indeed live up to its reputation as the most luxurious train in the world.  

From the outstanding service and attentive staff, getting dressed up for dinner to enjoy the exquisite meal and wine pairings, the luxurious suites and public spaces offering an elegant old-world charm, and of course the fascinating excursions to game reserves and historical sites along the way.  

Rovos Rail’s beautiful carriages created the perfect stage for an exciting murder mystery game of deception, strategy and suspense – creating a fun element to what was already the trip of a lifetime and adding to the lasting memories and special shared experiences. 

Murder mystery on Rovos Rail
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Happy birthday, Rohan!

From all of us we say, happy birthday Rohan! To his grandchildren he is “Papa Choo Choo”, to his children he is Dad or Pops and to his team, he is Rohan. And today marks another gallop around the sun for this determined young man.

For as long as any of us can remember, Rohan has never been in South Africa to celebrate because for the past three decades he has always travelled to Berlin to attend the ITB travel trade show which falls over his birthday. And this year is no different as he flew to Germany a few nights ago and is deeply entrenched in his Rovos Rail sales hustle!

There have been a few guests in the past who have been curious about the man who dared launch a vintage luxury train in a time where political restlessness was reaching its inevitable boiling point. With South Africa’s post-apartheid era on the horizon, there were many who packed their bags for Perth and those who loudly predicted outright civil war. So who would start a luxury train company during a time of so much uncertainty and especially a business whose success would, for the most part, be heavily reliant on international travellers?

We’re not sure that Rohan’s late mother, Marjorie, knew what she was in for when she birthed a lanky, big-eared babe on 7 March. We remember anecdotal tales of him entering the world with ferocity on his face which, 78 years later, is still very much there. Even at a young age, Marjorie knew that being a solo act would be the only option for her extremely intelligent, can-do young man. Given that he never appreciated being told that he couldn’t do something, there was certainly anxiety over how he would fare at school.

Born in Cape Town in 1946, Rohan attended Western Province Preparatory School before completing senior school at Bishops Diocesan College where one or two of Rohan’s teachers identified his genius but also recognised that if his restless energy wasn’t correctly channeled he might fail high school or pursue naughtier adventures (which he already had plenty of). So in his senior year he was made captain of the first rugby team and head of his boarding house leaving him no option but to focus, lead and thrive.

Rohan began his professional career selling encyclopedia’s and also opened the doors to a discotheque in Witbank (situated in the former Transvaal) called Zorba’s Beat. Being interested in classic cars, boats, trains and planes, he started Witbank Auto Spares and also dabbled in commercial property ownership. His triumphs in Witbank lead him to a railway auction where he was the successful bidder on an old South African Railways coach. His intention was to renovate the carriage that could hook onto a regular commuter train so that he and his family had a “railway caravan” to explore South Africa. His application to the Railways was denied and it was suggested that he sell tickets and create a commercial venture.

Over a double Red Heart rum and Coke one evening in May in 1988, Rohan pondered his options and decided to take the risk of launching a vintage luxury train experience in South Africa. He and his wife, Anthea, travelled the country acquiring a train set and locomotive and the first overnight journey was launched in April, 1989. Fast forward 35 years and Rovos Rail not only has its own private railway station and headquarters in Pretoria but also houses its own six train sets, steam locomotives as well as its own fleet of diesel, electric and combination locomotive units. The company now offers 11 journeys ranging from three to 15 days with trains that traverse South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Namibia.

At the tender age of 78, Rohan is not slowing down. Operating trains across Southern Africa certainly keeps you on your toes as does his family which is made up of mostly women – it seems to be Rohan’s fortunate lot in life to be surrounded by independent ladies who are not afraid to put him in his place or throw the occasional eye roll his way.

Rohan also likes to keep active and fit so on Saturday mornings one might spot him and his pack of dogs hiking the mountain ranges of Cape Town. Or you might see him in his plaid shirt and oversized sun hat on the golf course on a Sunday. And if you’re really “lucky”, you might see him atop his bicycle, clad in all his glorious spandex, tackling the steep hills and undulating curves of the Cape.

In fact, this Sunday, Rohan will once again participate in the Cape Town Cycle Tour where he will aim for another personal best by cycling it in under four hours. And after he has cycled 109kms, he will be attending his granddaughter’s fourth birthday party where he will undoubtedly be tackled by his grandchildren but where he will also finally get some birthday cake.

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Shopping for Lobito

Shopping for Lobito

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:

  • Pretoria to Cape Town journey: All stock will be loaded onto the train in Pretoria
  • Cape Town to Dar es Salaam: The kitchen team stocks up in Cape Town and then again in Krugersdorp
  • 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.

Examples are

  • 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!

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Shopping for Lobito

Lobito Laundry List

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:

  1. Pretoria to Cape Town (three nights)
  2. Cape Town to Dar es Salaam (14 nights)
  3. Dar es Salaam to Lobito (14 nights)
  4. Lobito to Dar es Salaam (14 nights)
  5. Dar es Salaam to Cape Town (14 nights)
  6. 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
  • 108 antimacassars
  • 76 curtains
  • 256 fitted double sheets
  • 256 flat double sheets
  • 512 fitted single sheets
  • 512 flat single sheets
  • 1152 pillowcases
  • 384 large bath towels
  • 400 tablecloths
  • 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.

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Tiffany Vos-Thane, COO of Rovos Rail Tours Tours

Unstoppable with Tiffany at our Helm

By Brenda Fitchet

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. 

Tiffany attended the International Hotel School in Cape Town and whilst still studying, worked as a trainee at the Victoria & Alfred Hotel at the Waterfront in the city. She graduated in 2006 and won herself a six-month internship with Starwood Hotels & Resorts working as a Sales Coordinator in New York.  

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.

Rohan and Tiffany, circa 1988

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.

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Women’s Month: Renolda Motha

Written by Linda Sparks

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.

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Travelling Teddy Bears

By Linda Sparks

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.

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Water-saving toilets

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.

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Women’s Month: Daphne Mabala

Written by Linda Sparks

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.

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Our new relationship with Fable Mountain

Rovos Rail and Fable Mountain Vineyards
Compelling wines of great distinction

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.

Rovos Rail and Fable Mountain Vineyards

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.

Anorak Facts:

  • Residual sugar 2.8 gl
  • pH 3.53
  • 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.

Images courtesy of Fable Mountain Vineyards

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Rovos Rail welcomes an award-winning rum

South African Rum Awards Facebook

Die Warm Rasta Rum

Rovos Rail welcomes an award-winning rum. Die Warm Rasta Rum is now part of our already extensive range of spirits. Die Warm Rasta Rum is produced at De Vry Distillery situated in the Free State. This distillery is an authentic South African distillery producing premium local spirits made from natural, home-grown ingredients.

Rasta1
De Vry Distillery

Who makes it?

The rum was founded by the Du Plooy brothers, who believe their authentic distillery should be all about producing 100% farm-grown spirits. They were inspired to establish a fine local spirits company by a love for country, a passion for farming, South African tourism, and the creative freedom offered by a new generation.

Rasta2
De Vry Distillery

How is it made?

The process of creating the rum starts with the finest imported molasses. The fermentation process is then enabled by specific yeast cultures in combination with a blend of Borehole and RO water, ensuring that there is no harmful effects on the environment. 

What does it taste like?

Die Warm Rasta Rum has a distinctive flavour as a result of the charred barrels used for culturing. Barrels are selected at the optimum ageing time; the rum is then blended, filtered and bottled. The tasting notes of this rum is full-bodied with upfront notes of cigar smoke and oak. You will also find subtle sweet American oak tannins and a sweet finish. 

Rovos Rail proudly welcomes this award-winning rum. You can enjoy Die Warm Rusta Rum all Rovos Rail journeys.

Check out our Rovos Rail specials.

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Rovos Rail introduces distinctly African vodka

Awaken your spirit with our new addition, Vusa Vodka

Rovos Rail added a distinctly African vodka to our already extensive range of spirits. Vusa Vodka is a multi-award winning premium vodka from Africa. They are changing the narrative on what a vodka can be. Vusa puts the best of African quality, style and flavour into each bottle. In addition, their belief is to make the best tasting vodka. To achieve this, you need the best ingredients together with an optimal environment to grow them in. Vusa makes use of homegrown sugar-cane from the heart of the sub-tropical climate of KwaZulu-Natal. This makes Vusa Vodka a little bit sweet and authentically Africa.

Rovos Rail Vusa Vodka
Vusa Vodka Instagram

How it is produced

Part of the distinctly African process is to distill the vodka in small batches using copper pot stills named “kaisgo”. This gives the spirit a silky smooth finish. To ensure exceptional quality, Vusa uses the purest water of the Lions River in the hills of the KwaZulu-Natal national park to blend the vodka. The next step is to filter the vodka through the shells of local baobab fruit. This step guarantees a super crisp and clean finish. The patterns and unique typeface on the bottle is inspired by Zulu art. Furthermore, it is specifically chosen to express a renewed natural energy and distinctiveness when on a South African tour.

Rovos Rail Vusa Vodka
Vusa Vodka Instagram

The Vusa Foundation

Vusa is on a mission to change lives and the world of spirits. They achieve this through the liquid, the ingredients, and their commitment to the local community from which the spirit hails. They have established the Vusa Foundation, through which they commit to donate a proportion of their profits to support the Khulisani Foundation. The Khulisani Foudation is a South African organisation that supports urban farming and drives positive change in South African communities.

Rovos Rail Vusa Vodka
Vusa Vodka Instagram

Lastly, this is only the start of the Vusa Vodka journey. In addition, they are also planning on travelling through Africa with a mobile distillery while producing amazing spirits from the countries they visit.

You can find Vusa Vodka all Rovos Rail journeys where guests can enjoy a flavourful vodka while sharing different stories.

Please note that items on our wine list and bar menus are subject to availability and not always in stock and available on board.

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Rovos Rail gives your lips Msulwa Life

We have mentioned a few times that Rovos Rail has overhauled many of the products available on board so that they are earth-friendlier. We’ve spoken about Katavi and Fortis X and now we would like to introduce your lips to Msulwa Life.

Msulwa is an African isiZulu word meaning Pure, Innocent and Clean. Based in Kwa Zulu Natal, the company’s focus is living life with more natural biological products, choosing anti-cruelty, chemical-free, plant-based ingredients as well as vegan, non-animal based materials.

It was a challenge finding a local business who produced an earth-friendly lip balm in recyclable packaging. When guests board our trains, in each of their suites is an amenities bag stocked full of natural goodies including lip balm so we require high volumes of product and want none of it to be wasteful.

In addition to their commitment to the environment, the company created a non-profit called Msulwa Life’s Giving Back Foundation by supporting small and local NGO’s across South Africa that are dedicated to selflessly caring for animals, humanity and the planet.

There are thousands of small projects started by everyday people who work tirelessly to give huge amounts of their resources to help animals and other charitable groups in need. These small organisations are often overlooked, mostly having to rely on their own pockets to take on financial and community burdens in order to help a cause.

Msulwa Life’s Giving Back Foundation shows its appreciation to these local heroes by supporting them with donations whether they be financial, food parcels or any other much needed supplies.

We are so thrilled to be working with this mindful and lovely company and look forward to them creating beautiful, earth-friendly magic.

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Rovos Rail, we’re back on track

Rovos Rail founder and CEO, Rohan Vos,
with his daughter and COO, Tiffany Vos-Thane

February 2022 was an important month for us at Rovos Rail. The first of the month marked 677 days since South Africa went into hard lockdown and it also marked the day we were officially back on track.

With the ever-moving goal posts of the Covid-19 pandemic we found ourselves holding on a little tighter with each announcement from our own government, politicians overseas and from the WHO. It felt like every few weeks we were postponing our contingency plans until at last we were able to say that February would realistically be when we could let our industry partners know that we were back on track and fully operational. It was indeed a relief and also a very happy month!

We have operated numerous journeys since February, including exceptional private charters which have been lovely successes. Our first advertised Cape Town to Dar es Salaam trip departed on 2 July with train manager, Hennie, at its helm. Despite one or two unforeseen challenges, guests and staff enjoyed a fabulous trip with the team receiving the highest of compliments! Thank you to our wonderful group of guests for their joviality and positivity.

Hennie’s and his team had a few days off in Dar es Salaam before the train, carrying a new band of intrepid travellers, set off on our second ever Trail of Two Oceans sojourn which will take guests from the Tanzanian capital through Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with journey’s end in Angola. The sojourn was certainly an adventure and the train arrived safely into Lobito on 3 August.

The maiden voyage of our 15-day Copper Trail trip also departed in July and the first leg of the journey was a lovely success with guests thoroughly enjoying themselves and giving us constructive feedback so that we can further improve the itinerary. Train manager, Lawrence, and his team travelled through parts of Africa none of us have ever seen and sent through some funny, heartwarming and wild stories!

In amongst these two long trips, we have also operated shorter journeys to Durban, Cape Town and Victoria Falls so it is safe to say we are back on track! Our train teams are busy, Rovos Rail Station is once again a busting hive of activity and our inboxes are full.

To celebrate our restart and in many ways a new beginning, we put together a photo and video shoot with new faces, new coaches and new energy!

We would like to sincerely thank Simone Dominique Shapiro from The Safari Gals for being our lady of the day, Jonathan Boynton-Lee for being our dapper gentleman, Ross Hillier for his phenomenal photographic talent and Dylan Hohls from Motionworx for capturing it all on video. You were a dream team and we hope to be able to work with you all again one day soon.

We are delighted to be able to share our video with you and will be releasing our new photographic content soon.

It feels so good to be back on track and we can’t wait to welcome you on board one of our journeys soon.

Rovos Rail is back on track
Oh, the places you’ll go!
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Meerlust, iconic South African wines

Rovos Rail and Meerlust
The Blonde Abroad with the Meerlust Pinot Noir

How many ways are there to applaud Hannes Myburgh and his Meerlust team? Rovos Rail has enjoyed the happiest and longest relationship with the iconic wine farm and it’s little wonder that Meerlust is regarded as a South African national treasure.

Rovos Rail and Meerlust

It’s one of the oldest family-run wine farms in the country having been owned since 1756 by the Myburgh family for a remarkable eight generations. The gracious Cape Dutch Manor House is also the oldest surviving grand farmhouse in the Stellenbosch district.

Meerlust also produced the second Bordeaux blend ever produced in South Africa – the Meerlust Rubicon – which soon became a benchmark of local red wine quality and gained iconic status in the global marketplace.

“Alea iacta est” (The die is cast) are the words that Julius Caesar is supposed to have said as he led his troops towards Rome in 49BC. The crucial border of the ancient capital was the Rubicon River and the decision to cross it marked an irrevocable point in history. It would profoundly shift the course of Roman politics; there could be no turning back.

Some 2000 years later, a watershed event occurred in the life of Nico Myburgh, father of the current custodian of Meerlust, Hannes Myburgh. Holidaying in Bordeaux, he discovered that the terroir in this area of France was similar to that of the Eerste River Valley. Both have a distinctive climate, characterised by a cooling sea breeze. And both have a soil structure made up of decomposed granite and clay.

Nico returned determined to create a blend of his own that would match those of the French. In 1980, after several years of experimentation together with winemaker Giorgio Dalla Cia, he announced the birth of the new blend. With proportions of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, a new style of wine was created in South Africa. Like Caesar, there could be no turning back.

Nico and Giorgio had already considered a number of names for the new blend when Professor Dirk Opperman from the University of Stellenbosch, a friend of Nico’s, suggested that “Rubicon” might be appropriate. The pair had, after all, crossed a new frontier – and changed the way South Africans thought about red wine.

An interesting point to note is that Billy Hofmeyr of Welgemeend released the first Bordeaux blend in 1979. Meerlust has, however, discovered bottles of the 1978 Meerlust Rubicon although these were never released commercially. These were found at the Tabernacle at Distell, the famous underground wine cellar in Stellenbosch, and four bottles were sold five years ago at the Nederburg Auction for ZAR16 000 each.

Today Rubicon is only made in quality years and the portions of each variety vary according to vintage (it also now includes a little Petit Verdot). Since its beginnings in 1980, five vintages have been declassified and not released – the 1985, 1990, 2002, 2011 and the 2019.

The 2018 Rubicon, currently being served on all Rovos Rail journeys, is a classically proportioned blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot.

The harvest season was really challenging, due to a prolonged drought which some believe to be the worst in 100 years.

Each vineyard block is hand-harvested and fermented separately, run off into 300-litre oak barrels and large foudre*, and monitored until it is time to blend; in this vintage it was after eight months. At that point, a careful assessment of the merits of each parcel is assessed and the blend decided upon. It spends another 10 months in barrel for harmonisation before bottling, where it will see out another two years before it is released. However, further bottle maturation is advised for the intriguing complexity of this classic wine to unfold and reveal itself.

It boasts the quintessential Rubicon nose with violets, ripe plum, cedar wood, fennel and intense spiciness. A typical liquorice note also evident on the nose. Still young and intense, the palate is full bodied, structured but packed with fresh dark fruit and rounded tannins. This is a vintage that is more approachable in youth because of the ripeness and richness levels attained in 2018 but will provide great complexity with further maturation.

It is a stellar advertisement for Meerlust and an illustration of the commitment to quality that underpins this famous old estate.

It is a wine that demands food! Feed it a roast beef done rare. This iconic Bordeaux red blend also pairs well with venison, game, pot roast and noble cheese. Or serve with slow roasted lamb shank and oven roasted sweet potato.

Meerlust was one of the early pioneers of Pinot Noir as well with the release of its first Pinot Noir also in 1980. This was around the same time that Hamilton Russell near Hermanus released its first vintage.

Stellenbosch is typically considered to be too warm for growing Pinot Noir, however Meerlust’s proximity to False Bay makes it at least three degrees cooler than the typical average temperature in Stellenbosch.

The Meerlust Pinot Noir 2020 is an exciting fusion of the refreshingly modern and the tirelessly classical. The grapes are selected from three clones of Pinot Noir with an average age of 21 years. Grapes were handpicked from two blocks. The majority of grapes are destemmed and crushed to small fermenters, but a portion of the harvest is only destemmed, and another portion is fermented as whole bunch. Light handling during fermentation allows gentle extractions resulting in elegant structure. The wine was matured in new and second fill barrels for 10 months before bottling.

On the nose the wine shows pronounced floral perfume with brooding and alluring red berry fruit, earthy, wild mushrooms and hints of spice.

On the palate there are very pure Pinot fruit flavours on entry with red cherry and musk flavours tied together by a fresh acidity. The wine has layered complexity with great elegance and finesse. There is a fine and delicate, almost powdery, tannin on the finish.

It pairs with various food dishes including white and red meats, duck, Parma ham, grilled line fish, tuna, wild mushrooms and traditional cheeses.

Anorak Facts:

  • Meerlust Rubicon 2018
  • Residual sugar: 2.6 g/l
  • PH: 3.63
  • Total acidity: 5.54 g/l
  • Alcohol: 14.3vol %
  • Meerlust Pinot Noir 2020
  • Residual sugar: 2.51g/ l
  • PH: 3.55
  • Total acidity: 5.71g/l
  • Alcohol: 12.5vol %

* A foudre is a large wooden vat, popular in France’s Rhône Valley, significantly larger than typical oak barrels, often with the capacity to hold more than a 1000 litres of wine. Using a larger vat or barrel than a typical barrique means there is less wine to wood exposure and less obvious wood or oak flavours.

