Category : Journeys

Rovos Rail’s Taunina Teddies

Rovos Rail Taunina Teddies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to watch the Taunina video.

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Rovos Rail Cape Town journey

The Luxury of the Slow Lane

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

Rovos Rail bring back luxury of slow lane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Rainbow Nation: exploring the colourful cultures of South Africa

South Africa is truly a unique country. Where else would one find such a melting pot of diverse cultures and languages thriving together in one beautiful Rainbow Nation? Journey with us as we explore some interesting traditional cultures of South Africa we feel everyone should witness when visiting our country.

Zulu

The Zulu tribe is the most recognised traditional tribe in South Africa. Originally from KwaZulu Natal, the Zulus have occupied the land since the late 18th century. Zulus are traditional hunter-gatherers but have relied on cattle for their primary subsistence for many years.

Wealth and status, for a Zulu man, lies in the number of cattle he owns. When a young man proposes to a Zulu man’s daughter, he will need to pay his future father-in-law before the wedding. The payment is known as lobola. Zulus wear different types of traditional dress depending on the occasion. Women dress according to their marital status while the men wear a leather belt made from hide.

Zulu huts are called iQukwane and are constructed from braided reeds and grass. Sturdy tree trunks reinforce the structure and doors are created especially low to prevent intruders from entering the hut. To enter the hut, one needs to crawl on hands and knees or bend low.

 

Traditional zulu woman

 

Ndebele

The Ndebele tribe are part of the Nguni tribes, which represent a large population of South Africa. The Ndebele are divided into two groups; the Central Nguni and the Southern Nguni tribes and are then divided further by differences in languages and culture.

Ndebele architecture is strikingly beautiful. Their homes are painted by the Ndebele women in patterns with bold colours ranging from purple, green, turquoise and yellow. Women express their status by adorning themselves with intricate beaded jewellery, blankets and ornaments. Once an Ndebele woman marries, she expresses her devotion to her husband by wearing brass rings around her neck, arms and legs. These brass rings can weigh up to a whopping 20kg. Visiting a Ndebele cultural village is highly recommended if you’d like to witness astounding architectural and artistic talent.

 

Traditional colourful hut

 

Xhosa

Xhosa people constitute approximately 7 million people in South Africa. The majority of Xhosas live in the peaceful, rural Eastern Cape. Xhosa language is easily recognised by the clicking sound the speaker makes, thus earning the nickname ‘click’ language.

In Xhosa culture, women decorate their faces with colourful dots and wear beautiful turbans and heavy dresses. You can tell if a woman’s marital status by the style of her turban.  It’s not unusual to see women sitting together and smoking their long-handled pipes.

Like the Ndebele, Xhosa women also create beautiful beadwork, which is an intergral part of their tradition. What one may often notice in summer, despite the incredible heat, is Xhosa men and women wearing blankets wrapped around their shoulders. This is part of their traditional dress. If you get the opportunity to admire one of these blankets, you’ll notice intricately sewn designs.

 

Traditional clothing

 

Cape Malay

The Cape Malay people originated mostly from Indonesia and came to the Cape many years ago aboard Dutch East India Trading Company ships. The Western Cape is home to many diverse ethnic groups but the Cape Malay people are the most distinguishable with their silky black hair and tanned skin.

The Bo-Kaap in Cape Town is the historical and cultural centre of the Cape Malay community, and a visit there will result in an encounter with brightly coloured homes, which are one of Cape Town’s famous landmarks which should be on your travel itinerary.

Colourful buildings

If you wish to experience South Africa and its unique cultures, go on a safari tour with Rovos Rail. Choose from different itineraries, such as the Durban safari where you’ll have the opportunity to visit Ardmore Ceramics, which is a celebration of Zulu culture and tradition.

 

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A Rovos Rail trip from Cape Town To Pretoria: John and Carolyn’s Story

We received this interesting description from John detailing his and his wife, Carolyn’s rail trip from Cape Town to Pretoria on the Rovos Rail. We enjoyed reading about their wonderful adventure so much that we simply had to share it with you.

Written by John

A mere month or so after our Chobe River and Victoria Falls adventure, we embarked on a rail trip from Cape Town to Pretoria on the Rovos Rail, the most luxurious train in the world. Ah, we can hear some of you already expressing doubt with comments like, “But I thought that the Orient Express was the most luxurious train in the world.” Au contraire, bru’s.The Orient Express most emphatically was the most
luxurious of its era, and the modern incarnation
certainly has been authentically restored exactly as
it was in its hey-day. However, while cool no doubt,this historic preservation means that, although the
accommodations are deluxe, there are no showers
or baths on the Orient Express nor is there air conditioning.

