Category : Guests

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 with 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-day trip four times and all, for the most part, have been a resounding success.

The maiden voyage of the African Trilogy departed on 9 February, 2022 on board what was then our Shongololo Express train. It was a brave thing to do, not only for us but for our guests because there were still parts of the world that were in various levels of lockdown and people were just beginning to dip their toes back into international sojourns. But our band of intrepid travellers arrived and with our excited train team, set off on a 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. The Shongololo Express then travelled 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 cheers to KwaZulu-Natal, the train traversed the Valley of a Thousand Hills and the breathtaking Drakensberg Mountains to the 1870s mining village of Kimberley. Passengers were 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 visited Garas Park before they boarded a light aircraft for Sossussvlei where they overnighted at a lodge surrounded by the imposing dunes of the Namib-Naukluft Park. Back on board, the train meandered to Windhoek and then into the game-rich Etosha National Park for another overnight stay before journey’s end in Walvis Bay.

Sounds marvellous, doesn’t it?! Well, we can do you one better because towards the end of 2023 we sent a two-person film crew from Motionworx on board to capture the journey and today we get to share a short snippet with you.

Dylan from Motionworx helped us create the reassuring and beautiful “We’re Back” video after we had been shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic so it only made sense that we recruit his exceptional skills again.

Together with John, the formidable and talented drone operator, the two artists waited on muddy mountain slopes, chased the train by car and on many occasions rose before the sun to make their way to the perfect location to get the shot. They chatted with our guests, filmed the staff on board at work and got to know the game rangers and guides who assisted on the various excursions. They were really committed to capturing the feeling of this beautiful trip and we believe they did a wonderful job!

The African Trilogy journey is so varied in terms of landscapes and scenery as the train moves from the lush and tropical east coast to the vast and dry desert of Namibia. As it stands, all 2024 journeys are sold out but there is some space on the 5-20 February 2025 departure so if you watch this video and the trip tickles your fancy then we would be most delighted to welcome you on board.

We hope you enjoy this snippet of what is fast becoming one of our favourite journeys! Below are a few snapshots taken by the crew and you can click here to watch the video or view it below.

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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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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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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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Women’s Month: Melody Maishman

By Linda Sparks

Melody Maishman, our dynamic Train Operations Manager, is the next megastar staff member to be highlighted for August Women’s month. The role Melody plays within the Rovos Rail family is to ensure that the company upholds the standards and values that the Rovos brand has come to be known for.

Her responsibility for the operational portfolio entails the planning and co-ordination of the train configuration and supply for each of the regular routes as well as the customised charters, dinner-runs and the many different annual journeys. Stores, staffing, training, and numerous other maintenance duties for the train fall under her direct responsibility.

Melody has been with Rovos for 28 years.  She applied for a hotel job that she spotted in a newspaper ad, only to discover during the interview that it was for a train position.  She was offered the job and has enjoyed working on the trains ever since.

She began her “journey” with Rovos Rail as hostess, gaining experience in various train departments, and through on the job training she gradually climbed the ranks to reach a management position.

In answer to the question about what she enjoys most about her job, Melody described the rush of adrenaline, the constant busyness and the immense pressure that comes with finding solutions to unexpected obstacles. She enjoys the incredible learning and growth opportunities which she is exposed to every day.  She values the feeling of being cherished and essential within the Rovos family which makes her job all the more rewarding.

Melody believes that through her job experiences she has learnt the value of patience and grasped that unanticipated events are a part of the logistics despite meticulous planning. These challenges have taught her to be adaptable and to think creatively on the spot. Interacting with diverse individuals, both guests and staff, from various cultural backgrounds has provided her with valuable insights into the essence of humanity.

One of the aspects of her work that fills Melody with pride is the many repeat guests that choose Rovos Rail for their holidays time and again. It is a sign of the success of Melody and her team, that they are delivering on the experience that they offer.  The commitment of the staff members who work in operations ensures that Rovos journeys become memorable trips for guests. And with the many challenges that come with our rail system every small victory adds up.

Melody’s favourite Rovos destination is Namibia. She describes how it stands out because the train track traverses a part of the desert, providing a unique and picturesque experience during the journey. The stunning desert landscapes and the sense of adventure make Swakopmund a popular choice among passengers.

In response to what three words she would use to describe herself, Melody picked “energetic”, “agile” and “committed”.

These characteristics are endorsed by Melody’s colleagues who have been known to describe her as “superhuman” and one of the most hard-working people in the company – her light is always the last to go off and she’s usually first in at the office. Working in such a close-knit environment for 28 years her colleagues know her well – they have witnessed all aspects of her first hand in a multitude of different circumstances.

Melody is known for her passion for animals and has rescued many that now live at the Rovos Rail offices. When not working Melody loves spending time with her animals and getting together with friends or family. She uses her leave time to unwind, recharge, and fully immerse herself in the things she loves doing the most.

Her goals include taking care of the well-being of her family, continuing to enjoy her work and to keep learning and growing in her experience with Rovos Rail.

Melody could write a book about all the interesting stories she has been a part of during her Rovos Rail adventures. But the one that stands out most for her is the Rovos story itself. How a man with a dream and a vision, through many, many, difficult situations can still triumph thanks to the buy-in and support of those around him in order to realise this vision.

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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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