We feel privileged to work with this icon in the South African wine industry and we are thrilled to be able to serve these two delicious wines on our trains.

Congratulations to you, Hannes and team!

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Rovos Rail and two beautiful Thelema wines

Never did a great man hate good wine …or an accountant named Gyles become an award-winning winemaker.

33 years on and at Rovos Rail we are still star struck by these two beautiful Thelema wines.

It’s a story that reads like fiction. A hard-working articled clerk visits a bottle store in Kimberley and finds his life changed forever when he has a sip of Puligny-Montrachet from far away Burgundy. 

It reminds of us of our beginnings. A hard-working businessman visits an auction hosted by the Heritage Railway Association of South Africa and his life changed forever. The story of how Rovos Rail and Thelema have not only succeeded but also persevered since the 1980’s is one of relentless dedication, optimism and trust.

Our infamous Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon may have tasted stars but this bottle of sublime French Chardonnay resulted in our accountant leaving the profession, moving his young family to the Cape winelands and starting a new life’s journey. 

The man in question is Gyles Webb, now the owner of two renowned South African wine estates – Thelema Mountain Vineyards outside Stellenbosch and Sutherland Vineyards in Elgin. 

After his epiphany, Webb headed to Stellenbosch – with his wife and baby son in tow – to do a B.Sc. (Agric.) degree majoring in Viticulture and Oenology. He then worked for Stellenbosch Farmers Winery (SFW) and did a stint in California before purchasing a run-down fruit farm at the top of Helshoogte Pass in 1983. This became Thelema which released its first wines in 1988. In 2002, a second wine estate Sutherland was added to the family stable. 

Helshoogte Pass

Situated on the slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain, Thelema occupies mainly south-facing aspects that afford spectacular views of the Simonsberg, Drakenstein and Jonkershoek mountains. Elevations ranging from 370 to 640 meters above sea-level make the 157-hectare estate one of the coolest and highest wine farms in Stellenbosch. 

Webb was named John Platter’s Wine Man of the Year in 1993 and was the Diners Club award winner for 1994. Current Thelema and Sutherland winemaker is Rudi Schultz while Webb remains as owner, director and cellarmaster. 

Although it was a white wine that captured Webb’s imagination all those years ago, the high altitude and rich red soils at Thelema are ideal for premium quality wine grape production and the estate is now one of the leaders in Cabernet Sauvignon, placing Stellenbosch Cabernets firmly on the global wine map. 

With some of the most exceptional terroir in the Western Cape, Thelema have rightly resurrected and restored their premier league standing as one of the most sought after and age worthy wine producers in the Cape, a position they held throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. 

Rovos Rail and Thelema wine

Travellers on Rovos Rail can sample the Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2018. This was a warm, dry vintage with a late start which resulted in smaller tonnage but yielded balanced, well-structured wines with lovely intensity. 

All fruit was destemmed, crushed and pumped into stainless steel tanks and saw two aerated pump-overs per day during fermentation before being racked into barrels for malolactic fermentation and an additional 18 months of ageing in French oak barrels, 40% of which were new. 

It is complex and stylish, with classic Stellenbosch Cab aromas of ripe blackcurrant, violets, dark chocolate, cedar wood, cedar spice and pencil shavings. This wine is bone dry yet exhibits a lovely sweet fruit character on the palate, showing exceptional depth, weight and length. It is drinking well now, but you can tuck this wine away for 15 years for greater reward. It is a perfect accompaniment to grilled beef, especially with a Béarnaise sauce and rocket salad. 

Nearly 20 years after purchasing the Thelema farm, Webb felt it was time for a new challenge. He embarked on a search for the right property and terroir for a second vineyard and, in 2002, purchased an idyllic apple farm in the cool coastal region of Elgin and Sutherland was born. Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grapes were planted first and more varietals added over time. 

The Sutherland Vineyards are situated nine kilometres off the Atlantic Ocean with altitudes of 140 to 250m above sea level with ideal cool climate conditions. 

The same ethos is used with Sutherland as with Thelema: Grape quality being the single most important factor and a policy of minimum interference, allowing the wines to be a true expression of each vineyard. 

The Sutherland Riesling 2021 is made in an off-dry style, showing fragrant spice, orange blossom and lime on the nose with flavours of white peach, hints of citrus and an elegant minerality. The wine shows a delicate balance of sweetness and acidity. Enjoy as an aperitif or with salads, chicken and mildly spicy dishes. 

You may be interested to learn that Thelema is named after monk, doctor and writer François Rabelais’ Abbey of Thélème, an imagined utopian abbey on the banks of the Loire. Only one law governed its members: “Fay ce que vouldras!” – “Do what thou wilt!” Among Rabelais’ more memorable quotes were “Wine is the most civilised thing on earth” and “Never did a great man hate good wine.”

It is a message that Webb clearly took to heart more than 40 years ago. 

Anorak Facts

Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 

  • Residual sugar 2.1 g/l 
  • pH 3.48 
  • Total acid 5.7 g/l 
  • Alcohol: 14 % 
  • Awards: 4.5 stars Platter’s Wine Guide 2022;
  • 93 points Tim Atkin and Greg Sherwood 
  • Vegan and vegetarian friendly 

Sutherland Riesling 2021 

  • Residual sugar 6.0 g/l 
  • pH 2.77 
  • Total acid 7.9 g/l 
  • Alcohol 12.5% 
  • Vegan and vegetarian friendly 
  • Only 5184 bottles produced 
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Rovos Rail goes greener with Fortis X

Rovos Rail goes greener with Fortis X

Our time at Rovos Rail during various levels of lockdown in 2020 and 2021 was not spent idly. We spent many months discussing how we could go even greener and we finally had the time to tackle the issue of bottled water. This has been a long time coming and we are relieved and happy to have introduced new plant-based and biodegradable water bottles to our trains, departures lounges and to our guesthouses.

We have our own small bottled water company called Babamanzi based in Cape Town which has been certified by SANBWA – South African National Bottled Water Association. Our water plant is small and energy-efficient which further assists us in reducing our environmental footprint. The introduction of our new bottles ensures that we are supplying water to our guests which has been locally sourced and packaged with our planet in mind.

Over the years we have tried various earth-friendlier options which have included glass and aluminium but neither worked too well. We have to take a great deal of water with us on our journeys, especially our longer trips, so we needed a solution where the boxes could be stacked safely and nothing would break or explode.

We got in touch with the good folks at Fortis X who helped us navigate all of our water needs. The plant-based water bottles are made entirely from sugarcane and 100% biodegradable into compost. Fortis X also manufacture bottles from a variety of materials which include Bio-PET, PHA, PLA and other compostable as well as bio-based polymers. Some of these polymers are sugarcane based, which means the bottles are 100% made from plants, with zero plastic and no additives. #

All the water bottles are tested as food-contact safe, with zero leaching into the contents of the bottle. Further testing proved rapid decomposition in certain environments, especially with compost. Such materials degrade into lactic acid which is a valuable soil supplement.

This range of revolutionary bioplastic products are made entirely from naturally-occurring plant sugar (dextrose) found in harvested plant starch. Many products can be made from bio-based polymers and Fortis X specialises in producing bottles and bottle preforms.

Rovos Rail goes greener with Fortis X
Image by Fortis X

At Rovos Rail we understand that as a participant in the local and global hospitality industry we have a responsibility to go greener wherever we can. Our team is working tirelessly to find solutions to the remaining waste challenges we have and we are committed to being as earth-friendly as possible. We are the green train after all.

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Rovos Rail and the Hamilton Russell Chardonnay

Rovos Rail has enjoyed a long love affair with the Hamilton Russell Chardonnay and are proud of our happy relationship with the family and team. The superb dry white has been a firm favourite on our wine list since our early days and it has always been an incredible treat for our guests.

The plaudits keep coming in for their 2021 Chardonnay and we are delighted to be in a position where we can still serve this delicious wine on board all of our trips as well as our guesthouses. Especially on our Cape Town journey as the estate is not too from the Mother City and absolutely worth a visit!

It marks the 40th vintage of Chardonnay from one of South Africa’s most renowned estates with 2021 being an exceptional vintage for the farm. Owner Anthony Hamilton Russell is clearly excited about this wine: “Both the winemaker Emul Ross and I believe this to be the best vintage of Hamilton Russell Vineyards to date.”  

Considering how well Hamilton Russell wines do both locally and in the international marketplace, this is an impressive claim with those who have tried it believing it has all the hallmarks of an absolute classic. 

Back in 1975, successful advertising executive Tim Hamilton Russell (Anthony’s late father) bought 170 hectares of land (a former sheep and wheat farm) not far from Hermanus and planted the first vineyards in what was to become the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley ward (appellation) in 2009. 

Image courtesy of Hamilton Russell Vineyards

Hamilton Russell had been encouraged by his friend Dezso Pongracz (whose surname was given to the well-known MCC) to look outside of conventional wine-making areas in South Africa. Hamilton Russell senior himself believed that the southern location and cool climate of the area would produce excellent wines and this wine-making pioneer was soon proven correct. 

The estate is located only three kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean and the cool breezes that come from the ocean make this one of the coolest regions for wine production in South Africa. 

In the spirit of experimentation, Hamilton Russell senior made 11 wines from eight different wine varietals with the first harvest in 1981. But it was not only in wine-making that he was a forerunner. In an industry not renowned for its progressive politics at that time, Tim was a passionate advocate of minimum wages for Black workers and was a prime mover in the abolition of the “dop” system of paying wages in wine. In 1989, Hamilton Russell and four other Cape winemakers formed the Cape Winelands Commitment, which rejected apartheid and outlined improved farm employment practices. 

In 1991, his son Anthony Hamilton Russell, the current second generation owner, took over and purchased the property from his father in 1994.  Anthony and his wife Olive conducted extensive soil research and immediately changed the farm’s focus entirely to only Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – ideally suited to the sunny but cool, maritime climate and the “stony, iron- and clay-rich shale derived soils” in Africa’s southern tip. 

Today there are 30 Ha of Chardonnay and 22 Ha of Pinot Noir vines, specialising in producing highly individual terroir driven Pinot Noir and Chardonnay which are widely regarded as the best in South Africa and among the finest in the New World, and are available in restaurants and shops in more than 50 countries worldwide. 

While production is small, the impact on international and local markets has been significant.  Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay is different to most New World Chardonnays; low-vigour, stony, clay-rich soil and a cool maritime mesoclimate give rise to a tighter, drier, more complex mineral character and length to complement the varietal fruit. The yields are smaller and the wines perfectly express the terroir in which they were grown. 

The Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2021 was matured for nine months in a combination of 228- and 300-litre barrels, of which 26% were new, plus a small portion in foudre*. 2021 is regarded as a stellar vintage that was later and cooler than usual. The nose shows blossom, intense citrus and pear, subtle oak and a little smoky reduction while the palate has soft oak spice, well integrated creaminess, good fruit purity and bright natural acidity. 

It is a wine with classic Hamilton Russell Vineyards’ length and complexity – elegant, textured and intense with a strong personality of both place and vintage. This wine pairs wonderfully with poultry, fish and seafood served with creamy sauces. It’s ready to drink now but will get even better over the next few years. 

Anorak Facts

  • Alcohol: 13.40% 
  • Acid: 6.80 G/L 
  • Ph: 3.32 
  • Residual sugar: 1.90 G/L 
  • Barrel fermentation: 68% 228 litre, 26% 300 litre French oak barrels 
  • Foudre: 6% 
  • Barrel ageing: 9 Months 
  • 1st fill: 26% 2nd Fill: 32% 3rd Fill: 31% 4th Fill: 11% 
  • French coopers: 100% Francois Freres 
  • Yield: 2.35 tons/ha, 15.65 hl/ha 

* A foudre is a large wooden vat, popular in France’s Rhône Valley, significantly larger than typical oak barrels, often with the capacity to hold more than a 1000 litres of wine. Using a larger vat or barrel than a typical barrique means there is less wine to wood exposure and less obvious wood or oak flavours. 

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Katavi, our new earth-friendly amenities

Rovos Rail and Katavi earth-friendly products

We’re doing cartwheels with excitement as we welcome our new earth-friendly amenities by Katavi on board our trains!

We’ve spoken a bit about how our time during the Covid-19 pandemic and the various stages of hard lockdowns was not idle. Being forced to press gave us the gift of time and we were finally able to do in-depth research into earth-friendly products that are locally made, contribute to community upliftment and are packaged in recyclable or biodegradable materials.

We provide guests with an amenities kit on board which includes the usual – shampoo, conditioner, body wash, hand and body lotion, ear buds, sunscreen, insect repellant and tissues. We undertook to look through each item to see where we could improve in terms of our sustainability efforts.

We were so happy to discover Katavi, a company founded by two women who knew that they could leverage what nature has to offer and also create a sustainable and earth-friendly product range.

Janine Halsted is a veteran in the beauty industry who was raised in Zimbabwe. It was early on in her life that her father, a cosmetic scientist, introduced to her the pitch black and earthy-smelling Kigelia fruit. He had noticed locals from rural villages rubbing the fruit on their skin for hydration and protection.

Janine’s father later developed a less than appealing product range using Kigelia and convinced Janine’s best friend, Carolyn, to use the product which in fact improved her complexion enormously. Carolyn knew that there was merit to the product and worked with Janine to improve on the look and smell without damaging the cream or the environment.

After 17 years of developing and launching new products, always staying true to their beliefs of utilizing Kigelia and other “super fruits“, they decided to further expand distribution and enlisted the assistance of Gus Lebreton, an ethno-botanist and founder of PhytoTrade, a southern African natural products trade association.

The result of over 27 years of work, Katavi is an all-natural anti-aging skin care collection. The range features wild-harvested, certified African oils and extracts—free of chemicals and toxins. The Katavi products we provide our guests are “Goggatjie”, an insect repellant, shampoo, hand and body wash and hand and body lotion.

Rovos Rail welcomes Katavi earth-friendly products

Packaged in environmentally friendly, recyclable, airless pump bottles, Katavi’s products contain no parabens, no artificial colorants, no perfume, and no petroleum-derived ingredients with no testing done on animals.

We’re going to be introducing you to our new sustainable, locally made and earth-friendly products over the next while so check in with us from time to time to see how we live up to our colour green!

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Welcome to our Rovos Rail family, Ellie & May

We would like to welcome Ellie & May to our Rovos Rail family. It never ceases to inspire and amaze us when people turn pain into proactivity. The strength it must take for a family to not only grieve the loss of a loved one but also turn their passing into something meaningful and beneficial is awesome.

It’s one of the many reasons why Rovos Rail is now stocking items produced by the lovely folks from Ellie & May and we are so thrilled to have the McMillan family on board with ours.

The sudden and tragic passing of their brother, son and friend, Mike, inspired them to create a lifestyle apparel brand which contributes to raising awareness about elephant conservation in Southern Africa. Mike was passionate about wildlife and after graduating high school with distinction, he studied a Bachelors in Science with Conservation Ecology as the principal focus at Stellenbosch University.

Whether we like it or not, there is an evolutionary component to pain and often the bereaved turn their grief into action which is how the Mike McMillan Nature Fund was born. A beautiful documentary, featuring Amy McMillan, called Burning Embers was produced to honour Mike’s memory but also to raise awareness and funds for the continuing fight to preserve elephant life in Southern Africa.

There are three different types of products including Ellie buckets, Ellie caps and Ellie beanies. Each cap comes with an Ellie and May sticker with which you can spread the word and the love. Snap a pic whenever you see an Ellie and May sticker and tag @ellie_andmay and #jointheherd to unite all on Instagram.

The caps embody a vibrant personality while being trendy, brightly coloured, and adventurous. All products are locally made, which we also love, and it feels like the love and passion of the McMillan family is woven into every cap, hat and beanie that is delivered into the world.

Please note that Ellie & May items are subject to availability and not are always in stock and available on board.

All images supplied by Ellie & May

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Rovos Rail adds the world’s first floral rum to all journeys

The Journey to the Sun has begun, with Suncamino Floral Rum!

Rovos Rail Suncamino Rum
Suncamino Floral Rum Instagram

The journey to the sun

Rovos Rail added the world’s first floral rum to our already impressive range of spirits. Suncamino Floral Rum is the brainchild of three Capetonian friends who shares a love of adventure, the outdoors, and the ocean. These friends got together and created something magical. Suncamino is a Spanish word, which means “Journey to the sun”, and what a journey it has been. Part of what makes the Suncamino journey so special is their mantra, which is simply: bring good company, a bottle of Suncamino, and pick a spot on the map – The rest will take care of itself.

Rovos Rail Suncamino Floral Rum
Suncamino Floral Rum Instagram

Where it all began

The idea behind Suncamino rum originated in Cape Town. Thereafter the three friends travelled to Barbedos and developed their signature 8yo blend with the help of a local distiller. This incredibly smooth rum ages for 8 years in a typical Caribbean climate in ex-bourbon barrels. As the world’s first floral rum, the intention behind aging the rum is to preserve the naturally beautiful aromas. As well as to develop a rum that is perfect in its natural form without having to add a lot of extra trimmings.

Rovos Rail Suncamino Floral Rum
Suncamino Floral Rum Instagram

Why choose Suncamino on Rovos Rail

Once the blend was perfect, the friends travelled to sunny Cape Town where a local botanist subtly infused the rum with natural floral extracts typical of the Cape. It is a beautiful bouquet of floral botanicals that complement the rum’s signature notes. What makes this rum so incredibly unique is some of the exceptional flavours found in the rum which includes Hibiscus, Honeybush and Orange Blossom. Suncamino Floral Rum can be enjoyed in a range of ways, it is only dependant on your mood. We invite the dreamers, the travellers, the chance-takers, and those who know the quality of life to bring their passion for everyday adventure to enjoy the rum on our train journeys.

Rovos Rail Suncamino Floral Rum
Suncamino Floral Rum Instagram

Suncamina Floral Run can be enjoyed on a trip to Cape Town and all Rovos Rail journeys. Come as you are and you will be welcomed.

Please note that items on our wine list and bar menus are subject to availability and not always in stock and available on board.

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On Track to Romance and Relaxation

Rovos Rail in Africa, The world’s most luxurious train

Blog post courtesy of Gillian Mclaren

The departure

Epitomizing a bygone era in train travel, Rovos Rail, The world’s most luxurious train provides a stylish experience on the 870-mile journey from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, to Pretoria in South Africa. Departing from Victoria Falls Railway Station – established in 1904 – insouciant baboons stroll on the platform, as rumpeter hornbills call from the canopies of Natal Mahogany trees. An à capella african choir serenades us enthusiastically, as we proceed along the red carpet to board the train. Like travelers of the Belle Époque, we are led by our hostess to our vintage sleeper coach, with its walls of burnished Mahogany. Our luggage is waiting, our double bed made up in crispy white linen and in our ensuite bathroom is immaculate. A canvas toiletry bag holds useful amenities. Low beams from the setting sun filter through three windows. The train blows her high-pitched whistle, then with a chug, we are on the way.