On the Rovos Rail, you not only travel on meticulously restored Victorian/Edwardian carriages, but you also have suites with air conditioning and en-suite baths with showers, and even a few “Royal” suites with both a tub and shower. What’s more, the communal spaces are absolutely incredible. Piqued your curiosity? All aboard! It’s time to choo-choo with our soon-to-be chuffed chinas.

Lucky Reservations

Carolyn had read about the Rovos Rail around the time that we arrived in South Africa. Early in 2015, we looked into reserving on the Pretoria to Victoria Falls route, the most popular; however, not surprisingly, this trip was fully booked for 2015 and part way into 2016.

Rats!

But some good came of the inquiry: Carolyn got on the mailing list of a travel consultant at Rovos, and he emailed her some special low season rates for South African residents. Carolyn was able to book two guests for the price of one on the Cape Town to Pretoria route.

So, we were in business.

A Warm Reception at the Departure Lounge

Rovos Rail has its own private departure lounge across the street from the Cape Town Train Station. We arrived, and were immediately met by liveried Rovos staff who tagged our luggage with custom-made luggage tags printed with our names and berth number. They checked us in and offered us cold beverages including some South African bubbly. As you can see, the departure lounge has an air of understated luxury. A harp and strings were playing classical music. We sat down and almost immediately met a fascinating South African couple, Ian and Sandy – more about them later.

Cool Rovos Traditions and a Class Act

Rovos Rail has many cool traditions, not the least of which is that Rohan Vos personally sees off nearly every train. He was there for our departure, and gave everyone a brief orientation. His dry sense of humor was very entertaining. After asking if there were any Aussies or Kiwis on the train, several hands went up. Rohan shook his head and said, “That’s unfortunate because if your rugby teams continue to beat South Africa, I think that I will no longer allow you to ride on the train.”

After Rohan finished, we were called by name into small groups to be led by our host or hostess across the street to the train and our suites. As we walked out of the departure lounge, Rohan shook everyone’s hand and treated the repeat guests as if they were old friends.

What a class act!

All on Board!

The Deluxe Suite

Our assigned host led us to our deluxe suite. As you can see, it was very roomy and inviting (3 deluxe suites take up an entire carriage). As we settled in, the restaurant manager and chef arrived to discuss Carolyn’s request that her food contain no garlic as it strongly disagrees with her. After a short discussion, the Rovos team assured Carolyn that her culinary requirements would pose no problem.

Wow, what service!

Observation Car

After unpacking in our suite, we headed to the Observation Car at the rear of the train. Check out this one, chinas.

There was a bar and plenty of comfortable seating plus an outdoor area for those wishing to take the air. We took a couple of wingback chairs and ordered some pre-lunch bubbly. Did we mention that all food and drinks (spirits, beer, wine, soft drinks) are included in the price?

“They’re going to lose money on you,” laughed Carolyn.

“Not sure what you mean,” I replied. “I’m eating a lot less since my big 30 lb. weight loss.”

Carolyn merely shook her head and smiled. About this time, our new friends from the departure lounge, Ian and Sandy, arrived. I waved at them, and they joined us at the back of the car. We spent the hour and a half before lunch getting to know each other and enjoying these amazing views as the train made its way through the Cape Winelands past Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Franschhoek, into the Slanghoek Valley, and then eventually onto the Groot Karoo.

First Day – Delicious Lunch

At 1 PM, we went to the dining car. Ian and Sandy had gone before us and were at a table for four, and insisted that we join them.

Turns out that the trip was in celebration of Sandy’s birthday, so we were flattered that they would want to hang out with us, rather than having some alone time. Over the course of our conversation, we learned that Ian is a lifelong entrepreneur who has started various companies.

Lunch, by the way, was delicious. Following lunch, we made a quick stop to check out the beautiful Lounge Car.

First Stop – Matjiesfontein and the Lord Milner Hotel

After lunch, we spent some time enjoying the scenery from our suite. At about 4:30 PM, the train made its first stop in the small town of Matjiesfontein.

