Category : Journeys

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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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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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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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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