Image by Rovos Rail
Image by Gillian McLaren

Ladies and gentlemen are required to dress formally for dinner, so passengers arrive at the dining car looking elegant. Tables are made up of two-seaters and four-seaters, so guests may dine together or individually. White damask tablecloths, silver cutlery and cut glass crystalware complement fine china. Our sommelier, wearing a dapper waistcoat, pours the first wine with a flourish. We taste the iced Pecan Stream Chenin Blanc to be paired with the starter, declaring it to be delectable. Chosen carefully to be enjoyed any time during the journey, the wines are South African with 4-5 star ratings, including the renowned Meerlust Rubicon. The table d’hôte menu, with vegetarian options, has 3 courses, followed by a cheese plate, then dessert. Exceptionally tasty and presented with flair, the cuisine – with its accent on fresh local ingredients and traditional dishes – is a consistent highlight each day of the four-night journey on the world’s most luxurious train.

Image by Gillian McLaren
Image by Gillian McLaren

After the formal dinner, guests repair to their cabins, or stroll down carpeted corridors to the Lounge Car or Observation Car – that includes an open air balcony – for post-prandial conversation and a nightcap. Perfectly designed to mingle with fellow travelers, or to find a quiet corner, these cars have picture windows, comfortable sofas, wing backed chairs and booths. To re-create the feeling of timeless travel, in grandeur and quietude, the use of mobile phones is discouraged. This adds time for a game of cards, backgammon, scrabble, to peruse the leather-bound books, or to watch the scenery go by. The Club Car is a glass-enclosed space for smokers to take pleasure in their cigarettes, or cigars, while being able to watch the countryside on both sides of the train.

Image by Gillian McLaren
Image by Rovos Rail

Returning to our sleeper carriage, we find the shutters closed, soft lighting over a turned down bed, plus a gift of Wedgwood nougat. Clothing that we had chosen for the excursion in the morning has already been pressed by our hostess. Though adrenalized by excitement and anticipation, the motion of the train and repetitive sound on the tracks eventually rocks us to sleep.

Image by Gillian McLaren

As the sun’s rays ease over the horizon at Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, we enjoy a continental breakfast, including pastries still warm from the oven. Quality Twinings tea or cappuccinos are available. Disembarking for a game drive through this far-flung wilderness, an image of the savannah, in soft pastel light, is reflected on the side of the train. Sweeping plains of grass yield a rich reward of elephant sightings, including a breeding herd with tiny calves. We are driven through a forested area where the road is narrow and not often traversed, adding to our sense of being deep in remote Africa. We are surprised by a giraffe that peers down at us, seemingly curious, then he continues to strip leaves from a Camel-thorn tree.

Image by Gillian McLaren
Image by Gillian McLaren

Keeping up the tradition of excellence, for the morning coffee stop, a long serving table with a banquet of snacks has been prepared for us. Beneath spreading Leadwood trees is a semi-circle of canvas chairs. This is hosted by the owners of The Hide, a prize winning safari lodge.

Image by Gillian McLaren
Image by Gillian McLaren

Back at the train, we are greeted by staff, with champagne or pressed fruit juices. While we are savouring lunch in the dining car, the train is still traveling through Hwange National Park. With a mighty screech of breaks, the train stops! Someone has spotted lions on a kill, so we rush to the windows to watch the action of these big cats. Friendships are forged as we chatter about this sighting and how we are reveling in our Hwange venture. The adventurers of the Victorian era on the world’s most luxurious train could not have had it better than this.

Image by Gillian McLaren
Image by Rovos Rail

When Rovos Rail halts at Gwanda, a village in Zimbabwe, we hop off the train for a leisurely walk to explore and to meet the local people. A donkey cart moves alongside pedestrians, while entrepreneurs hawk their array of goods, including vegetables, dried Mopane worms (protein rich), cigarettes, mobile phone time or second-hand clothing. Established premises in brick buildings sport names like Conquering Family General dealerLiquid Sports Restaurant, and Mbalabala Cocktail Bar.

Image by Gillian McLaren
Image by Gillian McLaren
Image by Gillian McLaren

After a joyous time of street photography, I welcome the soothing air conditioning in the Lounge Car, as I quaff a chilled litchi virgin cocktail. Crossing the border from Zimbabwe – over the Limpopo River – into South Africa is a seamless process, organised by Rovos Rail staff. Panoramic views unfold as the train crosses the Tropic of Capricorn, heading southwards towards Pretoria and the olde world Rovos Rail Station.

Image by Rovos Rail

For a change of tempo from the pace of city life, the demands of media and from one’s usual pre-occupations, this is a perfect way to slow down, to unwind, to allow thoughts to flow freely. Cuisine is superb, the wines and spirits par excellence and the service unobtrusive. It’s an enriching journey, a way to reconnect with yourself and with your partner, if you travel these tracks together on the world’s most luxurious train.

Image by Gillian McLaren

For more travel features by Gillian McLaren (@Jetset_Gillian): www.gillianmclaren.blogspot.com

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V for Vagabond, an independently minded wine

What better wine to enjoy on your next Rovos Rail adventure than with an acclaimed Cape dry white which defies perceptions of origin and which is tantalisingly called the Vagabond.

The Vagabond – made by The Fledge & Co. – is like a luxurious train journey; it is not about the destination but the level of satisfaction that you feel when you see the world at a more sedate pace. The wine is similar and takes a good few years to show at its best. Every vintage is like a voyage of discovery and can be compared to a cricket test match where each session should be played carefully and strategically.

The name Vagabond stems from the fact that the winemakers do not own vineyards but travel around diverse wine growing regions from Swartland to Agulhus in search of the best grapes they can find.

Vagabond Rovos Rail

The Fledge & Co. is the remarkable undertaking by husband-and-wife team Leon Coetzee and Margaux Nel who have attracted plenty of attention for their nonconformist approach to winemaking.

Fledge is a passion project that started back in 2007 and is an expression of the couple’s desire to handcraft authentic wines to enjoy with fine food with good company. The wines are unflinching, eclectic and experimental and express their true sense of place (terroir) through a combination of “old school” techniques and innovative methods, while driving an agenda of concern for their soils and the environment with a carbon-neutral or carbon-sensitive footprint.

Margaux Nel has an impressive wine pedigree and is a seventh-generation winemaker from Calitzdorp (South Africa’s Cape port capital) in the Klein Karoo where the Nel family has plied their trade for many years. She is also the winemaker for Boplaas (the family estate) where The Fledge & Co. is also produced.

Margaux is in charge of the cellar while Leon collaborates with the farmers they work with and together they blend The Fledge & Co. wines. Explains Leon: “We are currently working with nearly 50 different vineyards and around 28 different varieties from across the Cape.”

The Vagabond is produced from vines planted from 1971 to as early as 2010; many are old dryland bush vines while others are grown more conventionally but all are produced by farmers who believe in sustainability.

The blend changes with each vintage but varietals generally included are Chardonnay, Steen (Chenin Blanc), Viognier, Verdelho, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne. Sometimes there is even a blast from the past with the inclusion of the rare Hungarian Hárslevelü – fully skin fermented as one would a red.

Says Leon: “Our aim is to showcase the best of the Cape in a glass and produce a wine which works well with food but can also be enjoyed on its own. We want to defy preconceptions which is why the Latin on the front of the bottle says Prudentia Sine Vino (An Independently Minded Wine). It is only in the Cape that one has the freedom to blend such a diverse (some may think mismatched) variety of different grapes together to craft a reflection of the diverse tapestry which makes up this wine.”

Vagabond’s components are vinified separately, either destemmed or whole bunch pressed and barrel fermented in old French oak for nine to 15 months until the final blend is made. It is racked into tank and left for another six to nine months on the lees. It is unfined and unfiltered when bottled and only sold when Margaux and Leon believe it is ready which is usually three years after vintage.

The wine profile is a mélange of orange blossom; ripe cling peach; yellow, orange and green citrus; pineapple; hay; hints of Rooibos and flint while honeyed almond and white spice abound on the bouquet. It is a perfect partner for roast fowl, duck or pork, traditional Cape Malay and mild Cantonese cuisine or enjoyed as an aperitif.

Devotees affectionately call this wine the “Geel Slang”, Afrikaans for the resplendently golden yellow Cape Cobra sometimes found in the vineyards, a beautiful reptile with an impressive strike.

Accolades for The Vagabond include Winemag.co.za Top 10 for 2015, 2017 and 2018; Tim Atkin MW 93pt for every vintage that has been reviewed by him and Platter’s 5 Star for the 2018 vintage.

The Vagabond is a bit like The Travelling Wilburys – a supergroup of changing band members, though always with a consistent sound, says Leon proudly.

Anorak Facts:

W.O. Western Cape (Regions include Elgin, Stellenbosch, Tradouw, Swartland, Klein Karoo, Agulhas)

Vintage 2016 yielding 5940 bottles  Alc. 12.64 %        pH 3.24         TA 5.8 g/ℓ          RS 2.2 g/ℓ

Vintage 2017 yielding 7476 bottles  Alc. 13.16%         pH 3.31         TA 5.7 g/ℓ          RS 2.1 g/ℓ

Vintage 2019 yielding 6300 bottles  Alc. 13.18 %        pH 3.19         TA 6.1 g/ℓ          RS 2.1 g/ℓ

Please note that items on our wine list and bar menus are subject to availability and not always in stock and available on board.

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Rovos Rail and Mr Bubbles

South African sparkling wine and the name Pieter Ferreira, aka Mr Bubbles, are as synonymous as fish and chips, James Bond and a shaken martini and Rovos Rail and a world-class travel experience.

One of South Africa’s fastest growing wine categories, Cap Classique is the South African version of champagne with the wine made by the same “traditional method” used by the French whereby the second fermentation occurs in the bottle.

Pieter – who proudly carries the moniker “Bubbles” and who is chairman of the Cap Classique Producers Association (CCPA) – is considered by many to be the godfather and the guru of the local industry which he has helped elevate on an international stage.

He has been instrumental in cementing Graham Beck as one of the world’s leading producers of premium Cap Classique and has been with the estate since its maiden vintage in 1991. He recently became Graham Beck’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) after 32 years in charge of the cellar.

However, a life in wine wasn’t always on the cards for the ebullient Ferreira. The Durban born, self-confessed “surfer dude” loved science and also considered becoming a dentist.

However, rugby Springbok and South African wine pioneer Jan Boland Coetzee arranged for a young Pieter to work as an apprentice to Achim von Arnim at Clos Cabriere in Franschhoek. The rest, as they say, is history and Ferreira helped Von Arnim launch his Pierre Jourdan bubbly with Ferreira also working in Champagne: at Mumm in 1987 and at Moët & Chandon two years later.

Pieter and his wife Ann Ferreira started their boutique Cap Classique Pieter Ferreira label in 2012 with the first vintage released in 2019.

This new venture comes from their dogged pursuit of the perfect bubbly, striving to produce sparkling wine which showcases the very best expression of South African Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with their Blanc de Blancs, a 100% Pinot Noir Rosé and a blended Brut Vintage.

This 100% Chardonnay Cap Classique (Blanc de Blancs) 2015, currently being served by Rovos Rail, is sourced from carefully selected sites from the Robertson region, renowned for its rich limestone and weathered shale soils. The limestone content allows for an ideal platform for growing grapes with the acidic backbone and chemical composition required for the making of a perfect Cap Classique base wine.

A small portion of the base juice undergoes fermentation in French barrels. Once in bottle, it spent a minimum of 72 months on the lees.

Sip on a glass or two of the 2015 Pieter Ferreira Blanc de Blancs and you should pick up balanced flavours of citrus fruit and lime zest that are layered between notes of brioche and pastry combined with a vibrant mouth-feel with flavours of citrus, tropical fruits, honey and toast. It has a fine mousse and elegantly dry lingering finish.

Says Pieter, who happily admits that bubbles have consumed his life: “The beauty of Cap Classique is that it is uniquely South African. It will forever remain the better alternative for those who don’t want to do Champagne. There is a great amount of respect for Champagne but with our great weather and sunshine we will also always provide great value. I still believe it is the most ‘underrated’ wine category in the wine world.

“We’ve developed a uniquely New World style while remaining true to the essence, technique and tradition of champagne itself. Bubbly or Cap Classique has become a lifestyle drink and is not only there for celebrations anymore. A great glass of bubbly sets the tone for ‘what-ever-happens-next’! It is a great palate cleanser and makes for the best aperitif,” he explains.

Pieter says that bubbles are the most versatile wine for food pairing: “There is no right or wrong anymore. Bubbles have the ability to play the ‘enhancer’. My favourite pairings are Brut Blend – oysters on the rocks (anytime); Blanc de Blancs – fresh pan-seared fish with a beurre blanc sauce; Rosé – breast of duck (still moist and pink inside) with roasted vegetables and a matured Cap Classique– cheese board (mainly hard cheeses).”

We are so thrilled to welcome the Ferreira family to ours and look forward to serving this delicious bubbly on board our journeys.

2015 BLANC DE BLANCS ANAYLSIS

Alcohol: 12.59%vol; RS: 3.12g/l – Extra Brut; TA: 7.14g/l; pH: 3.17

ACCOLADES

2020 Platter’s South African Wine Guide Newcomer Winery of the Year

Platter’s 5-star for the current 2015 vintage

CE’s rating: 95/100

Without doubt, it’s the best Cap Classique I’ve tasted to date” – wine writerAngela Lloyd, January 2021

Both the Ferreira’s are at the top of the sparkling pyramid” – Madeleine Stenwreth MW, January 2021

“This is categorically the best bottle-fermented sparkling wine I’ve ever drunk from South Africa” – Christian Eedes in Wine Magazine, April 2019

Please note that items on our wine list and bar menus are subject to availability and might not always be available on board.

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Rovos Rail welcomes The Green Man

With South African tourism opening up and slowly making its way back to a new normality, Rovos Rail is once again at the forefront of everyone’s bucket list of travel adventure and experiences.

The private railway company has recently updated its wine and bar list to focus on some of the country’s premier local wines and producers which it believes rival some of the best in the world. Peruse the exciting offerings and you would be hard-pressed to argue this.

Who wouldn’t want to work their way through some wines featured on the carefully curated list while taking a scenic trip to Cape Town or raising a toast with a glass of bubbles, in their luxury suite, while travelling to the magnificent Victoria Falls? These are memorable experiences that will last a lifetime.

Each week we will take you on a journey through some of these acclaimed boutique producers whose wines you will discover on your next Rovos Rail tour. And don’t forget Rovos Rail packages, rates and prices are fully inclusive of all meals and beverages on board, with suggested food and wine pairing recommendations given on all menus.

It was American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald who said, “Too much of anything is bad but too much champagne is just right.” So what better way to begin than with one of South Africa’s finest bubblies, Silverthorn’s Chardonnay Cap Classique, The Green Man. Just the act of popping open the bottle feels festive!

Silverthorn is an exclusive boutique winery situated in the Robertson Valley where John and Karen Loubser pour their heart and soul into producing some of the country’s finest sparkling wines. Silverthorn is now among only a handful of South African producers who have devoted their expertise to solely producing this sophisticated style of wine.

The wines are made according to the traditional method (Méthode Champenoise) of making champagne by creating a second fermentation in the bottle. The term Cap Classique has been used in South Africa since 1992. EU law and the laws of most countries reserve the term “champagne” exclusively for wines that come from the Champagne region located about 160 kilometres east of Paris in France.

Before starting out his own label, John was the winemaker at Graham Beck where he discovered his passion for Cap Classique whilst working under the mentorship of acclaimed winemaker Pieter “Bubbles” Ferreira.

The multiple award-winning Green Man (the first vintage in 2004 was released in 2006) was born out of the Loubser family’s love of nature and the environment surrounding them.

Explains John: “Half human, half nature, the Green Man is an ancient mythical figure representing the spirit of the forest, the continuous regeneration of life and the interdependence of all things. He has appeared throughout the ages from as far afield as ancient Babylon and India to abbeys and cathedrals all over Europe. In his modern guise, The Green Man has appeared under a new name – ecology. It is this spirit, as well as the delicate green hue of this wine, that inspired me to break with traditional name ‘Blanc de Blancs’ and personify the wine with the name The Green Man.”

The farm has also honoured its very own “Green Man”, longest-serving employee Willem Willemse, who oversees the Silverthorn vineyards. John and Karen commissioned Academy Award winning filmmaker Craig Foster, of My Octopus Teacher fame, who took images of Willem and superimposed them with pictures he had taken of nature. This series of mythical and dramatic artwork can now be viewed at Silverthorn.

Willem Willemse by Craig Foster

Continues Karen: “People from throughout the world seem to be taken with the Green Man; from our German agent sending us the most extraordinary Green Man sculpture for our Tasting Room opening to a customer from the UK bringing us the most gorgeous little ceramic Green Man when she visited.”

The Green Man is 100 percent chardonnay which spends a minimum of 24 months on the lees. Limestone soils in the Robertson region give it an intense purity. On the nose you will find fresh aromas of green apple and mineral undertones with my favourite aged bubbly smell of all, baked brioche. This elegant bubbly has a delightful creamy texture with a fine mousse and a long finish. It is well suited as an aperitif on a warm summer’s day or paired with an array of seafood; think freshly shucked oysters, salmon tartar or scallops lightly marinated in a zesty citrus dressing.

2019 THE GREEN MAN ANALYSIS

Alc – 11.64%; RS – 7.0g/l; pH – 3.2; TA – 6.2g/l

Please note that items on our wine list and bar menus are subject to availability and not always in stock and available on board.

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African Trilogy on board the Shongololo Express

On the 9th of February this year, a group of adventurous travellers will board our Shongololo Express train for the maiden voyage of African Trilogy. It’s always exciting when we launch a new route and this trip was a labour of love from beginning to end. African Trilogy on board the Shongololo Express is set to be a marvellous 15-day sojourn that will engage with all our guests’ imaginations and curiosities.

The train departs from Rovos Rail Station in Pretoria making its way to the famed Kruger Park for a safari experience. The Shongololo Express then travels to the Kingdom of eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) before making its way to Northern Zululand for a game drive in the Hluhluwe wildlife reserve and a tour of the city of Durban and its tropical botanical gardens. Saying goodbye to Kwa Zulu Natal, the train traverses the Valley of a Thousand Hills and the breathtaking Drakensberg Mountains to the 1870s mining village of Kimberley. Passengers are then transported to a different world with the dry and arid Karoo, through Upington and onto the Fish River Canyon. Once in the Kalahari desert, guests visit Garas Park before they board a light aircraft for Sossussvlei where they will overnight at a lodge surrounded by the imposing dunes of the Namib-Naukluft Park. Back on board, the train meanders to Windhoek and then into the game-rich Etosha National Park for another overnight stay before journey’s end in Walvis Bay.

Rovos Rail purchased the Shongololo Express in 2016 and spent the following year renovating, refurbishing and breathing new life not only into the coaches but also the itineraries. We first wrote about the procurement of our new train in 2016 and since then have operated the 12-day Southern Cross and Dune Express itineraries as well as the 15-day Good Hope trip. To be able to include an additional 15-day adventure, the African Trilogy, is a real accomplishment and we believe this new journey will provide guests with a true cross-section of some of Southern Africa’s most varied scenery.