One of the reasons that the town is so well preserved is that when its founder, James Logan, passed away in 1920, the town was shut down and boarded up until 1968 when hotelier David Rawdon bought the town and restored it, even buying a red double-decker bus to give the town some additional character (as if it needed it). Rawdon died in 2010, and we have heard that his heirs cannot agree on what to do with the place, so once again it has been partially shut down and its future is uncertain.

Another interesting feature of the town is that there are said to be ghosts that haunt the Lord Milner Hotel and surrounding grounds. For us, the only near such paranormal encounter when we stayed at the Lord Milner was when we heard scratching at our room door after check-in only to find the hotel cat outside in the hallway looking for attention. After a brisk walk around the town, we returned to the train for sundowners in the Observation Car.

Bliss!

First Day – Delectable Dinner

Dinner on the Rovos requires minimum jacket and tie for men and the equivalent for women. We went to the dining car and secured a table for two, as we were sure that our new friends, Ian and Sandy, would want a romantic dinner alone in celebration of Sandy’s birthday.

Dinner was a lovely, long and leisurely affair featuring fantastic foods and inspiring wine pairings. Following dinner, we retired to our suite, where our host had laid out tea, coffee, and after-dinner drinks should we so desire. We finally went to bed, the movement of the train lulling us to sleep.

Now some folks, we understand, find it difficult to sleep on a moving train. Rovos has found a solution. From about midnight until 6:00 AM, the train was pulled off on a siding, so everyone could enjoy a motionless rest.

Ah, that Rohan, he thinks of everything.

Second Day

After a great sleep and rather exciting shower on a moving train, we headed to the dining car for breakfast. Ian and Sandy were there already and insisted we join them. After a delightful breakfast and more scintillating conversation, we headed to the on-board store where I bought a Rovos Rail golf shirt. We then spent time in the Lounge Car, after which we returned to our room to read and relax. Cell phone reception on the train is poor at best, and the use of phones is prohibited in the public spaces, so it is a relaxing, retro experience.

Before lunch at 1:30 PM, we went to the Observation Car where we again enjoyed pre-lunch libations with Ian and Sandy, then off to another exquisite lunch in the dining car.

Our next stop and excursion was coming up after lunch – Kimberley.

Kimberley – The Diamond Town

Kimberley is the capital of the Northern Cape Province. It is located approximately 110 km east of the confluence of the Vaal and Orange Rivers. The city has considerable historical significance due to its diamond mining past and the siege during The Second Boer War. Notable personalities such as Cecil Rhodes and Barney Barnato made their fortunes here, and the roots of the De Beers Company can be traced to the early days of the mining town.

Kimberley’s station is well preserved. All it needed was some people in period costumes to provide the illusion of a bygone era. We boarded a bus and set off through the town to see the Diamond Museum, described by Rovos Rail Journeys magazine as “an intensely interesting and a carefully constructed display of historical memorabilia housed next to the ‘Big Hole,’ which is the largest man-made [i.e., hand-dug] excavation worldwide.

Second Day – Dinner

We returned to the train station where the Rovos staff was waiting with “welcome back” bubbly. We retired once again to the Observation Car and saw an amazing flamboyance of flamingoes, as a flock is sometimes called. We enjoyed the scenery and Ian and Sandy joined us for pre-dinner cocktails. Afterwards went to our suites to change for dinner.

Rovos Rail Station

The next morning after breakfast, we arrived at the Rovos Rail private station at Capital Park, Pretoria. This once bustling hub of steam locomotion in the old Transvaal is now the headquarters for Rovos Rail. The site was derelict when Rohan Vos purchased it but has been transformed and includes a gracious colonial-style railway station, a repair, maintenance, and provisioning facility, and a railroad museum.

Prior to entering the rail yard, the diesel locomotives were detached from the head of the train and a steam locomotive was attached to the rear of the train to bring us into the station. The train engineer even let me climb up into the engineer’s cab to see the controls up close, something that I’ve always wanted to do since childhood when he watched the 1950’s TV show Casey Jones.

Our train trip over, we bid farewell to Ian and Sandy after exchanging contact details and promising to get together in Cape Town, (which we did just a few weeks ago at the Durbanville Hills Wine Festival). On to Pretoria!

Pretoria Perambulation

The Tour

Carolyn arranged with Rovos Rail to have a tour guide meet us at the Capital Park station. We decided that having a guide would allow us to cover the ground more quickly and see the most important sites. Our guide, Geert, was a most agreeable Afrikaner whose knowledge can only be described as encyclopedic. He also had a very good sense of humor.