We hope to welcome you on board one day soon and share in many memorable experiences with you.

reservations@shongololo.com | +27 (0) 12 315 8242

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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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Oom Gert and the Rovos Museum

By Janine Avery at 5 Star Stories

Arrive at Rovos Rail Station in Capital Park, Pretoria and you’ll find a red carpet laid out before you. A smiling porter is ready to relieve you of your heavy luggage, and a bow-tie clad gentleman is holding out a glass of sparkling Champagne. And thirsty while you may be, we advise you don’t enter those hallowed doors to our red-brick station building just yet.

Instead take a sharp left, let the antics of two tame llamas put a smile on your face, marvel at the mighty horns of some Nguni cows, and venture just a little further into our very own museum. Here, the rough gravelly voice of Gert van Rensburg aka Oom Gert (Uncle Gert) will welcome you back in time.

Boarding his very first Rovos train over 20 years ago, Gert was acquainted with a very different side of train-life than that which you will come to experience on your trip with us. That’s because he spent his time in the engine room.

As one of our most valued train drivers, Gert’s office was the hot, noisy and smoky end of the train, where he toiled away with one goal in mind. That being to get his passengers where they were going safely and on time! It’s a job he did with utmost aplomb, but it wasn’t without tribulation. Spend a few minutes talking to him and you’ll be regaled by tales of elephants on railway tracks and troublesome and tiring steam powered locomotives from days gone past. In fact, so busy was he driving trains that it was only recently that he ventured back into those luxurious cabins for a trip as a guest. And while he may have now let go of his reigns and passed on his hat, and a wealth of knowledge, to the younger generation, Gert is still a valued employee here at Rovos. He now runs the museum at Pretoria and its clear it’s his pride and joy.

Packed with artifacts which reflect Rovos’ 30 year history, as well as interesting items and train memorabilia from around the world, we aim to develop the museum into the foremost train museum in the world. While you’re waiting for your train to depart, the little ones can also wile away the hours playing on a refurbished old tractor or acting out yesteryear inside a traditional telephone booth. There’s also a massive scalextrics track and heaps of model trains that are bound to keep the boys, and girls, enthused.

You’ll need to tear yourself away eventually but before you do, stop and play a while, listen to the stories of Gert, of which there are many to hear, and relive a different era. Just be sure to leave yourself enough time to explore this little piece of history before stepping on the train yourself and enjoying your rail adventure!

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How We Roll

How We Roll

In our efforts at Rovos Rail to be as earth-friendly as possible we introduced new toilet paper on board the trains, in both of our departures lounges and at our guesthouses in St James, Cape Town. It’s not the most elegant of subjects but we’d like to share with anyone who might be interested because commitment to the planet should be first on all agendas and hey, it’s how we roll.

The Güdsheet loo roll is hand-wrapped in eco-friendly paper to promote hygiene, it’s packed in recycled paper boxes to replace plastic and sold in bulk to minimise carbon footprint. The 2-ply paper we use is BPA free and contains no chlorine, acids, inks, dyes or fragrances. What we like most is that it’s sewer and septic tank safe as it’s 100% biodegradable.

One of the best aspects of working with  is that every Güdsheet purchase helps provide toilets  and toilet paper to those in need. There are millions of South Africans who don’t have access to a toilet or even loo roll so through every purchase of Güdsheet we are helping provide toilets and toilet rolls to underprivileged schools and crèches in need.

To get in touch with the good folks at Güdco. you can e-mail on hello@gudco.co.za or find them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

You don’t only need to be in business to purchase Güdsheet as they also do residential deliveries! Both work and home can now be earth-friendlier and kinder to our planet.

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Wedding at St James

Sensational St James!

Our three sensational guesthouses in St James are under new management and we have breathed new life into all aspects of our beautiful seaside homes. For those who don’t know, St James is situated on the beautiful False Bay coastline on the Cape’s south peninsula. Our sensational houses are all on the Main Road so have direct access to St James beach with its beautiful rock pools and well-known colourful Victorian bathing boxes.

St James Manor, Homestead and Seaforth all have their own style and personalities which gives our guests the opportunity to select a home that is best suited to their needs. All have their own swimming pools, breakfast rooms, comfortable lounges and fully operational kitchens. Seaforth even sports a small gym which can be used by guests staying at any of the three houses.

We recently recruited the services of our much trusted videographer, Ross Hillier, to shoot new video content and take new photographs for us. We had a lot of fun creating material that shows off each sensational house and would like to thank Ross, his team and all who participated in what was a fun few days!

Please enjoy our new video by clicking here.

Should you be interested in receiving information about St James and the guesthouses please visit our website, e-mail guesthouses@rovos.co.za or call +27 (0) 21 788 4543.

We hope to welcome you into our one of our sensational St James guesthouses soon!

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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).

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Pretoria to Victoria Falls with Rovos Rail

The Rovos Rail journey from Pretoria to Victoria Falls has certainly become a firm favourite. We recently had guests, Mr and Mrs Hume, who travelled on this journey in celebration of their 80th birthdays! They took the time to send us a lovely e-mail but also a really kind and enthusiastic review on their trip.

Thank you Mr and Mrs Hume and happy birthday from all of us at Rovos Rail!

Rovos Rail was simply transporting. In so many ways. Born of the dreams of a tall, handsome visionary who dreamt of having a private refurbished train on which to take his family on a tour of South Africa, it soon evolved into one of the most luxurious trains in the world.

Rohan Vos (pronounced “Foss”), having obtained permission from South African Railways to operate a private train, soon found that the myriad of petty fees and costs levied by the state operator,  made a private train simply unaffordable. So, not to be daunted, Vos expanded his idea into a commercial tourist train. Following his passion of transforming derelict rail carriages into masterpieces of mahogany-paneled Edwardian grandeur, finished with the finest brass and silver trimmings and crimped, etched glass lampshades, Vos has created a traveling jewel which affords the discerning traveler the chance to glide through the rugged African veldt while being pampered in the best ways known to man.

Brother David had driven us from his home in Johannesburg to the start point. But at first we had trouble finding it, nestled as it was under unlikely tall palm trees in a disused section of Pretoria’s railyards. Adding to its sense of mystery. Then there it was, a colonial-era station house, transformed into a spacious, gracious lounge filled with leather couches and period pictures, all gently blown by the breezes of twirling, broad-bladed ceiling fans. Young waitresses plied the guests with trays of champagne in frosted flutes.  We had arrived. The sense of expectation was electric.

Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

Vos himself seems to treat the departure of every train as a landmark event in his family’s history. He was there in person to shake every hand and wish everyone a good time. Before  boarding he devoted almost a full hour to explaining the history of ROVOS, and to giving his guests a tour of the workshops adjoining the station house, where coaches are refurbished and train pieces from bogey wheels to window latches are serviced and repaired. For our amusement he had arranged for one of the original steam engines to be drawn up at the siding. We crawled all over it, amid its wisps of escaping steam, like kids on a Jungle Jim, striking poses for each other’s cameras.

Eventually, we boarded. Our bags already loaded into our spacious cabin, we soaked up every detail of the luxury hat engulfed us. The broad double bed, the warmth of the wood panels, the space, the work table, the adjoining shower room and toilet, the ample hanging and cupboard space, the mini-bar, to be stocked up as we ordered. What else could there be? We were soon in the Observation Car, chilled Chenin Bancs in hand, the logoed cut-crystal glasses glistening like golden orbs against the arid grassy plains passing beyond the windows.

Lunch was as much a dream as a meal. We struggled to balance our focus between the scrumptiousness of the food and wine and the beauty of the fittings in the ornate Dining Car, with its tasseled velvet curtains at each window. Mini-quiche served with Hamilton Russell Constantia Chardonnay was followed by grilled salmon on rice with asparagus accompanied by Sutherland Saugivnon Blanc. All served under the regal audience of a large Protea flower, one per table, South Africa’s unique symbol of enduring elegance. Echoed by the pleasure of Meriel’s ethereal presence . Butter balls in a silver-plated dish completed the picture.

Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

As the train gently lurched its way forward my history came into focus. We crossed the Limpopo at Beit Bridge, named after Sir Alfred , Cecil Rhodes’ minor partner in the De Beers diamond company, . The fund he established helped finance my Doctorate at Oxford. Bulawayo, place of my birth, was up ahead. First would come Collen Bawn, famous century-old quarry and cement plant, then Gwanda, Balla Balla, and, finally, Essexvale where, about  a hundred years ago, my father Denny cycled out with his gold pan to prospect the streams.

Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

We stopped at Gwanda to visit a curio market. Besieged by politely badgering African kids the Rovos guests shuffled from stall to stall against a backdrop of African singing as a troupe of young locals vigorously danced for us.

By now dusk had fallen and I knew I would not actually see these places, but would be in them. Night would steal them from me as history had already done, almost.  So that night we slept near Bulawayo without seeing it, at Mpopoma. After sunrise our journey continued and more names, each with memories, came into view: Pasi Pas where Denny had taken me one day in the late 1940s to buy sandstone from the quarry to build our house on Norfolk Road; Nyamandhlovu (“flesh of the elephant”) where my Plumtree classmate Mike Wood’s father had been Native Commissioner; then Saw Mills once the center of Rhodesia’s hardwood industry (Yellowwood an Muqua), now standing weeded and overgrown, grazed by a small herd of motley looking goats. Gwaai River would be next, followed by Dett and Hwange where we are to stop for a game drive.

Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

The game drive exceeded all expectations. Starting early on open, tiered-seat Jeeps (supplied by The Hide) there was a sense of exhilarating excitement cruising across Hwange’s endless grassy khaki-colored grasslands. We saw few animals to start with. It was still too warm for them to start their evening browsing. There were a couple of giraffes and a lone Impala bull, partly hidden in the shade of thickets, and some bird life but not much else. Cleophas the guide had asked us what we would like to see. We all said, predictably, “The Big Five”. One guest said “Cheetah” and I added “Kudu”. “The Big Five not possible” he said, “because Hwange no longer has rhinos. Cheetahs not guaranteed and Kudu unlikely but we can hope..” He finished. He said we could see lions but they were 30Kms away. We said that was too far. After a while, deep into the plain we came across a muddy watering hole in which there was a lone elephant bull. It stood motionless like an apparition, its tusks completely covered in glistening black mud like a dark chocolate version of itself. “This bull” the guide explained “has probably been estranged from the herd. He may be in decline and is facing his own extinction in what will be a lonely life from now on.” We left him alone and moved to another water hole with four more younger bulls, caking themselves in mud and dust. Cleophus explained that, once thus covered and caked, they would find a tree and rub their sides against it. Any ticks and other parasites apparently get ripped off the elephant with the caked mud. Tuskers toilet.

As we left the elephants another viewing Jeep closed on us, saying that the reported lions were still at the same place. We decided to go there. On arrival we saw only a small green patch in the sea of golden grss, with sme scattered bushes and a fallen tree trunk. The we saw that there were two huge male lions, one lying on his side snug into the bush for the shade, the other stretched out below the fallen tree trunk. We came within a few yards from them. They showed no interest in us at all. Occasionally the one would look out into the distance across the plane. We did not know it at the time but he was eying his mates, three lionesses hidden in the grass a half mile away. As we watched the lion under the tree trunk rolled into its back, turned its head lazily and gazed at us with his head upside down. Sizing us up from down under.

Before long, as the sun lost its heat, sinking towards the horizon and throwing a liquid gold light across the glowing pain, we suddenly saw that it had come alive with animals. Herds of Impala appeared from nowhere, there were giraffe gliding like glinting cranes through a patch of trees, we saw two Kudu does, and there was a family of waterbuck not far from where the lions lay. Cleophus explained the waterbuck were not afraid of lions, partly because they knew did not favor the taste of their flesh, but also because, strong swimmers, they could take to the water if attacked. They made a regal sight as they stared across the pain. As we drove quietly away, Cleophus suddenly stopped the Jeep some yards from a small grass-covered mound. “Cheetahs” he whispered. Then we saw the two small heads of the cubs, ears twitching in the sunlight as they gazed intently outwards. As Cleophus moved the Jeep some feet forward we could then see the mother. Sprawled languidly across the back of the mound, mostly hidden in the grass, she stared intently across the plain with steady, sullen eyes. Was it to be Impala or something else for dinner?

Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls
Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

We moved on. In the mosaic that is the Hwange reserve, patches of rich green grass and scrub intertwine the pale khaki of the grassland. In one such patch we came across aa small herd of Zebra grazing actively in the declining daylight. The whiteness on their beautifully plump and proportioned bodies glowed brightly like liquid silver in the sunlight between the jagged stripes of carbon blacking. Lionfish of the plain. Their high manes gave them a full-dress military look, like Trojan Centurions trussed up by Versace.

Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

It was time to begin to head back to base camp, close to the train, where drinks awaited us.  By this stage we were all elated and flushed with joy. We had not seen The Big Five, but close. Nic had seen his Cheetah, I had seen my Kudu. Nic then shouted that he saw more elephants up ahead, crossing the road. As we snapped our gaze in the direction of the elephants none of us could believe what we saw next on the road ahead of us: a huge male lion, followed by a lioness, sauntering on the bare sandy earth of the roadway towards the Jeep. The male lion did not stop when he saw us, but just kept walking. Less certain, the lioness went to ground and, her belly on the sandy surface, watched intently. The male lion just walked slowly but relentlessly right up close to the Jeep. Seeing that we were not going to move, he padded into the grass on the side of bare track, a few feet from where we sat watching. The jet-black tassel on the end of his tail was twitching, as if nervously, as he passed us about four feet from the edge of the vehicle.  Once he had passed us he simply spun round and lay down to rest no more than six or seven feet from the back of the Jeep. Nicolas had taken a video of the whole incident. Who said we had to drive 30Kms to see lions?

Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

Nicolas reminded us about the herd of elephants up ahead, so we drove on towards where they had been. Sure enough, we rounded a bend in the road behind a fleeing flock of Guinea Fowl that sprinted un the road ahead of us, we found ourselves in the midst of a large herd of elephants. Some of them, particularly the younger ones of which there were many, flapped their ears furiously, lifted their trunks skywards and emitted coarse hissing sounds. It was time to return to base camp. We had had a thrilling set of episodes, it was invigorating out on the plain. Birds were everywhere chasing insects in the dying light. The sun had suddenly melted into a faintly crimson glowing orb. The game view was over.

The whole train was now gathered for drinks and grilled snacks at a camp facility, part of The Hide operation. In an amazing act of management prowess ROVOS had decamped the whole drinks camp, had guests all re-board the train and within an hour served a corsage and candle light final dinner in the Dining Cars. Bravo ROVOS!

All that was left of the ROVOS Rail trip was for us  to arrive at Victoria Falls. There it was suddenly, distant spray rising out of the dense bush, a siding sign, glimpses of the white facades of the gracious Victoria Falls Hotel, and the sounds of African harmonies, as a group of leopard skin-clad Shangaans danced and sang a welcome on the platform.

Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

A magical dream had ended. A new welcome awaited.

(All images provided by © Mr Ian and Mrs Meriel Hume)

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).

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Rovos Rail celebrate with us

Winter Warmer

Photo credit: © Jos Beltman, Holland 

Autumn has arrived in South Africa and that means our annual Winter Warmer is here! This offer available to South African passport holders and SADC member states only.

The Winter Warmer is a 2-for-1 special on our two-night Cape Town journey and is available from April to 30 September 2019. The offer is for a one-way journey for two people sharing in a Deluxe suite.

The 50% reduced rate is R15 550 per person sharing in the Deluxe suite (normal rate is R31 100 per person sharing). The rate is fully inclusive of all meals on board, all alcoholic and other beverages on board, the off-train excursions, 24-hour room service and a limited laundry service. It does not include flights, transfers, pre- and post-tour accommodation or gratuities for the train staff. 

Cuddle up on board with us this winter and travel from the grasslands of the gold-rich Highveld to the haunting barrenness of the Great Karoo; trundle the spectacular mountain ranges and scenic winelands of the Cape.

Should you require further information please get in touch by e-mailing reservations@rovos.co.za or call +27 (0) 12 315 8242 (Pretoria) or +27 (0) 21 421 4020 (Cape Town). Visit our website here.

Terms & Conditions Apply

PLEASE NOTE: Rovos Rail is 100% reliant on Transnet for its traction and service (diesel and electric locomotives as well as drivers and railway infrastructure). Rovos Rail therefore cannot be held liable for any delays due to trains not running to schedule. Excursions cannot be guaranteed and will only be undertaken if time and circumstances permit. Departure and arrival times are approximate and cannot be guaranteed. We reserve the right to alter our routing at any time between departure and arrival points. We caution against same-day air travel on departure or arrival days due to possible delays with flights or the train.

RVR-30Logo GOLD

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Celebrate with Rovos Rail

We can hardly believe that Rovos Rail is about to turn 30! Sometimes it does feel like just yesterday that we launched our first seven-coach train for its overnight maiden voyage yet, here we are, 30 years on, with nearly six train sets, 11 journeys on offer and 440 staff members who work tirelessly to create memorable experiences for our guests.

We invite you to celebrate with us through our special promotion 30 YEARS – 30% OFF on selected departures from May to December 2019.

ON OFFER:
1. 30% off a 3-night Victoria Falls journey in a Royal or Deluxe suite
2. 30% off a 2-night Cape Town journey in a Royal or Deluxe suite
3. 30% off a 2-night Cape Town journey in a Royal or Deluxe suite PLUS 30% off a 2-night stay at one of our seaside guesthouses in St James

See rates below for direct bookings only. Special terms and rates are available for tour operators and travel agents.

vfa cpt

RATE INCLUDES Accommodation on a one-way journey between Pretoria and Victoria Falls or Pretoria and Cape Town; all meals and all alcoholic and other beverages on board; room service and bar facilities; limited laundry service; guided excursions; entrance fees as per itinerary and government tax. RATE EXCLUDES Pre- and post-tour accommodation, flights and transfers; visas; gratuities; international/French Champagne and souvenirs.

cpt+stj

RATE INCLUDES Accommodation on a one-way journey between Pretoria and Cape Town; all meals and all alcoholic and other beverages on board; room service and bar facilities; limited laundry service; guided excursions; entrance fees as per itinerary and government tax + GUESTHOUSE accommodation in a Deluxe room; full breakfast; all alcoholic and other beverages; in-room tea tray and snacks; laundry; Internet; parking and concierge services + a one-way transfer between St James and Rovos Rail Lounge at Cape Town Station. RATE EXCLUDES All other meals not stated; flights; visas; additional transfers; tour services; telephones; gratuities; international/French Champagne and souvenirs. Note: St James Guesthouse 15% vat is included and special rates apply to children under 16 years old. T&Cs apply.

For available departures and more information contact:
reservations@rovos.co.za | +27 (0) 12 315 8242+27 (0) 21 421 4020

RVR-30Logo GOLD

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Join the Club! Rovos Rail Club

Join the Club!

Over our nearly 30 years we’ve grown the Rovos Club to over 2000 members which is something we find flattering. When guests join the club it means they’re signing on for more than a ‘once in a lifetime experience’ and that brings with it a lovely satisfying feeling.

Throughout our nearly three decades of operation we have always aspired to maintain a high standard of discreet and personal service whilst meeting the individual needs of our wonderful passengers. The Rovos Club is an extension of this policy as it creates an opportunity to thank all of our repeat customers for their continued support and loyalty through a personalised incentive-based programme.

To register with the Rovos Club, one must have travelled with Rovos Rail twice. Club status may be awarded on the booking confirmation of the second journey.

If you are eligible for Club status, please use the Club Registration Form or call Dohné Boshoff on +27 (0) 12 315 8242 or e-mail her on dohne@rovos.co.za.

Rohan affectionately refers to our Club members as ‘Repeat Offenders’, all who are eligible for a variety of incremental discounts. We’ve been fortunate to host some Club members for their 60th, 35th, 20th, 10th and eighth journeys so they really do feel like part of the family and could probably recite the traditional departures speech verbatim!

Should you be interested in joining our club and want to see how it has been structured please click here.

We hope you join our club and look forward to welcoming you on board again soon!

Join the Club!

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Rovos Rail Life with Lardiere

Life with Lardiere

One of the perks of working in the hospitality industry, especially in food and beverage, is getting to experience tastings. We recently visited one of our bespoke suppliers, Lardiere Fine Foods, not only to catch up but also to sample a few of their new creations. Our discovery of this company a few years ago can be likened to finding a diamond in the rough and life with Lardiere has been simple, interesting, creative and delicious.

Our food and beverage team consisting of our owner Anthea, Michelle and our consultant, Markye, have spent many an hour discussing, debating and resourcing nutritious, wholesome and organic products to include in our menus and in all suites on the board the trains. The women have trawled South Africa finding local companies with strong values and a moral compass that aligns itself with ours at Rovos Rail. We also want to work with businesses who have ethical farming and practices so that the food is cruelty-free and is made from the best possible ingredients.

Enter Chef Junelle, the creator of Lardiere. Culinary life for Junelle began with studies at the Cordon Bleu School with career highlights including working with Ben Filmalter, the founder of Mugg & Bean and his wife, Judy, who introduced Junelle to the world of baking. It wasn’t long after that the inspiration and courage came for Junelle to open her own business and Lardier, which in French loosely means “a pantry where food is kept”, opened its doors. We hear the word pantry and are transported back to the kitchens of our childhoods with smells of biscuits and spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon. Taking a peek into Junelle’s pantry, you will always find the best local olive oil, butter, sea salt, and fresh herbs as she believes that no recipe should have more than a handful of ingredients.

And responsible trade is clearly of importance to Junelle. Not only does she want to lay the foundations for new standards in the local hospitality industry but she ensures that her ingredients are locally sourced and that all recipes are preservative-free. There is a strong focus by all chefs working at Lardiere on developing healthy and tasty gluten and wheat-free alternatives as well as vegan options as their production is 70% plant-based. In addtion, Lardiere is accredited to the South African National Halaal Authority and adhere’s to its strict guidelines.

Rovos Rail Life with Lardiere

One of our favourite aspects of life with Lardiere is that it’s made up of only female staff as the company is proactive in the support and upliftment of women. The latest product offering, Bosesi, meaning “sisters” in seTswana, has been created to give the women of the company ownership in a business while taking local South African flavours to the world.

We’ve have a variety of Lardiere’s really fine foods on board. In each suite we have a bespoke box containing Coconut Ice, Rosemary Shortbread and Almond and Cranberry Florentines. We’ve also introduced delights such as Roasted Banana Curd, Luxury Melba and Dried Pineapple Slices. We’ve been lucky enough to taste-test most of what Lardiere has to offer and be part of conversations about new recipes being developed which tickles our taste buds!

It’s a pleasure working with Junelle and her team as the company is wholesome not only in the products they create but also with their overall ethos. We can also guarantee the hygiene of their on-site kitchen as it is the cleanest space we have ever seen and inspired the big renovation we’re currently doing to ours!

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Summer in St James

There is something so energizing about summer being just around the corner. Heads are up, people are smiling and long hot summer nights are just a starry night sky away. Summer in the southern hemisphere is a holiday-maker’s dream, especially in Cape Town, and there are few places better to beach and bathe than St James. A quaint area steeped in history that lies between Muizenberg and Kalk Bay, enchanting St James is sure to make the most memorable summer.

And it just so happens that we have three lovely seaside retreats that we hope will suit your holiday needs. St James Manor, Homestead and Seaforth are gorgeous homes redesigned to accommodate even the most discerning traveller.

We’ll start with St James Manor as it was the first house we opened and its vintage feel aligns itself with our lovely and luxurious Rovos Rail trains.

Built over 100 years ago, the Manor has an aura of grandeur and old-world charm with a splendid wood-panelled staircase leading up to the five large suites and a standard twin, each of which bears the name of historic, local characters of St James. The individually decorated rooms reflect the opulent times of an era gone by with lovely floral fabrics and calm colours, Persian carpets and early English and South African antiques. Carved into the mountain is a private and wind-protected swimming pool where those reluctant to leave the exclusive environment of the house will no doubt happily while away the warm summer days.

The latest reviews St James Manor has received have been a treat to read as guests have commented that the only regret they have was only spending one night and that our team made them feel so important. Another guest remarked that it’s one of the best guest houses she has ever stayed in and highly recommends spending time in this area of Cape Town! The Manor has been called idyllic, peaceful, amazing and fabulous by past guests so we hope that you will join us one day soon!

Call us on +27 (0) 21 788 4543 or e-mail guesthouses@rovos.co.za for further information or to make a reservation. You’re welcome to visit our website by clicking here.

We look forward to opening our doors and being part of what we trust will be a wonderful summer in St James!

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Spring on board the Shongololo!

It’s almost that time of year when we in the southern hemisphere can pack away our coats and feel the delicious beginnings of another beautiful summer. And we have a special offer that we think will put some spring back in your step! If you’re a resident of South Africa or its neighbouring countries then join us on board Shongololo Express, for a fully inclusive two-night trip from Cape Town to Pretoria at a 50% reduced rate!

Guests will board the train at Cape Town Station on Saturday 17 November at 11:00 travelling via Matjiesfontein and Kimberley to Pretoria, arriving Monday 19 November at about 13:30. Shongololo Express will travel the same two-night Cape Town itinerary that has been enjoyed by thousands of Rovos Rail guests over a span of nearly 30 years.

The special offer includes:

Emerald Cabin: R10 885 per person sharing (normal rate is R21 770 per person)
Gold Cabin: R8 240 per person sharing (normal rate is R16 480 per person)
Single Supplement: +50%

Rates include all meals on board, all alcoholic and other beverages on board, the off-train excursions, room service and a limited laundry service.

Not included: Pre- and post-tour accommodation, flights and transfers; staff gratuities; international/French Champagne and souvenirs.

T&Cs apply. Offer applicable to residents of South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Swaziland only.

Should you wish to join us please contact us directly:
reservations@rovos.co.za
+27 (0) 12 315 8242 (Pretoria)
+27 (0) 21 421 4020 (Cape Town)

All we need from you is a copy of your ID, passport or residency and we’ll take the rest from there.

We hope to welcome you on board the Shongololo Express very soon!

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the spinach king rovos rail

The Spinach King

By Brenda Vos-Fitchet 

As I sit here writing this blog post I am eating one of the Spinach King’s vegan and gluten-free spinach muffins. It is a tasty, chewy treat. And when I say chewy I mean it has a delicious consistency that doesn’t feel like you’re eating sand and nor does fall apart in your hands. As someone who has to be gluten-free I have tasted products from all over South Africa and had yet to find a something that tastes good and has a more-ish texture. Enter the Spinach King and his delicious baked goods!

Lufefe’s Nomjana’s story is one of those remarkable narratives that is made up of an idea and the courage, self-confidence and determination to pursue it no matter the naysayers or the challenges. In this video, which to me resembles an episode of Chef’s Table, we see Lufefe talking about his life growing up in Khayelitsha, a township located 30km outside of Cape Town’s city centre. He saw how his community was running out of food on a daily basis and it occurred to him that the answer to the food shortages lay in the land on which they walked every day and thus began his idea of community growing, baking and selling spinach-based goods.

Lufefe’s journey begins in 2011 when he had only R40 in his pocket and his big idea. He used a friend’s oven to bake 24 loaves of bread a day and then went pedaling door-to-door. Not only was he busy baking and selling but he was also studying Entrepreneurship Development at the Raymond Ackerman Academy and graduated in 2012. In 2013 he moved to the Khayelitsha Spar where he turned 24 loaves into 120 and earned enough money to purchase his own equipment, buy bicycles and employ five people.

2014 was a catalyst for exciting developments at Spinach King as Lufefe won the SAB Innovation Award and used the prize money to open his first bakery. It was also the year he met the Managing Director of Virgin Active and together with the health club brand, Spinach King Health Food Cafe and Bakery opened its doors in 2016! It should also be mentioned that there was quick visit to Italy the year before to attend the We Feed the Planet Expo where Spinach King not only negotiated a supply deal with Hotel Verde but also took home the Western Cape Premier’s Entrepreneurship Recognition Award for Best Emerging Agro-Processing Business! 

Fast forward to July 2018 and Rovos Rail is in business with Lufefe. We wrote about our food and beverage consultant, Markye Reuvers, in a previous post and how she has been scouting local businesses with ethical and sustainability practices who can meet our produce demands. We’re thrilled to have Lufefe and his spinach on board with us!

Walking through our brand new kitchens earlier I just happened upon a chest freezer that contained bags of these delicious muffins. I’m now on my second and pretending that it doesn’t matter that I’m guzzling them down because it’s all in the name of “research” to ensure that our guests are satisfied. Which they will be.

All hail Lufefe, the Spinach King and his environmentally conscious business! It’s a story that inspires and one of which all Capetonians and South Africans can be proud.

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Rovos Rail Food and Beverage

Welcome Tiffany and Maryke!

The purpose of this blog post is two-fold. To let you know that we welcomed Tiffany Vos-Thane in an official capacity to Rovos Rail and that soon after her arrival she recruited the expert services of Maryke Reuvers, a professional chef and consultant. Tiffany is Rohan Vos’s youngest daughter and the last of the family to join the business. We’re thrilled to have her and the 12 years of hospitality expertise she brings with her. Welcome on board!

It did not take Tiffany long to realise that our Food & Beverage department required a fair amount of TLC. Rovos Rail has grown substantially in the past few years with the opening of three guest houses in Cape Town, the acquisition of our new train, the Shongololo Express as well as launching a new 15-day journey, the Trail of Two Oceans, from Tanzania to Angola. In addition, our workshop teams have been hard at work building new coaches so that we can now have five Rovos trains out at once. An impressive feat for a small, privately-owned company. But back to Tiffany and Markye.

Having mostly sales experience in the UK hospitality industry, but with a passion for all things food and wine, Tiffany got to work finding someone who could share in her vision and overhaul our entire Food & Beverage department. It was time to refresh menus, upgrade the bar and wine lists, renovate all the train kitchens and rebuild a brand new on-site kitchen. Chef and kitchen-staff training was also overdue as was food and beverage service. Enter Markye and wow, did she not know what she was getting herself into! It’s been months of spring-cleaning, throwing out, list-making, rearranging, implementing new training and systems, stream-lining and updating current protocols as well as embarking on site visits to newly discovered meat and dairy farms for authentic organic and fresh produce. Markye has also spent time on the trains travelling most of the journeys and working with our chefs in the on-board kitchens. It’s been a ride! And she’s not even halfway done yet.

Markye has spent over 17 years in the food industry and has been regaling us with fascinating stories of expeditions to the Russian Arctic, the Greek Islands and of course the South of France. Her work has taken her to many global destinations but now she is based in Cape Town making weekly commutes to our home-base in Pretoria where she can often be found on her all fours cleaning, scrubbing, inspecting or counting stock. We’ve never worked with a chef with such a strong A-type personality so it’s been an incredible experience for us and we have learned a great deal.

Both Maryke and Tiffany have been a breath of fresh air we didn’t know we needed, which we think is the best kind. Often, when heads are down and teams are working furiously, the small things begin to slip through the cracks and left unchanged become larger issues. It was time to rehabilitate everything to do with food and beverage and we are thrilled to have these two talented and hard-working women at its helm.

We look forward to sharing in our new bar, wine and food menus with you and welcome your feedback.

Cheers, saluti and santé to Tiffany and Maryke, a big welcome and thank you!

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Convair 340 (ZS-BRV)

Statement regarding the crash of Convair 340 (ZS-BRV)

On Tuesday, 10 July 2018, the Convair took off from Wonderboom Airport in Pretoria for a scenic flight before its planned departure for Holland the following day. In April this year Rovos Rail donated the aircraft to Aviodrome, an aviation museum and theme park situated in Leylstad which is approximately 50km from Amsterdam.

The flight was being piloted by Captain Ross Kelly and Doug Hayward, two experienced pilots from Australia who had successfully flown sister Convair ZS-ARV to Australia in August  2016. Rovos Rail had donated the aircraft to the Historical Aviation Restoration Society based at Albion Park south of Sydney.

On Tuesday afternoon the plane experienced engine failure on takeoff and crashed just outside Wonderboom Airport. Sadly engineer Chris Barnard died in the accident.  He was an experienced engineer and pilot and had been intimately involved with the Convairs for 17 years.

Captains Ross Kelly and Doug Hayward were injured and transported by helicopter to Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg where they are in induced comas, but stable. The prognosis is optimistic.

Rovos Rail is supporting Aviodrome and the SA CAA with the subsequent investigation.

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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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The Lost Art of Train Travel

It’s always a lovely and welcome surprise when guests take it upon themselves to write a story for us. There seem to be many budding writers, poets and filmmakers on board as we are sometimes sent wonderful pieces of writing and video footage which often have the same theme – the lost art of train travel. How we’re all in a hurry to get to the destination so that we can “unwind” but once there we never put our phones down because everything needs to be shared online.

We received the below from Chris Hammond who, in his own words, could imagine himself as a history professor wearing a tweed blazer with leather elbow patches! Chris travelled from Cape Town to Pretoria on the train with his wife, Robyn, and when met on arrival at Rovos Rail Station they said that it surprised them how long it took them to relax and do nothing but eat, drink, sleep and mingle. “Train travel, in this form, is a lost art and it took some getting used to”, they said. “Well, just half a day and then we locked our phones away and didn’t seem them again until we got into Pretoria!”

The Lost Art of  Train Travel by Chris Hammond

Humans haven’t yet figured out a way of travelling through time but that doesn’t exclude us from experiencing the indulgences of a bygone era, which is exactly what Rovos Rail offers the discerning traveler – a step back in time and a tantalising taste of the romance and craft of the Age of Rail.

The furious pace of our modern lives has sadly distorted our opinion of travel. The goal these days, largely, is to get from Place A to Place B in the least possible time, with as little inconvenience as possible. The journey has become a means to an end, the objective to will the time away with distraction after distraction so that we can reach the destination and carry on with our frantic lives. Now is not the time to explore the effect of this ‘always-on’ mentality on our collective psyches and stress levels, but suffice to say that, at the very least, it is unhealthy.

A century ago there were fewer options. We couldn’t jump on a plane in Cape Town and land in Johannesburg two hours later. A trip then necessitated an understanding of the journey and an appreciation of the time that it would take to cover that distance, invariably, by train. With that came an acceptance that the journey would consist of what the modern day traveller might call ‘dead time’ – a period of time where communication with the outside world was effectively impossible and seemingly little could be accomplished. The traveler was forced to seek ways of extracting pleasure from the journey itself, a notion that Rovos Rail has revisited and refined into something of an art form.

From the moment you set foot in the Rovos departure lounge, you are transported to a time that exists now only in books and in memories we hold of stories passed down to us from generations that have gone before. Vaulted, high ceilinged corridors and a rolling, red carpet lead to an elegantly appointed lounge, where the soothing chords of a string quartet float through the air and the sparkle of a glass of champagne on a silver tray welcome the guest to the Rovos experience. There is no option other than to exhale, relax and allow yourself to be transported back in time.

Nothing is rushed. The train departs when it is ready, and the landscapes pass lazily by as passengers are encouraged to unwind, to mingle and to enjoy the scenery. It is easy to forget how vast and beautiful this country is, and to watch through the windows as the space unfolds into the Karoo in front of your eyes is restorative.

Exquisite attention to detail allows for fascinating interactions with the train, as the story and history of each carriage and indeed of Rovos Rail itself is discovered to those intent on finding it. The history revealed is remarkable and enchanting, so much so that had Barney Barnato himself walked into the dining carriage it would not have felt surreal.

Undeniably the sensation of not being rushed, or of having time to spare, has become so unfamiliar to us that it takes some getting used to. It’s not long however, before one can sense the layers of stress falling away and the thrill of adventure return.

Of course, it helps immensely that your every need is catered to. Magnificent meals that seem to emanate from invisible kitchens are sumptuously stretched out into the evening, paired with the finest selection of wines that the country can offer. Guests are left wondering what kind of sorcery enables the waiters to deliver such exceptional fare in such style from within the restrictions of the train environment. Questions of service logistics are quickly forgotten though, as the combination of the dessert wine and the soothing, rhythmical motion of the train draws one into a deep sleep in the surprisingly generous double bed.

Much of the same is to be expected in the days to come, and before long the cycle of eating indulgently followed by prolonged sessions of staring into the vast expanses that present themselves has become second nature. The ‘real world’ worries that seemed so pressing before departure seem to dissipate into the blue South African sky.

Guests are left feeling revived and invigorated as the train pulls slowly into the Private Rovos station in Pretoria.

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Durban Safari with Stacie Flinner

Rovos Rail Durban Safari Stacie FlinnerTravel adventures are just some of the beautiful experiences Stacie Flinner shares on her exceptional blog. Stacie and her husband joined us on our gorgeous little Durban Safari, travelling from Durban to Pretoria, and her words and images are so lovely that we feel we need to spread the joy!

It’s often tricky hosting media on board because like the box of chocolates you just never know what you’re going to get or whether she or he will actually enjoy their Rovos Rail experience. We’ve had a few misses but thankfully most have been hits.

KwaZulu Natal, with Durban at its helm, is in our opinion one of the most under-rated and under-valued provinces in South Africa. It is incredible to us that just one short flight away one lands in a lush, tropical and humid paradise full of cultural diversity and history, a sea in which one can actually swim (your limbs just about fall off in Cape Town as the water is freezing), some of the best game viewing and lodges the country has to offer and a near-perfect year-round climate! Winter in some parts of Natal is a treat as you can still walk around in shorts and flip flops unlike most other parts of the country.

And let’s not forget the Midlands. The Midlands Meander is a region in beautiful KwaZulu Natal that stretches from just beyond Mooi River in the north, Hilton in the south, Karkloof in the east and the foothills of the Drakensberg in the west. Suffice to say that the scenery is breathtaking and with the train meandering its way slowly through the heart of it, also travelling across The Valley of a Thousand Hills, the Durban Safari has to be one of the most beautiful journeys we offer.

We digress. Back to Stacie and her lovely review on her trip with us. Click on the link to read all about her sojourn with us and to see her gorgeous images.

(Top image by Stacie Flinner)

RVR-DurbanHillsMeadow-LRes

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All aboard for Golfing the Garden Route!

Golfing the Garden Route has never been so spectacular!