The Union Buildings

From Wikipedia: “These form the official seat of the South African government and also house the offices of the president. The imposing buildings are located atop Meintjieskop. Though not in the centre of Pretoria the Union Buildings occupy the highest point of Pretoria, and constitute a South African national heritage site. They were designed by the architect Sir Herbert Baker in the English monumental style, and are 285 meters (935 feet) long. They have a semi-circular shape, with the two wings at the sides; this serves to represent the union of a formerly divided people. The clock chimes are identical to those of Big Ben in London. The east and west wings, as well as the twin-domed towers, represent two languages, English and Afrikaans, and the inner court symbolises the Union of South Africa. These buildings are considered by many to be the architect’s greatest achievement and a South African architectural masterpiece.”

 

The buildings are most impressive. President Nelson Mandela gave his inaugural speech in front of these buildings. There is now a 9 metre (30 feet) high statue of Mandela in front of the buildings. If you saw the movie Invictus, you may recognize the buildings.

Melrose House

Melrose House was built in 1886 by George Jesse Heys, a prominent business mogul in Pretoria at the time, who made his fortune running a fleet of post (stage) coaches, among other things.

Lord Roberts, commander of the British Forces during the Second Anglo-Boer war, requisitioned Melrose House in June 1900 as the headquarters of the British forces, after Pretoria was invaded. Later in the war, Lord Kitchener, Roberts’ replacement, used it as well. The Peace Treaty of Vereeniging, the crucial document that ended the war, was signed in 1902 in the dining room. When George Heys died a decade or so later, his family closed the house and decamped to England.

The city of Pretoria acquired the property in the 1960’s and turned it into a museum. Because the house was shuttered, nearly all of the original furniture and furnishings are still there, including a little girl’s porcelain tea set and toys.

The grand interior of Melrose House includes beautiful stained glass windows, plush carpets in opulent colours, paintings by British artists, exquisitely ornate fireplaces and ceilings, and an array of gorgeous porcelain ornaments. We have never seen such a superbly preserved house. We almost did not get into the house, as we arrived on a Monday when the museum is normally closed. However, our guide spoke to a sympathetic museum employee who allowed us inside for a private tour. We took a few photos after which we realised there were signs forbidding photography. Oh well.

Kruger House

Kruger House is the historical Pretoria residence of the Boer leader and President of the South African Republic, Paul Kruger. It was built in 1884 by architect Tom Claridge and builder Charles

Clark. Milk was used, instead of water, for mixing the cement from which the house was constructed, as the cement available was of poor quality. The house contains either the original furnishings or items from the same historical period, some of the many gifts that were presented to Kruger, as well as other memorabilia including the presidential private rail carriage. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed here either, so we only have photos of the exterior and Kruger’s church across the street.

 Voortrekker Monument

The Voortrekker Monument stands over 40 meters tall (131 feet) on its hilltop home and is visible from a large part of Pretoria. It was built to commemorate the history of the Afrikaner pioneers who left the Cape Colony, where they had suffered under British rule, to travel to the interior of the country from 1835 to 1854 on what has come to be known as the Great Trek. Both within and around the monument, every aspect of the building has a historic or symbolic significance. The front gate is in the form of Zulu assegais (stabbing spears). The walls around the monument are in the form of a laager of the wagons used by the Voortrekkers. A unique marble Frieze circles the inside walls of the Monument. In bas-relief, 27 panels depict the story of the Great Trek from 1835 to 1852.

The Great Trek and the Zulus

The Frieze not only shows the history of the Great Trek but also shows how the Voortrekkers went about their everyday lives. Moreover, it provides an insight into the religious beliefs and work methods of the Voortrekkers, as well as important conflicts, such as the Zulu slaughter of Piet Retief and his party and the Battle of Blood River where 470 Voortrekkers led by Andries Pretorius (the city of Pretoria is named after him) defeated an estimated 15,000-20,000 Zulus, inflicting over 3000 casualties.

Interestingly, in our 2-1/2 years in South Africa, we have heard about Blood River from several points of view. The Zulus believe that they lost due to “bad medicine,” i.e., their gods turning against them. The Voortrekkers, on the other hand, recorded that they had the advantage of a very defensible position that made a perfect killing ground plus a dense fog that concealed them from the Zulus until it was too late. As the Voortrekkers were deeply religious and believed that God would manifest himself through nature (in this case, the fortuitous fog), they believed that God had shown his favor and that they were his chosen people.