There are many attributes to South Africa. It’s a country full to the brim with energy, beauty, culture, differences, chaos and opportunity. For visitors, it offers a kaleidoscope of colour and experiences that have left many with poignant and special memories. One of the most pristine areas of Southern Africa is the Garden Route and one of the most fun activities to do in this part of the Southern Cape is play golf. Or not. We offer separate itineraries for those playing and for those not. Golfing the Garden Route has become a favourite pastime for travellers coming to South Africa to play this temperamental game and the Shongololo Express offers an adventure for those mad enough to play this game called golf and for leisure guests wanting to take it easy.

The 15-day Good Hope Golf journey on board the newly acquired and renovated Shongololo Express is the ultimate holiday as it incorporates some of the best scenery, cultural and historical activities, safari experiences and golf that South Africa has to offer. In addition to this, guests are in the safe and experienced hands of Rovos Rail, a company who has 29 years in the hospitality industry and one who has crafted each itinerary to near perfection. There is after all always room for improvement!

The itinerary:

Day 1    Tour of Soweto and Pretoria train departure

Day 2    Panorama route / play Leopard Creek, Nelspruit or White River

Day 3    Kruger Park game drive / play at Leopard Creek, Nelspruit or White River

Day 4    Swaziland tour / play at Nkonyeni Golf Estate

Day 5    Hluhluwe game drives

Day 6    St Lucia Wetland Park visit

Day 7    Durban tour / play at Durban golf course

Day 8    Battlefields tour / play at Champagne Sports Resort

Day 9    Bloemfontein tour

Day 10  Kimberley tour / play at Kimberley Golf Club

Day 11  Graaf Reinet walking tour

Day 12  Cango Caves and ostrich farm visit / play at Fancourt Golf Estate

Day 13  Knysna visit and Fancourt dinner / play at Ernie Els Oubaai

Day 14  Drive to Hermanus over scenic mountain passes

Day 15  Train arrival and Cape Town tour

As you can see, there is something for everyone and more than enough golf at beautiful courses to frustrate and excite those opting to play! This 15-day sojourn rivals that of any train adventure across the world and we hope you join us for a trip of a lifetime.

If you would like to receive any further information then please do get in touch by e-mailing querida@rovos.co.za or call her on +27 (0) 12 315 8039. Watch the Shongololo Express video by clicking here

We hope to welcome you on board soon!

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A Dad and his Daughter go on a Train Date

We recently received a lovely letter from a Dad who decided to treat his 11-year old daughter to a train trip. What fun and what a special Dad and and daughter date!

Mr Pflaum travelled our two-night Cape Town journey with his daughter, Léonie, and other than a glowing report they also sent us images and a video from their time on the train and in South Africa!

Dear Brenda,

I don’t have words to describe our journey a few days ago. It was just a blast! It was a dream of mine for several years to do that – but I had to wait, until my oldest daughter was old enough to realize all of it and enjoy it. Léonie (my daughter) is 11 years old and she never felt bored on the whole journey – she would like to extend for another 1 or 2 nights! I pick out one of my girls for some of my travels and this time Léonie was the one who could enjoy South Africa with me. I attached a few photos of us ;-D

We’ve expected a lot – but all our expectations were surpassed! From the Pretoria station, the train, the stops, the great crew on board (with Heinrich – our favorite in the restaurant ;-D) and the great welcome speech of your father. The most impressive part – beside of all the overwhelming rest – was, that your father even made it to Cape Town to say Good Bye with a handshake and some nice words. I was stunned and the journey was worth every Rand we spent – even much more! I can’t describe it with words…!

Thanks to the whole team – in the front and in the back to make something like that possible! Not only to invest with an “all-in” strategy in something new, to have a vision of something great and to realize the vision in an even better way – but to keep it up so many years and still be in the front, searching the contacts with the costumers directly and share the vision as a “once in a lifetime experience”!

I really hope that I can come back very very soon to show this to the rest of my family – my other two daughters and my wife. Thank you all so much and keep everything as it is! My English is limited, so I don’t have other superlatives for everything. But please hug your father from our side – as well from my daughter! Next time, if we see him, we will do it personally! THANK YOU!!!

Here you find a little trip report video from us, which I just created with my iPhone (together with a little soundtrack, which I created together with a good friend back in Kingston, Jamaica). If you have some time, feel free to watch it: https://youtu.be/krB0iYX6YE8

Ah yes: Did I say THANK YOU already? If not: THANK YOU for everything! I had and I will spread this great experience with many others!

And Dad of the month goes to you Mr Pflaum! Thank you for your kind words, they certainly brightened up our Monday and made us feel very content with the work we do here at Rovos Rail.

To all Dad’s out there – bring your daughters on a date with us! As you can see it’s a spoil that does wonders for what is a very special relationship.

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Rovos Air

Convair 440 lands in Australia!

“The Historical Aircraft Restoration Society operates Australia’s largest fleet of multiengine radial engine aircraft. On 21 August, the latest addition, a Convair 440 (ZS-ARV), landed at Albion Park after its ferry flight from South Africa. With large quantities of Avgas difficult to come by in some locations, this could be one of the last ocean-spanning ferries for an aircraft entering preservation. ” – Flightpath.

In our last newsletter we wrote about the sale and donation of our three aircraft. One of the Convair planes, ZS-ARV, went to the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society in Australia and after 18 months of restoration, licensing and getting the aircraft airworthy, Captain Ross Kelly, Captain Doug Haywood and First Officer Geoff Sheppard took off from Wonderboom airport in Pretoria on the 9th of August 2016.

The flight path was challenging as cities with Avgas supplies had to be located for the fuel-heavy Convair. Travelling via Kruger, Mozambique, the Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Bali and into Australia via Darwin, Mt. Isa, Dubbo and finally into Albion Park, the crew arrived excited and safely on August 21st.

The historic flight was even featured on Win News and the clip can be watched on YouTube by clicking here.

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Rovos Rail’s Taunina Teddies

Rovos Rail Taunina Teddies

The tale of our Rovos Rail teddies began 19 years ago with our journey finding us in the capable and talented hands of Taunina.

On an early Dar es Salaam trip we had two delightful Australian ladies, Dawn and Annike, who travelled everywhere accompanied by teddies they collected the world over. At their suggestion, the Rovos collection of limited-edition teddies slowly evolved when, in 1998, Anthea met Bev Duncan who had a small barrow in the V&A Waterfront Shopping Centre full of her handmade teddies.

This chance encounter spanned a 17-year friendship with Bev painstakingly producing 20 collections (50 to a set) of customised, handmade Rovos teddies and 600 kiddies bears. Bev took great delight at the thought of her teddies living worldwide.

Very sadly, Bev developed a brain tumour in December 2013 and after a long, hard-fought battle we lost her in April 2015.

Anthea, deeply saddened by the loss of her friend, pressed pause on the creation and production of our teddies and it’s only recently that Taunina have taken up the helm.

The Taunina story is one of great courage and compassion for the commerce lies intertwined with community upliftment. The company focuses on improving lives of disadvantaged people who operate in communities where opportunities may be limited but where creativity and passion are abundant.

“We provide our artists with the support and market access they need to make a living by using skills many of them learned at an early age. And we actively involve them, sharing in the success of the business. Artists receive a steady income (vs. piece rate pay) in the form of wages that are significantly higher than market-related salaries. In addition, they will receive 30% of the before-tax profits of the company: 20% through the Bear Essentials Fund (which contributes towards the housing, healthcare and education of their families) and 10% in the form of productivity-related cash bonus payments.”

To date, Taunina have created 10 bespoke teddies for us each in the Rovos green, old gold and maroon in keeping with our corporate colours and each with a paw pad and ear in leopard print. The other paw pad carries with it a little Rovos Rail charm. Our first three bears went out on the Dar es Salaam train in August last year with Thebolo, Munaki and Nyenyedzi finding homes in Germany!

All the teddies carry the initials of the women who make them, symbolic of their sense of dignity and pride. Each bear travels in a handcrafted hatbox with his or her very own bespoke passport. A Taunina creation is a work of art, an heirloom to be passed from one generation to the next. It’s a gift that changes lives.

“The name Taunina is an anagram of the African word ‘TAU’, meaning ‘lion’, and ‘NINA’, an acronym for ‘No Income, No Assets’. Taunina gives women who were once without income and assets the power to become lions of their own destinies.”

We’re proud of our association with this fantastic company and are encouraged and inspired by their story. For many, living in South Africa simply means surviving so for women to stare such adversity in the face and create gorgeous teddies that live across the world is just remarkable.

Click here to watch the Taunina video.

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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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Long Live the Shongololo Express!

It’s been a busy, sometimes overwhelming but very exciting week here at Rovos Rail headquarters. As some of you may know we purchased the three-star Shongololo Express train in January of this year and for the past few months the train has undergone quite a substantial renovation. On Tuesday, 16th August, we walked Gauteng-based tour operators and travel agents through our brand new spruced up train and celebrated with a few bottles of bubbly afterwards!

In true Rovos fashion, the timeline for the renovation was tight but our incredible team pulled off miracles. The brief was to gut all existing bathrooms so that new shower and bathroom floors could be laid down, wooden shower door frames were built with better shower heads, new loos have been installed as well as bathroom cabinets, hair-dryers and some cabins received new sinks! Our plumbing team also worked hard at improving the water pressure in each cabin.

The layout of the Gold cabins was overhauled to allow for more space and there are now twin, double and fixed double options. The more spacious Emerald cabins have also been tweaked to allow for more space and all rooms have been fitted with new wood-panelling, linen, day covers, curtains, paintings, carpets, towels and the Shongololo Express now comes with full amenities kits too.

To be able to walk some of our biggest supporters through our lovely new train was a privilege and our team felt a wonderful sense of accomplishment.

The ‘new’ Shongo departed for a 15-day Good Hope Golf trip yesterday and we feel confident that all guests on board will feel comfortable in their new digs!

Long live the Shongololo Express!

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Rhino Rescuers

By Brenda Vos

Our wildlife is under siege in Africa and has been for many years. Too many. One of the largest contributors to the massacre of rhinos it seems is a few powerful influencers in Asia who decided that rhino horn carries curative properties that can treat an array of illnesses, some of them being as minor as nosebleeds and fevers. Please, get a tissue or take an Asprin like the rest of us.

We are sure that there are claims that the keratin in the horns can cure cancer and other terminal illnesses but there is no medical proof whatsoever to support these theories. African, and in fact wildlife the world over, is being obliterated due to obscene medical propaganda, high-end fashion, political unrest and loss of habitat. It’s a story most of you will have heard and we hope some of you will join us in the fight.

Over our 27 years we have enjoyed a good relationship with &Beyond, a tour operator with a powerful and proactive approach to community outreach and wildlife conservation. In partnership with Great Plains Foundation, they formed Rhinos Without Borders, an initiative so bold and brave that it almost seems impossible. They have undertaken to relocate rhinos on a scale never done before – to move no less than 100 rhino from South Africa to safe havens in Botswana.

In mid-2015 a large team safely darted and transported these rhino, this being their first successful mission. The incredible footage captured by Dereck and Beverly Joubert can be viewed by clicking here. You really do want to watch this video as it highlights the enormity of this initiative.

Dereck Joubert is the Chairman of Great Plains Foundation and together with his wife, Beverly, has been on a mission for years to protect African wildlife. Their documentaries and beautiful imagery have been seen the world over and they recently appeared on the Ellen Degeneres show to talk about their latest film “Soul of an Elephant”, another animal close to their hearts.

With a rhino being killed every seven and a half hours, the heroic efforts of Rhinos Without Borders are essential to the survival of this endangered species.

Great Plains coined a new phrase, Conservation Tourism, as it is first and foremost a conservation organisation that uses eco-tourism as a tool to sustain conservation programmes. The relocation of the 100 rhino could not have happened without the support of the government of Botswana but also the local communities as they are an intrinsic part of this initiative. Without their involvement, the rhino would be as vulnerable in Botswana as they are in South Africa.

Growing up in this beautiful country some of us have been afforded the opportunity to go on safari and see wildlife up close. Elephants, rhinos, lions and the rest of the Big Five have given us heart-warming and special memories. Being able to witness the raw, brutal and beautiful lives of these animals is humbling and humility is a quality greatly lacking in the general human population. Spending time in the bush proves that there are forces much larger than us at work. It’s a spiritual experience and for many a religion.

Why should greed take this away from us?

Donations, publicity, raising awareness and big hearts are all welcomed by Rhinos Without Borders so please visit their website and spread the word. None of us should live in a world without wildlife.

Images above by Beverley Joubert and the Rhinos Without Borders team.

Rovos Rail Rhinos Without Borders

 

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Old-world charm of St James Manor

St James in Cape Town certainly has old-world charm as does our guest house, St James Manor. We have three beautiful guest houses down in St James and it’s always a treat receiving positive feedback!

Dearest Dené, Lee-Anne, Goodnews and stunning chef!

WOW! Paul and I were blown away with your warm, hearty welcome and incredible attention to detail (from a welcoming hand-written note to Goodnews’s continuous “checking in” on our well-being despite there being another function in the group to attend to!

Needless to say the ambience and old world charm ensures a magic stay. Our Vancouver suite, at St James Manor, with its large king size (hand carved wood) bed, private lounge and huge dressing area, stunning views of the ocean and Simon’s Town and surrounds crowned it all!  The  the service was excellent, yummy breakfast in purrrfect  Capeyonian style. Access to a shared the balcony and patio with stunning views of False Bay was most appreciated. 

Since day one our emails and requests were dealt with promptly and efficiently. As a rental and touring company we thank you in advance for taking great and special care of ALL our international BMW clients en-route – WELL DONE! 

Visiting SOON again!

Thank you for taking the time to write to us Petreaux & Paul, we really appreciate your feedback!

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Rovos Rail Cape Town journey

The Luxury of the Slow Lane

We recently hosted journalist, Eugene Yiga, on board one of our Cape Town journeys and we’re still talking about what a lovely gentleman he is! Thank you for travelling with us Eugene and thank you too for the articles you’ve written, the most recent being for Business Day Live.

Rovos Rail bring back luxury of slow lane

The dinner gong sounds. Is it 7.30pm already? I can’t believe I’m going to be late because I can’t choose a tie. Why did I pack so many? And why can’t I remember how to make a knot?

I put on my jacket and head down the passage, unsure for a moment whether I’m going the right way. Then I arrive at the table, take a seat and sigh in relief. My rushing thoughts are forced to quiet when I find myself captivated by the scene.

This is the dining carriage of Rovos Rail, recently voted by Wired.com as one of the seven most luxurious train in the world. My first impulse is to reach for my phone — not to distract myself with a podcast or an e-book, but to take photographs of the crystal wine glasses, the silverware and the rest of the luxurious scene.

The same impulse strikes when the first course arrives. Given my work as a writer, the standard procedure would be to “compose” the plate, angle the camera, take the picture, crop, filter, tag, tweet and post. Then there’d be endless refreshing in the hopes of “likes” and retweets, all the while hoping the food would still be warm when I took my first bite.

But it’s different here. With no phones allowed at meals, all I can do is sit back and savour the highlights that never fail to impress. Balsamic and lemon-marinated slices of ostrich fillet served on a potato, beetroot, walnut, and watercress salad. Grilled Cape rock lobster tails with a haricot-flavoured bisque cream, Mediterranean vegetables, and lemon rice. Garlic and lemon grilled prawn skewer on a green salad, with a julienne of peppers, mange tout, and cucumber, drizzled with coriander and ginger dressing.

Alone with my thoughts, I wonder about our tendency to document every moment with our smartphones, instead of just experiencing them for what they are. Are we trying to make our Facebook friends jealous of what we remember or are we afraid of what we might forget? And are we, as Om Malik wrote in The New Yorker, a society that photographs everything, but looks at nothing?

At the end of the meal, as many jetlagged passengers retire to their suites with weary smiles and polite nods, I sip on mint tea, grateful that a single dinner seating on all Rovos Rail train trips means no rushing guests out to prepare for the next group. My thoughts turn to the nature of our journeys through life, which has been on my mind since my 30th birthday two days before.

I look out the window and see an airplane overhead, its lights flashing like a pulse against the night sky. I wonder about the passengers travelling the same distance in two hours that I’ll do in two days. And I reflect on the stress of my most recent flight: repacking bags at the counter, breathing artificial air that almost made one sick and experiencing turbulence so severe that all I could do was laugh.

Of course, road journeys are no better when you consider that a bus is like a smaller, slower plane and a car is like a smaller, faster bus. You might not be next to the understandably frazzled mother and her screaming twins or the overweight man and his overpowering cologne, hogging the armrest and disturbing your nap every time he opens another bag of chips.

You might even remember to pack your own food, lest you waste money on stale petrol station pies. But with traffic jams causing delays and the physical stress of driving, you end up just as tense.

But life is different on the train. With an average speed of just 45km/hour, there’s no rush to get from Point A to Point B. It doesn’t even matter that there are often delays outside the operator’s control — they share tracks, after all — because it’s easy to make up the time later. Besides, it’s not like anyone notices. All that matters to me and the 35 other passengers is using the journey as an opportunity to press pause.

And so, after leaving Pretoria on Friday afternoon, touring Kimberley on Saturday, and visiting Matjiesfontein on Sunday, we approach Cape Town. As we enjoy our final afternoon tea in the observation car, the international guests gasp and point, their cameras out to capture what they’ve been waiting for. It’s Table Mountain and their excited expressions are much like the one I had when I saw the Pyramids of Giza for the first time. But I can’t share in their joy because the moment I’ve been dreading is upon me. Cellular signal is back.

My phone spasms, tempting me to attend to it the way it always does. I take one look at the screen’s cluttered notifications and set the device to flight mode to enjoy a few more moments of peace. Even when we arrive at Cape Town station, and I’m taking a short Uber trip home, the city I’ve lived in for 12 years feels brand-new.

Journey over, I continue to wonder why we’re always rushing from one moment to the next; moving and chasing and striving instead of just slowing and stopping and being.

Why are we so afraid to be still, alone with nothing to distract us but our thoughts?

And why did this weekend journey, out of all the experiences I’ve been fortunate to have, leave me feeling so blissed out? Perhaps it’s because, as the modern world continues to yank us into the future at an ever faster pace, taking time out to slow down and relax is the greatest luxury of all.

To contact Eugene, visit his website or e-mail him on hello@eugeneyiga.com

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The Magic of Train Journeys!

We recently had the pleasure of welcoming Canadian author and travel writer, Margaret Deefholts, on board the Shongololo Express on the Good Hope-Golf tour. Margaret is the co-founder of Travel Writers Tales and shared her experience on the company’s website.

On and off the Rails in South Africa

By Margaret Deefholts

There is an enormous shudder, a loud clanking jolt…and wheee, we’re off! I peer out of my window as the sign “Cape Town” on the railway platform slides away into my past. We are moving…new horizons beckon.

Oh the magic of train journeys!

Sholongololo, the train I’m riding on, is aptly named after the Zulu or Xhosa word for millipede. It curves sinuously along the rails, through the African landscape –the sky bending like a blue bowl over the grassy veldt stretching to the distant horizon.

                              Shongololo Express Southern Cross  8aSholongololo-observation-deck

The last couple of days have been memorable ones. Although Cape Town is now folded into the past, it is nonetheless as sharply etched in my mind as its iconic Table Mountain that stands high and proud against the sky, the city’s buildings sprawling in its shadow, and the dark blue ocean prowling its beaches.

Along with a group of friends, I’ve sat entranced on the upper deck of a hop-on-hop-off Cape Town bus, watching the road curve and dip past beaches thronged with surfers, and sun-worshippers, the sands bleached blonde in the blaze of the afternoon sun and where the breaking surf shudders and roars. Palatial homes line the seafront, vivid bougainvillea creepers showering down their whitewashed walls but I notice that many are topped with snarls of barbed wire.

The dining car tables glitter with fine china and silver cutlery set out on crisp linen tablecloths. This first dinner, like the rest of the meals throughout our 13-day journey on the Sholongololo is five-star quality. Our breakfast buffets boast a variety of pastries, juices, cereals and fruit platters, riotous with color as a Cezanne still-life painting; our dinners consist of dainty appetizers, sumptuous veal, chicken or fish main courses, and rich desserts. All served by our gracious, smiling African waitresses. At the end of our journey the chief chef and his kitchen staff get a well-deserved standing ovation from appreciative guests.

Shongololo Express Southern Cross

The Sholongololo experience is more than just a train ride. I am lulled to sleep each night by the roll and rhythm of the wheels, but after breakfast we spill out onto station platforms and board coaches to be whisked off into day-long excursions accompanied by our fun-loving and knowledgeable driver-guides.

And there is so much to see. South Africa’s natural beauty is on display as we stroll its lush tropical gardens, drive through rolling countryside, and over craggy mountain ranges, past vertiginous canyons and rushing streams. There are magnificent sunsets that set the sky is on fire, and fierce afternoons when the sun is at white heat.

At the Cape of Good Hope, the wind is a hysterical banshee, and we watch gigantic rollers as high as twenty to thirty feet rushing madly to the rocky shore, and breaking into enormous clouds of spray that blot out the skyline. The unending roar and hiss of the primordial ocean—its fathomless depths and its furious and intense energy is like staring at eternity. These waters are the haunt of the legendary phantom ship, The Flying Dutchman, the sight of which is regarded by sailors as a harbinger of doom.

Shongololo Express Southern Cross

Leaving the heaving sea behind we visit Boulders, where a colony of hundreds of Cape Penguins waddle around on a beach some tending to their babies, others patiently sitting on eggs, or engaging in amorous couplings.

 5Penguin-Sanctuary

A couple of days later, a wetlands river cruise reveals a pod of impassive hippos, their droopy-lidded eyes and flaring nostrils floating just above the water; upstream, a crocodile suns itself among shoreline reeds.

Shongololo Express Southern Cross

At Kruger National Park, we drive dusty trails past thorn bushes and trees with branches that twist into macabre silhouettes again the sky. Herds of antelopes, loping giraffes, Cape buffaloes, a lone leopard, and a group of rhinos wallowing gloriously in a mud hole are all subjects for our cameras. A baby Jumbo, ears flapping, breaks away from his group and makes a mock charge at us. But it’s only for show and fun over, he takes off after his Mum as she crashes through the trees.

Shongololo Express Southern Cross

A visit to a Zulu settlement is a popular tourist attraction and we sit bemused at the closing item – an energetic and vastly entertaining Zulu warrior dance.

Shongololo Express Southern Cross

And then, there are moments of sober reflection as we explore the now extant Kimberley’s DeBeer diamond mine, a place of sudden death and tragedy in 1914 after which the mine closed down.

Shongololo Express Southern Cross

In Durban the beaches bordering the placid Indian Ocean are thronged with holiday crowds, as are the shopping arcades where we gleefully buy curry spices from Indian merchants who have lived in the city for generations.

Indian-spices-by-Sara-Marlowe

(Image via Eat Out)

Africa’s dark days of apartheid are on show as well. In Johannesburg, we tour Number 4 jail at Johannesburg’s Constitution Hill and are sickened, by the egregious prison brutality once meted out to blacks inmates. Later we walk the streets of Soweto, past Desmond Tutu’s home and linger to read emotional tributes carved on stones that are placed on the sidewalk in front of Nelson Mandela’s house.

Shongololo Express Southern Cross

 

All good things must come to an end, and we bid a reluctant farewell to the hard working, efficient and hospitable staff on board the Sholongololo and our driver-guides who have made this holiday such a never-to-be-forgotten experience.

_________________________________

IF YOU GO:

Note: Having recently been acquired by Rovos Rail, the Sholongololo train carriages are to undergo a complete overhaul as many of the compartments are old and cramped and several fittings are in need of repair. The train will be back in service in August and details of dates and prices are available on their website.

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Rovos Rail Hollywood

Rovos Rail hits screens in Hollywood!

By Brenda Vos

Yes, you read that right and we couldn’t be more chuffed. Rovos Rail hit the screens in Hollywood thanks to local documentary maker, Deon van Zyl. This project evolved from one man’s quest to learn about film-making to creating a short movie that not only received an Official Selection at the Hollywood Independent Documentary Awards but was also a winner in the category, First Time Filmmakers! My Life on the Tracks – the Rohan Vos story is the tale of how Rovos Rail came to be and how Rohan has powered through monumental challenges to keep the business in operation.

Deon worked as a Project Manager in the engineering arena but was retrenched in 2015 which prompted him to follow is passion in film-making. He travelled with us in 2007 and it wasn’t until he met Rohan on the station platform that he first thought about the man behind Rovos Rail. It fascinated him that a man could be so bold to own and operate a luxury train in Southern Africa but also that Rohan’s story had not been told in full.

Deon contacted me last year to request permission to film the train at our private station. I must receive about 10 calls like this month so I didn’t really give it much thought but I did invite him to join us on a Friday afternoon as we can have two departures that day so there is a lot of action. Not too long after that Deon asked if he could interview my Dad (Rohan) and me to which we obliged and then off he went. Honestly thinking this was a hobbyist who was a bit train-obsessed I still didn’t really give it much thought. And I mean this in the most humble way possible because it is obviously flattering when people are excited about what we do but there are true train fanatics out there who border on the edge of lunacy and I thought Deon was one of them!

A month or two ago an e-mail dropped into my inbox, from Deon, which gave me the link to the trailer for his movie. Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather! It’s not often that these sort of things come to fruition and now here I was watching a trailer for a short film on my Dad. I got a few goosebumps and a bit teary listening to my Pops talk about the struggles over the years but there was also an immense feeling of pride.

Deon’s “disaster project”, as he affectionately calls it, has blossomed and the recognition he received in the States has spurred him on to have the film screened in South Africa. Not an easy process but we understand that negotiations are in the works with local television networks eTV and ED190. Deon has also entered a few African film festivals such as Africa in Motion, Rapid Lion and KleinKaap. Although Klein Kaap is a small festival, it might prove to be just the perfect fit.

Next on the agenda for Deon? He wants to make a documentary that looks at Pathogenic Parenting (Attachment Based Parental Alienation) and its prevalence not only in our society but also in a global context. Another idea manifesting is a short film on the consequential problems associated with the divergent perceptions of the rich and the poor groups in South Africa.

We have no doubt that both these documentaries will be made with the same determination and passion as My Life on the Tracks – the Rohan Vos story. Deon, thank you for all your passion in telling The Boss’s tale. We wish you all the very best with your next endeavours.

Click here to watch the trailer for My Life on the Tracks.

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St James Guest Houses

Kalk Bay Favourites

(Image: the gorgeous garden view at Casa Labia)

Written by @thebleugoose

We’re fortunate to have built up a loyal and enthusiastic membership for our Rovos Club over the years. One of our lovely guests, @thebleugoose, has travelled on the train and stayed at St James Manor a few times. She’s a lover of luxury, she has a discerning palette and when it comes to wines, she knows her stuff…sometimes more than we do!

A bagel, some art and a drink to end – a few of my favourite things to do in Kalk Bay ….

My husband I live in Cape Town but we try as often as we can to escape to the tranquility of Kalk Bay, an idyllic but eccentric sea side fishing village not too far from the beautiful wine estates of Constantia and the must-see Cape Point. We always stay at the St James Manor and as soon as we get out of the car and smell the crisp sea air and hear the ocean breaking on the rocks we know we have a relaxing few days ahead.

Now I am not a morning person, even with a toddler, so my husband regularly does the the breakfast run, but we always wake up early in St James and look forward to our first coffee of the day at Bob’s Bagels. A short walk from the Manor and up a narrow cobbled street is where you’ll find Bob’s, a hole-in-the -wall coffee roastery run by the man himself. Our search for a little French patisserie came to an abrupt end as soon as the delicious baked goods and fresh coffee smells had us walking into this delightful little café in a trance. The coffee is freshly roasted and served in pottery bowls and the bagels are mouth-watering. And if it gets too busy inside you can always perch on one of the benches outside and admire the sea view. To complement the cosy atmosphere, there is a little pottery studio and gallery next door which house beautiful pieces that are all locally made.

Another of my favourites is Casa Labia, a café and gallery set in a beautiful old home built in 1929 for the Count and Countess Natale Labia. It is a national monument and heritage site and my husband and I just love going there for lunch. The rooms are beautiful and look out over the Muizenberg coastline. Lunch is always a lovely affair as they often have a pianist or quartet playing in the background. The food is light and delicious and the wine list simple but perfectly suited. We often stay well into the afternoon enjoying the sounds of Bach and watching out for dolphins.

By now our tummies are full and after a much needed nap we venture out again where we always pop into the Octopus Garden. A quirky bar and restaurant in the St James Old Post Office Building. It is right on the railway track and although you cannot see the sea too well one can smell and hear the crashing of the waves on the rocks below.  It is filled with a menagerie of odd bits and pieces with beautiful and somewhat strange quotes written over all the walls. I always order my Campari and soda and my husband a beer and we chatter late into the night – we just love this place!

There is so much more to do in St James and Kalk Bay that it’s actually too much for one article! Trips to the world-famous Cape Winelands are easy and the staff at the guest houses are happy to arrange tours up Table Mountain or to the V&A Waterfront, golf and tennis games or send you on one of the breath-taking hikes in the area with your own personalised picnic!

Until next time, Lucie.

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The Traditional Arts and Crafts of Swaziland

The Kingdom of Swaziland is a small, land-locked country within South Africa known for its impressive traditional Swazi arts and crafts. Aside from the allure of colourful beadwork, baobab batik cloths and delicate glass figurines, Swaziland has a wealth of natural and cultural attractions worth exploring too.

When touring Swaziland it is expected that you’ll find locals, both men and women, hand-crafting the loveliest woven baskets, soap figurines, jewellery and sculptures. Visitors can shop for these items either at shopping centres, established traders, or informal hawkers along the road. Swaziland’s creative industry has grown significantly over the years as local Swazi artists have started gaining recognition for their traditional arts and crafts in ethnic boutiques across the world.

Art

The art of Swaziland is colourful and vibrant, with there having been a rise in the contemporary art scene lately. The Yebo Gallery, which is located in Mantenga, promises art enthusiasts an extraordinary discovery of Swazi art where local fine artists, photographers and sculptors have their masterpieces proudly on display. Yebo Gallery has contributed largely to the development of the art scene and in doing so, has provided a platform for artists to be discovered by international art buyers and private art collectors. The gallery also assists new artists to establish their name in the art industry. Support the local talent by buying yourself some beautiful and truly unique artwork to hang on your wall at home.

Batiks

Baobab Batik specialises in batik work that celebrates Swazi design, colour and culture. Baobab Batik started as a small business in 1991 but today has a workforce of 35 employees that consists mainly of women. Baobab batik believes in offering sustainable work opportunities to empower and uplift the local women of Swaziland.

Shopping at Baobab Batik is an exciting experience as there are plenty of beautiful handmade products from which to choose. Anything from cushions, to dresses, tablecloths, wall hangings and scarves all have potential to end up in your shopping basket. If you’d love to learn the process behind creating the batiks, then the Baobab Batik workshop near the Mlilwane Game Sanctuary is a must-visit.

Displaying African Art

Sculptures and carvings

If you’re looking for a tall wooden giraffe, or a hippopotamus carved from soapstone, then you’ll be happy to know that Swaziland is renowned for their fine tradition of carving from both wood and stone. Wooden sculptures comprising ritual masks and religious figurines, which carry strong cultural significance, can be bought at craft markets, along with soapstone carvings. If you’re purchasing from an informal trader, stand still a few minutes and observe how the stone carvers work from large blocks of soapstone, carving out larger-than-life animal and human sculptures. Watching the locals perform their incredible craftsmanship is an interesting learning experience, and anyone who has an appreciation for the preservation of tradition and culture will find this an enlightening encounter.

The only downside to soapstone is that it’s heavy to transport, so consider purchasing one of the smaller figurines to take home with you.

Wooden African Sculpture

Glass blowing

Perhaps the most notable in the entirety of Swaziland’s art and craft scene is the Ngwenya Glass Factory. At Ngwenya, visitors are invited to watch the glass blowers hard at work creating anything from tableware to animal figurines, all created from 100% recycled soft drink glass bottles collected from across the country. Ngwenya and its artisans have garnered worldwide acclaim for their skilful production of delicate glassware, which they’re now exporting overseas. Ngwenya was started by a Swedish Aid and began operations in 1979. Since then, it has trained and up-skilled many locals in the antique art of glassblowing. If you’re unable to travel to Swaziland but would love to purchase Ngwenya’s glass products, you can find a boutique at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa.

Ngwenya’s product range includes glasses, bowls, candle holders, decanters, paper weights, perfume bottles, figurines, stoppers, vases and many more.

Ngwenya Glass Work

Grass weaving

Grass weaving is a delicate and precise process, an art that takes time to master. Grass baskets are one of the prettiest items to buy and fulfil many uses around the home – you can add a patterned and dyed basket woven from grass or sisal as the main centrepiece on your kitchen table. Tintsaba, near Piggs Peak and Gone Rural at Malandelas, are two of the enterprises that produce and export these exquisite wares. These two companies employ hundreds of woman for their weaving skills, and have subsequently contributed to the upliftment of local communities in the area.

Weaving out of grass

Jewellery

Traditional Swazi jewellery typically embodies beadwork in the form of bracelets, anklets and necklaces. The patterns, colours and motifs usually have cultural and/or religious significance. If it interests you, you can ask the seller to give you some background on the jewellery you’re purchasing – they’ll be able to tell you the story behind the colours and patterns used. You’ll find many outlets in markets such as Manzini and Mbabane selling this beautiful beadwork jewellery.

Beaded Jewellery Work

If you think you’d enjoy travelling to Swaziland for its fascinating arts and culture, then join Rovos for either the Golf Safari or African Golf Collage railway tour. Alternatively, you could consider the Good Hope and Southern Cross journeys aboard the Shongololo Express.

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The Pride of Africa: Trade Haste for Scenery and History

With the modern stresses of life, it’s not surprising that travellers seek an escape from their daily routine and working lives. If you are among those who yearn for a change that encompasses new scenery, smells, and tastes, then let the Pride of Africa whisk you away gently on what may be your best adventure yet.

If you’ve never travelled through southern Africa, yet you’ve read or heard about its remarkable landscapes and wildlife, then touring by luxury train along snaking mountain passes past beautiful indigenous fauna and flora will present the perfect first encounter with the Mother continent.

Rovos Rail Station, Capital Park, Pretoria

Your journey will commence at Rovos Rail Station in Capital Park, Pretoria. Although Pretoria is not usually considered a “not to be missed” tourist city, it is still photo-worthy. During summer, Pretoria is awash with periwinkle and lavender as jacaranda trees reveal delicate blossoms – it can almost be compared to cherry-blossom season in Japan.

Walking onto the property, beautifully restored locomotives stand glistening in the sun, ready to transport guests on world-class adventures, while a resident peacock parades proudly in the background, showing off his striking plumage. As you glance at the station building, you’ll notice that Victorian and Edwardian architectural style is alive and well, and inside, the atmosphere is no different: elegance and romantic 1920s nostalgia is a key theme at Rovos.

Once guests have settled in at Rovos’ station lounge, they can look forward to hearing from Rovos Rail owner Mr Rohan Vos on what to expect during their chosen journey aboard the Pride of Africa. Drinks and snacks are served, while guests get acquainted with one another before boarding the train.

The Pride of Africa

The Pride of Africa’s carriages date back as far as the early 1900s. The décor inside is truly exquisite and guests can look forward to enjoying the luxuries of a modern lifestyle juxtaposed against dark wood panels, polished teak furniture, and soft emerald and gold carpets. Those who wish to read up on Africa during the journey are welcome to explore the small library. Smokers needn’t worry about when their next smoke break will be as there is a smoking room on board, as well as a gift shop for purchasing African souvenirs to take home for family and friends. The most exciting part has to be the observation deck from which passengers can admire the scenery as it rolls past, breathe in some fresh country air and snap wildlife. It doesn’t matter where on the train you sit as huge glass windows enable guests to peek out every so often and take in the dramatic landscapes. Depending on which journey you undertake, the landscapes change from rivers to vineyards, mountains, meadows and small towns.

Train cabins

The Royal Suite

The Pride of Africa has three cabin classes, all of which are en-suite. The Royal Suite, the size of half a carriage, has two plush armchairs, a soft double bed (or side-by-side twin beds), a writing desk, a fully stocked mini fridge, and a wardrobe with a built-in safe. The en-suite bathroom has a heater and heated towel rails, which is a necessity during cold mornings and evenings. The Royal Suite is the epitome of Victorian opulence with its handsome wood panelling and original light fittings which cast an inviting amber glow throughout the cabin. The spaciousness of the cabin allows for privacy, comfort and luxury.

Rovo Rail Royal Suit Layout

 

The Deluxe Suite

The Deluxe Suites are slightly smaller than the Royal Suites, although they too have a private lounge area and an en-suite bathroom with a shower. The suite also comes with a refurbished sleeper couch and a stocked mini fridge with a choice of beverages.

 

Rovos Rail Deluxe Suite Layout

The Pullman Suite

The Pullman Suites offer comfortable sleeper couches, which can be converted to double or twin beds in the evening. The Pullman’s are also en-suite but only have a shower. The room is equipped with a mini bar fridge too.

Rovos Rail Pullman Suite LayoutNo matter which room you choose, you can always expect to return to a clean room in the evening. While guests enjoy their dinner in the dining cart (dinner time is announced by a gong), beds get turned down and lights are dimmed. You’ll find out first-hand how incredible it feels to lie in a soft bed with fine linen, while the clickety-clack of the train lulls you to sleep.

 

Dining aboard the Pride of Africa

Dinners aboard the Pride of Africa are grand affairs: expect gentlemen in suits and ladies in elegant dresses. Here, only the finest threads with equally dazzling jewellery and cufflinks are on display. Guests are seated around tables with starched tablecloths and napkins, while food is served in fine china and drinks in crystal goblets. Rovos’ five-course cuisine celebrates South Africa’s local delicacies, so expect to see lobster, Cape bobotie, and slow-roasted Karoo lamb shank on your plate. For dessert you’ll enjoy jam-glazed sago pudding, dark chocolate fondant, milktart and koeksisters – a true feast for the palate. Experience aboard truly rivals that of any five-star hotel.

The Pride of Africa undoubtedly lives up to its name as the most luxurious train in the world. If you’d like to be a part of this phenomenal sightseeing journey, have a look at our selection of itineraries – the hardest decision will be choosing the one for you.