Many English, on the other hand, seem absolutely certain that the Voortrekkers exaggerated both the total number of Zulus present as well as the number killed.

A Commemoration

Cenotaph Hall is located on the lower floor and houses the Cenotaph (empty tomb) and an amazing tapestry depicting The Great Trek. Every year on December 16, the date of the Battle of Blood River, the sun shines down through a small hole in the center of the Voortrekker Monument roof onto the Cenotaph, lighting up the inscribed words: “Ons vir jou, Suid Africa” (“We for thee, South Africa”)

Return to Cape Town

With that, we went off to spend the night in Sandton, a suburb of Johannesburg, and then back to Cape Town the next day.

So there you have it, china’s. We hope that you enjoyed our double feature. Do come to Africa – we’re always ready to rant and “rail” with all of our lekker bru’s.

See you next time,

John and Carolyn

 

 

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How One Man’s Love of Trains and Aeroplanes Left Us Speechless

Since its inception, Rovos Rail, with its striking steam engines and carriages, has puffed and whistled its way into the hearts of many people from all over the world. Lords and ladies, both rich and famous, have enjoyed the privilege of journeying in grand style on these much loved trains, and many of them hold the fondest memories of their journeys both in South Africa and further afield.

Some fortunate people have experienced the thrill of seeing these special trains, as they traverse the African landscape, and have felt inspired to take precious photographs or videos of the once-in-a-lifetime sightings. Similarly, all who take time to read this article to its end will have their hearts and minds inspired by the talent and perseverance of an exceedingly creative, visually impaired man who is passionate about Rovos Rail trains.

A Letter to Brenda Vos of Rovos Rail from Freddie Botha

In July 2015, Brenda Vos of Rovos Rail received a letter from Freddie Botha, the Executive Head of the Institute for the Blind in Worcester, which left her speechless. In the letter, Freddie told Brenda about Jacques Loftus, one of the partially sighted employees at the Institute who has an immense love for trains and aeroplanes. The previous week, Jacques had made an appointment to see Freddie, and when Jacques arrived at Freddie’s office carefully carrying what appeared to be a heap of pages, Freddie became curious.

A Heart-Warming Surprise!

Jacques laid down the pages on the ground and began joining them in a specific order. There were 54 A4 folios, which when joined, measured approximately 13m. When Freddie positioned himself to look at the sketches, he was thrilled at the surprise that lay before him. Jacques had sketched the magnificent Rovos train in such fine detail, a truly amazing achievement, which took him 3 months to complete. Freddie felt incredibly proud of Jacques, particularly knowing how he had to keep the pages very close to his eyes, owing to his extremely limited eyesight.

 

Man holding up sketches of the Rovos Train

 

13 meter train painting

Brenda’s Response to Freddie’s Letter about Jacques’s Sketches

Brenda’s heart was truly moved by Freddie’s inspiring letter about Jacques’s brilliant sketches of the Rovos train and carriages, admiring the huge effort he put into drawing them so perfectly over such a long time. Brenda shared this information with the management of Rovos Rail and they were delighted to host Jacques for lunch on board the train from Worcester to Cape Town and arranged for a complimentary transfer back to Worcester with a guest of his choice. He would board the train in Worcester on a Sunday afternoon and travel to Cape Town where he would be met by a transfer to take him and his guest back to Worcester.

 

Jacques’s Joyful Journey – A Dream Come True

Less than two weeks later, Jacques and his lovely girlfriend, Lelanie, boarded the Rovos train in Worcester for what was to be a joyful journey.

As Rovos Rail’s special guests, they were treated to a three-course meal, snacks, drinks and a tour of the train’s compartments. Jacques said it was an unbelievable experience and could not stop talking about how luxurious the train was and how delicious the food, snacks and drinks were. What really impressed Jacques and Lelanie was that the Rovos train is extremely well-equipped for people with visual or physical impairments.

We hope that Jacques, Freddie, Brenda and Rovos Rail will inspire you to achieve your special dream of train travel. Perhaps you too would love to journey across beautiful South Africa or Southern Africa on a Rovos train. Why wait?

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The Traditional Arts and Crafts of Swaziland

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

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

Art

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

Batiks

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

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

Displaying African Art

Sculptures and carvings

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

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

Wooden African Sculpture

Glass blowing

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

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

Ngwenya Glass Work

Grass weaving

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

Weaving out of grass

Jewellery

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

Beaded Jewellery Work

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

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The Pride of Africa: Trade Haste for Scenery and History

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

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

Rovos Rail Station, Capital Park, Pretoria

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

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

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

The Pride of Africa

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

Train cabins

The Royal Suite

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

Rovo Rail Royal Suit Layout

 

The Deluxe Suite

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

 

Rovos Rail Deluxe Suite Layout

The Pullman Suite

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

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

 

Dining aboard the Pride of Africa

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

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

 

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Exploring New Routes

BD26A68B5CBE50CD85256AD100665A32_0 Angola_map

To keep things challenging and a step ahead, we are not only continuously looking for ways to improve our services but are always open-minded to exploring new routes and itineraries. One has to keep things interesting and, as many of you will know, we like to be the most interesting!

With this in mind, Rohan Vos, owner and CEO of Rovos Rail, visited Angola and the Congo to explore:

 In December 2014 I visited Angola with the intention of travelling by train on the newly rebuilt C.F.B. line between the port of Lobito, Benguela and the border town of Dilolo, 1350km to the east. This Chinese rebuilt line is a remarkable milestone in Angola’s return to normality after 20-odd years of civil war. The intention is to open the way for copper and other minerals to be exported from Kolwezi in the Katanga Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and obviously to facilitate imports from the coast to Lubumbashi. The only obstacle to this is the parlous state of the line in DRC from Dilolo to Lubumbashi.

To investigate this line, I hired a motorised trolley from the S.N.C.C. Railways and with driver, technician and translator travelled along the 425km line between Kolwezi and Dilolo. This took four days and was an adventure to say the least. The line is used once a month or so for passengers and due to the lack of undergrowth control it can take the train a week to traverse the 400-odd kilometres. Derailments are also a common occurrence on this stretch.

So, regrettably, the idea of running our train from Zambia through to the Angolan port of Lobito is not practical at present. When the DRC section is rehabilitated it will be feasible. I can only speculate that the undertaking of this task will now become high priority with major pressure being exerted by the Angolans with their shiny new line having nowhere to go! Update next year.

So, no new exciting African adventures for us this year but there is something big we’ll be announcing next week! Stay tuned.

Rohan Vos in Dilolo on the DRC Angolan border           Derailment in Klowezi         benguela

Images, from left to right: Rohan at the Dilolo Station on the DRC Angolan border. During an inspection of the Kolwezi Dilolo (DRC) line, the group derailed after hitting a well-placed tree. The new Benguela Station.

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Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

A World Class Railway

Dear Mr Vos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you and kind regards,

Mr Gona Naidoo

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Rovos Rail Durban Safari

A Wonderful Trip!

It’s always a happy when we receive feeback about a wonderful trip! Mr and Mrs Padiachy celebrated part of their 32nd year of marriage on our Durban Safari and we were so thrilled to be a part of it. Thank you and we look forward to welcoming you on board again one day!

HI REGARDO

WHAT A WONDERFUL TRIP WE HAD ON THE 18 JANUARY 2016, IT WOULD BE ONE THAT WILL STAY IN OUR FOND MEMORIES FOR YEARS TO COME. IT MADE CELEBRATING OUR 32ND YEAR OF MARRIAGE FEEL VERY SPECIAL.

I ALSO WANT TO TAKE THIS OPPORTUNITY OF THANKING YOU FOR THE VERY PROFESSIONAL MANNER IN WHICH YOU ARRANGED THIS ENTIRE TRIP FOR US.

MAY I ALSO COMMEND ROVOS RAIL STAFF ON THE TRAIN FROM MART, ADAM, HENNIE, CAMERON, IVANKA, CHANTEL, MICHELE, ANGELIQUE, NAZEERAH, JAKLIEN, MATTHEW, ANNIQA S WELL AS YOUR KITCHEN STAFF

FOR THEIR FRIENDLY MANNER AND SERVICE THEY ALL GAVE US.

AND ABOVE ALL ELSE TO HAVE BEEN MET BY MR VOS PERSONALLY ON OUR ARRIVAL, IMPRESSED US VERY MUCH.

YOU CAN BE SURE,I’LL BE BACK!!!!! THIS TIME WITH FRIENDS

THANK ALL YOU GUY’S ONCE AGAIN

SIELAN AND DELIA PADIACHY

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