 

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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 Pretoria to Victoria Falls

A World Class Railway

Dear Mr Vos

I am writing this letter as an accolade not only to you but to your dedicated staff who make travel on the train a true five-star experience. I wish to commend you for establishing and running a highly efficient and world class railway. We have travelled on a few trains in different countries and Rovos would have to rank in the top three by our reckoning.

My wife and I travelled on Rovos Rail from Pretoria to the Victoria Falls on 23rd December, 2015. If you cast your mind back, I was the person sitting on the parliamentary chair in front of you when you were addressing the guests prior to our departure.

My wife and I occupied a suite. It was immaculate when we entered and was maintained by staff in that manner throughout our journey. The staff were nothing short of perfect in their efforts to make our trip a memorable one. They were courteous and ever willing to please. The amenities provided in the suite made everything so comfortable – a home away from home.

We had requested special dietary needs for our meals. It was a surprise to us when the chef visited us in our suite to discuss our needs. Allow me to tell you the kitchen staff went beyond the call of duty to cater for us. The meals were immaculately presented in true fine dining style and above all were varied and tasty. To us , it seemed as if the chef enjoyed the challenge of preparing something new each day. I thanked him personally.

The Train Manager on our journey was a true professional. She presented with an admirable work ethic and was a true professional. In conversations with her, I realised what her job entailed. How well she managed it is a tribute to her desire to promote the brand name and reputation. She operated with meticulous precision and it was clear that staff respected her. She was attentive to passenger needs and maintained a cordial relationship with the guests,stopping to converse at each table in the dining car at meal times. Her management of the staff was beyond reproach. This must surely be attributed to a good staff training program!

Finally, the staff on the train were truly magnificent. They were professional and capable, pleasant at all times with no effort spared to see to guests’ needs. It says something when, as guests, we did not want to leave the train at Livingstone because we were already missing the camaraderie we had established with the staff!

I will travel on Rovos Rail again and recommend it to as many people as possible here in Australia.

Thank you and kind regards,

Mr Gona Naidoo

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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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Good Work Foundation Rovos Rail

South Africa Needs Education

Written by Brenda Vos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Work Foundation Rovos Rail  Kate-and-Linky

20141031-IMG_5923-3-227x246    DSC01712

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Journeying by Train into Hwange National Park

Written by Megan Gilbert

Nothing could hinder our excitement as the train neared the great Hwange National Park. We had been traveling from Pretoria to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, and a game drive in Hwange promised to be one of the most exciting highlights of the journey.

There’s nothing like the experience of whisking through a national park, glimpsing some of Africa’s most stunning wildlife by train; it’s an experience so unique that it’s reminiscent of another time.

From the observation deck of the train as it entered Hwange, we spotted wildebeest, giraffe, impala, zebra, and in one stretch, a pod of hippos tucked beneath the water of a murky, green pond.

Once the train reached a halt, my husband and I boarded a game vehicle excitedly for a game drive into Hwange.

The sky was so blue and stretched far above our long, winding track.

On one end, we could see the beautiful green line of the Rovos Rail waiting for us, parting the game reserve with one of the longest stretches of rail line in the world at 174km.

On the other side, the great Hwange National Park, 14,650 square kilometers and the size of Belgium, stretched on before us beneath a soft pink sky dotted with clouds.

Hwange is remarkable for its vastness and incredible population of wildlife. Around 45,000 elephants freely roam the Park, along with 10,000 buffalo, 700 lions, and the highest population of wild dogs in Africa.

In winter, the Hwange bush is dry, making for excellent game viewing.

As our game vehicle headed into the reserve, the wispy ends of grass shone in the golden light. Steenbok with their brilliant large eyes, ears, and small horns, darted between the grass, almost indistinguishable from the bush except for a pair of beautiful, large eyes watching us from a distance.

Our game vehicle approached a watering hole, and we spotted a hippo out of the water on the right, foraging in the cool of afternoon. Hippos mainly leave the water at night to avoid the harsh sun on their skin.

In front of us, two bull elephants drank directly from the pump refilling the watering hole. The two bulls watched us, while they dipped their trunks in and out of the blue water. A Southern, yellow-billed hornbill darted on the ground amongst them, looking for seeds in their waste, a natural “cleaner” of the bush.

For another couple on the game drive, this was their first-time seeing elephants in the wild. The experience is nothing short of magic.

As we traced tracks in the sandy paths of Hwange, the sun began to fade into a creamy orange smudge on the horizon, painting everything in the bush a brilliant gold hue.

At that last golden hour, brilliant lilac-breasted rollers rested on top of trees, spectacular in their array of almost-impossible colors.

Young baboons climbing trees to find rest for the night became silhouetted; the edges of their fur reflected gold light.

As the temperature dipped and the sun began to set brilliantly on the horizon, we made our way to a shady grove beside a wide, open field for sundowners.

Camping chairs had been set up circling campfires beneath the boughs of acacia and camelthorn trees. A spread of biltong, braai kebabs, samosas, and other local snacks awaited us. Good news, one of the sommeliers on the train, mixed cocktails, shandies, and poured Aperol Spritzes.

Other guests arrived from their game drives, chatting excitedly around the campfire, clinking glasses, and laughing with the freedom of being on holiday. Many of them talked about the thrill of seeing lions for the first time.

From the edge of the field, my husband and I had a wide view of the sunset, as we watched warthogs dart around in the bush, and listened for the beginning of night in Hwange. Dry yellow grass darkened in the sun, and long black shadows spread out across a dry landscape. Hyenas called to each other, bats made wide arcs against the pink sky, and antelopes searched for each other in the dimming light.

Hwange National Park hadn’t been our first safari, and it wouldn’t be our last, but this experience of magic in the bush is one of our most memorable in all of Africa.

Megan Gilbert traveled with the Rovos Rail from Pretoria, South Africa to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. She is a travel writer, photographer, and a full-time traveler. Since she married in January 2023, she and her husband have visited eleven countries together. They can usually be found in Southeast Asia or driving around southern Africa in their 4×4. You can follow their adventure @meganthetravelingwriter and read more of Megan’s writing at meganthetravelingwriter.com

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African Elephant

Matobo National Park: Lasting relics of an incredible people

By Megan Gilbert

On either side of the track, Zimbabwe unfolded before us. An endless Africa opened up beneath a bright blue sky. We breezed past, eagerly looking out the train windows on our way to Victoria Falls.

That bright blue sky stretched across a dry Zimbabwe, over baobab trees and pastel-colored villages where excited children waved. Women balanced buckets on their head as they walked from the streams, almost bare now in the dry season, and cattle with downturned horns devoured dry cornstalks.

From the train car windows, we had spotted giraffe in the dry bush north of Pretoria, and hippos from the bridge over the “great grey-green greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees,” as Rudyard Kipling said.

After three days on the train, relaxing in luxury, I was excited to stretch my legs beneath the bright midday sun, feel the warm breeze of a Zimbabwe winter, and explore another treasure of the African continent. The train pulled into the station at Bulawayo, and we boarded our private bus to Matobo National Park.

Matobo is Zimbabwe’s oldest national park; it is famous for the Matobo Hills, a range of balancing rock formations, the grave of Cecil John Rhodes, and its Stone Age rock art.

Stone Age rock art
Stone art at Matobo National Park

Matobo National Park boasts several thousand rock art sites like this painted by the Bushmen. “We estimate the oldest paintings at this site to be 16 000 years-old,” our guide said.

As anyone who has spent much time in southern Africa will tell you, there’s a quietness about places like these. The bush stretches on seemingly forever, and in a spare moment, you find yourself standing next to art painted thousands of years ago by someone who stood in the exact same spot, someone who felt the same cool afternoon breeze or the same heat of the sun.

There’s a weightiness and an importance to the feeling that cannot be replicated anywhere else. It may not be as flashy as spotting your first wild elephant in the bush, but it’s a moment just as irreplaceable. In moments like this, you feel the connection between the earth and yourself.

Moments like these are the ones worth coming here for.

The Bushmen, nomadic hunter gatherers, believed in sustainability and community with nature. They used absolutely everything they could from their hunts, but since the gallbladders of animals are inedible, they used its stomach acid in their paint. This is what has made their paintings so long-lasting, including this one of a hunter, a giraffe, and an antelope. Instead of being paintings, they are now acid etchings. These are lasting relics of an incredible people.

As our guide told us, “There are now only forty-five Bushmen surviving in all of Zimbabwe.” Approximately only 5 000 Bushmen are left anywhere in the world, most mainly living in the Kalahari. “They’ve been pushed to the furthest edges of where humans live,” our guide said. The Bushmen are also found on the farthest reaches of Hwange National Park where Zimbabwe borders Botswana.

“They were a wonderful bunch of people who believed in equality above everything,” our guide explained. They believed in mutual respect between themselves and nature.

Part of that legacy exists in Matobo National Park today, not just in the rock art paintings, but in the Park’s relationship to the local community.

As we headed in our game vehicle to explore more of the park, we stopped to smell khaki seeds, fragrant with granadilla and pineapple, and to watch a bushbuck disappear into a line of trees. Duiker with large, black eyes searched for bits of green among fields of dry grass, scorched earth, and prickly camelthorn trees. Whatever streams we passed were milky green and slow moving, and dry yellow grass darkened in the sun. Much of the park had been burned, as poachers burn 50 per cent each year in an attempt to distract rangers.

Now, new growth sprouted black soil, dotted with the bright skirts of women carrying bundles of thatch on their heads.

During winter, men and women from the local villages each cut forty to fifty bundles of thatch a day, making forty to fifty dollars. In a country with a high unemployment rate, this source of income is huge. For every ten bundles of thatch they collect, they give two bundles back to the park. It’s one of the ways the park works with the community rather than against it.

When witnessing this relationship the Park has to the community, it’s impossible to not remember the Bushmen who believed in the importance of community.

African bags and blankets

During our last hours in Matobo National Park, the high afternoon sun cast slanting light through tall yellow grass, as we walked from the local souvenir market, where brilliantly painted tapestries swayed in the breeze, further into the bush. “Do you want to see a rhino?” our guide asked moments before.

Of course, the answer is always yes.

Any chance to see a rhino in the wild is a precious one, as the chances of seeing a wild rhino become less and less every year. Fifteen years ago, there were one-hundred-and-sixty rhinos in Matobo National Park. Today, there are only sixty.

Female rangers led us through the yellow grass up to our waists; they scanned the landscape with intelligent eyes, eyes that see far more in the bush that I ever could. When meeting rangers who spend the majority of their time in parks like this, you can always sense not only their courage but their community with the land.

“Stop here,” one of the rangers said, and just through the tall, yellow grass, I could make out the rounded ears of a three-month-old rhino calf. The ranger mimicked the call of a rhino, perhaps letting the mother know we were there, she was safe. The mother rhino watched us intently, before laying down, eyes closed, to nurse her calf. I watched in stillness and awe, overcome by the gentleness and trust between the rhinos and rangers in this moment.

In this powerful moment, I couldn’t help but think of the Bushmen and the same trust nature must have had with them. These are the moments worth coming here for.

Megan Gilbert traveled with the Rovos Rail from Pretoria, South Africa to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. She is a travel writer, photographer, and a full-time traveler. Since she married in January 2023, she and her husband have visited eleven countries together. They can usually be found in Southeast Asia or driving around southern Africa in their 4×4. You can follow their adventure @meganthetravelingwriter and read more of Megan’s writing at meganthetravelingwriter.com

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Ardmor - ceramic dog

Rovos Rail and Ardmore: Pioneering African businesses with shared values and a mutual friendship

By Linda Sparks

Since its inception, Rovos Rail has carefully chosen a selection of top quality and varied excursions offered to passengers, ensuring that their offerings are in keeping with the Rovos level of excellence. Ardmore, world-renowned for unique, award-winning ceramics, and more recently its design elements in home and fashion, is one such company with whom Rovos has had an association for nearly two decades.

Established in 1985 by Zimbabwean-born ceramic artist Fee Halsted, Ardmore’s distinct and beautiful African artworks have been displayed in galleries and museums across the world and are showcased by international auction houses, designers and fashionistas including Sotheby’s and Christie’s, and the likes of Hermes and British Wallpaper Company, Cole & Son.

Situated on a picturesque farm in the Caversham Valley in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands in South Africa, Ardmore Ceramics Gallery has become a highlight for Rovos passengers on the Durban Safari route between Pretoria and Durban.

Rovos Rail’s founder and owner, the inspirational Rohan Vos, identified Ardmore with the view to establishing the studio as a worthy passenger excursion.

Passengers alight at the Lions River Train Station and travel the short trip by bus to the Ardmore studio to experience the workings of the largest ceramic art studio in South Africa.

A tour of the workshops permits guests to see the talented artists at work; a visit to the museum gives a glimpse into Ardmore’s history including past artists and previous exhibitions. The gallery allows guests to purchase an iconic piece of African functional art, and for equestrian lovers, there are stables occupied by international, award-winning stallions, on which Fée’s daughters Catherine and Megan compete.

Afterward, guests are treated to a scrumptious afternoon tea served in the beautiful gardens overlooking the Lion’s Valley.

The bold, vibrant, and intricate designs for which Ardmore has become world-renowned are created by a diverse group of about 70 artists from the local Lidgetton area, who share their passion for art.

The Ardmore story began when Fée met Bonnie Ntshalintshali, a young girl from the community, whom she mentored.

Through Fee’s tuition and Bonnie’s craftsmanship, skill and their careful attention to detail, the duo forged an artistic synergy from which Ardmore has flourished. A mere five years after starting their collaboration they were jointly awarded the prestigious Standard Bank Young Artist Award which put Ardmore on the map.

As the company grew, Fée asked Bonnie to invite family members to join them in the studio, initially her sisters and cousins, and then members of her wider community. Today, almost 40 years later, the extended Ntshalintshali family is an integral part of Ardmore with many children of the original artists now adding their talents to the team.

“Ardmore is very much a family business – there is a family bond of loyalty and respect, parents have taught their children the skills they have learned in the Ardmore studio ensuring a succession of talented family members”, explains Fée.

Fée encourages the artists to initiate and develop their own ideas and style, to think independently and to challenge themselves. “They have a broad spectrum of ideas and a vision that often surprises me,” says Fée.

The kiln room where the long process of glazing and firing takes place is described by Fée as the center (bellybutton) of Ardmore. There is a harmonious synergy between sculptor and painter as they collaborate and work in unison on a shared artwork. Their dedication and attention to detail is timeless. Some works take up to four months to complete and the studio, on average, creates up to 400 unique art pieces a month.

A fulfilling aspect of the business for Fée is that her own children have become part of Ardmore.

“My three children have taken Ardmore to the next level,” says Fée “Developing our social media presence and introducing graphic design, are just some of the areas in which they’ve made an impact. Their involvement has allowed me to focus more fully on the creative aspect of the business.”

Fée’s son, Johnathan, joined Ardmore as the Managing Director, after completing a business degree. He launched the textile range taking the bold ceramic designs and translating them into fabrics and luxury home products.

Both of Fée’s daughters are fine artists, Catherine heads up Creative Design, alongside Fée, for the fashion and home departments, whilst Megan is the Managing Director of Ceramics.

“It is gratifying seeing my children work together,” says Fée. “I have allowed them to make mistakes and to learn from their mistakes instead of telling them how it’s done. They have different personalities, and each of them needs to recognise each other’s talents and strengths.”

Fée’s philosophy for success is to work hard, instill self-worth in others and motivate them to succeed, to be opportunistic and to never stop dreaming.

The association with Rovos Rail has flourished into a friendship that saw Fée celebrating her 60th birthday on the train.

“Our businesses have many similarities, both are built on love and passion, strive for excellence through meticulous attention to detail, both are multi-generational family businesses; through pioneering spirits we have both had to overcome enormous challenges to reach success, and we both love our people and our country”. With these shared values the relationship between Rovos Rail and Ardmore is bound to thrive in the years ahead, with many more guests from all over the world enjoying the Ardmore stopover to marvel at their bespoke offerings.

Images courtesy of Ardmore Ceramics & Design.

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Capital Park – A historical gem

By Linda Sparks

Rovos Rail is unique amongst private train lines in that they can boast their very own private train station.

The magnificent old building in Capital Park is a historical gem close to Pretoria’s CBD. Its renovation is part of the Rovos Rail story and a piece of South Africa’s railway heritage.

This busy hub is world-class in terms of efficiency and attention to detail and is in keeping with the style and luxury that is synonymous with the Rovos Rail standard.

Capital Park serves as the departure or arrival point for most of the train journeys and also the headquarters of Rovos Rail’s entire operation. It houses the luxurious departure lounge, offices, meeting rooms, a lecture room, a repair and maintenance depot, laundries, state-of-the-art kitchens, carriage and locomotive sheds, and well-stocked storerooms.

Stepping into the station building is like entering a bygone era, even before setting foot on the luxury train itself. The station lounge has an old-fashioned elegance and is the place where friendships between passengers are first formed or where farewells to new friends are said.

It was a massive undertaking to bring the site to its current level of excellence. Rovos Rail gave the station a full renovation to restore it back to its former glory and to preserve what little is left of the golden era of steam rail travel.

Built in 1948 it first belonged to South African Railways but when they moved their operation to another depot the station became dilapidated. When Rovos took over the site in 1999 the tracks were covered in thistles, the buildings were deserted and vandalised. The area had been earmarked for development but a comprehensive proposal from Rovos Rail’s founder Rohan Vos highlighting the economic and tourism benefits of a renovation persuaded Transnet to grant him a long lease.

The main station, a magnificent low red-brick building, was gutted, and an elegant balcony overlooking the platform was added to the façade. A new 300m platform was constructed and an authentic signal box and clock tower were erected to further enhance the ambiance.

The vast carriage and locomotive sheds were renovated to house teams of dedicated personnel who keep the stock in perfect order. This roofed workshop of 10 000m2 straddles 15 railway lines with concrete inspection pits below and is the ultimate repair and maintenance facility for any train operation.

Around the refurbished buildings, hundreds of new shrubs and over 3 000 trees were planted, to provide a lush garden setting. And to complement this a miniature farmyard with horses, donkeys and peacocks was created.

The entire renovation project was envisaged and directed by Rohan Vos himself who embraced it with the same enthusiasm he has for the trains, supported by his wife Anthea who shares his vision and passion.

Initially the site was 12 acres, but over the years it has grown steadily to the current 60. As tenants around the original site moved out, Rovos Rail negotiated leases on those properties, which then had to be rebuilt or rehabilitated. This activity, although costly, was executed with a view to Rovos Rail eventually acquiring the property from Transnet. Therefore, no corners were cut and as it stands now, the buildings and grounds are in top-level operating condition.

The property is also home to a museum with an ever-expanding collection of rail memorabilia.  As custodians of a rich part of South Africa’s rail history it is the Vos family’s goal for the 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. A superb model-railway display complete with semaphore signals and a footbridge, recreates the atmosphere of a fully-fledged railway system.

A visit to the museum and a site tour of the property gives guests a glimpse into the behind the scenes nuts and bolts of the company. Passengers are encouraged to build time into their travel schedules if they would like to experience these offerings.

Capital Park has become an added highlight to a Rovos Rail journey – boarding or disembarking the train in this unique and historic atmosphere creates an element of excitement where lasting memories are made.

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