Category : Journeys

Rovos Rail Train Management

Thank you, Train Managers

The train manager’s role is diverse and operating our rail journeys can be unpredictable and our managers deserve a big thank you from all of us here at Rovos Rail.

The set of skills required (and acquired) could make up an entire resume. From understanding the mechanics of each coach and what is required to keep them moving forward, overseeing a delicate and sometimes moody electrical system and the water supply to the entire train, wheels which can be a constant headache, managing a full complement of staff and maintaining balance on board with guests who are from all corners of the globe. It is not easy yet our team of train managers handle themselves with courteous professionalism, diplomacy and a level of quick and proactive thinking, which is impressive.

Collectively they have been with us for 81 years with Joe and Daphne leading the pack; Joe sees 26 years with us and Daphne, 22. Joe walked into the Victoria Hotel, a property that was the original 1893 railway hotel and one that we owned, looking for work. Rohan Vos, our CEO, asked him if he could do any carpentry work to which Joe said no. He was hired anyway and 26 years later he is still with us!

All six of our train managers have worked their way into their positions as senior management. Luxury train travel requires staff that understand the ins and outs of every aspect of the train but also of silver service as well as the challenges of overseeing guests and managing expectations.

We start all of our staff as hostesses or butlers so our train managers know how to make beds, clean bathrooms, fold laundry and towels perfectly, conduct stock takes as well as serve four-course meals along with some of South Africa’s finest wines which requires study from their side. These gathered skills are essential in managing a team of young train staff.

Behind every good manager stands his or her Deputies. It’s our Deputy Managers that take care of the finer things on board ensuring that everything is washed, polished and varnished so that the train sparkles. Rarely is there an out-of-place crease or smudged glass as our generals are perfectionists and not often do things go amiss!

It’s a tough job with many sleepless nights especially on a long journey such as Dar es Salaam. When you are reliant on external companies for your traction and service things can go wrong but our on-board warriors handle everything with an enormous amount of patience and insight.

To all of you we say thank you. Your dedication and loyalty to the dynamic roles you play is appreciated and we are grateful for your years of service.

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Rovos Rail Dar es Salaam

A Royal Letter

It’s not every day we receive a royal letter and lovely feedback such as the below is always welcome by all here at Rovos Rail.

Dear Mr Vos,

Journey Cape Town to Dar es Salaam, 17thJanuary

My wife Cammy and I have just returned from Dar – having thankfully not availed ourselves of the rest of the Noble Caledonia tour, by boat. (I particularly dislike the sea; my overriding interest was in your train!)

I wanted to write to say how absolutely enthralled we both were in what you provide! I am not a “train buff” in that I could not tell you the gauges of the railway in Canada, Cambodia or Cameroon (as some of our fellow passengers could – and did), but I have always been fascinated by Edwardian travel details – from early limousines to showman’s caravans and of course the wonderfully extravagant rail cars of American 19th century industry barons.

What you have done in creating the Pride of Africa train surpasses all and nothing short of amazing! There was no reason for me to look for fault, but if I had I could not have found it – the cabins were brilliant, the beds were exceptionally comfortable and including a shower room is quite extraordinary.

It was a total joy to sit watching Africa roll by – or perhaps more truthfully, given the state of some of the tracks, rumble by. How marvellous, in this age of safety and correctness, to be able to open the windows; how fantastic to sit on the observation deck – surely unique? My wife had never been to Africa and there can be few better ways to see it and none in such comfort. We loved every minute.

As for the service and friendliness – and efficiency – of your staff, it surpassed everything. From being greeted with champagne by the line of beautifully dressed hostesses and helpers (I persisted in calling it champagne on the basis that your South African wines are a match for any. And it is easier to say…) to the unexpected and clever touches of cold water when setting out and damp towels on dusty returns and we were looked after at breakfast, lunch and dinner. There were so many brilliant details.

We so appreciated being met in Cape Town by you, something commented on by several people, both on this trip and previous ones.

Eric Annandale, your train manager, was a star. He worked ceaselessly to overcome any operational obstacles. Craig Geater was wonderful – a great help in all matters – not only in the incredible luxury of having a hair stylist on board, but with information and organisation on trips as well.

The food was amazing, always unusual, always delicious and just the right amount. The South African wines were outstanding. The dining room and bar staff were brilliant and always ready to change menu in individual cases, willingly and efficiently. The dining car itself is superb.

Thank you too for the various splendid gifts that came with the tour – including a very fine tie and the magnificent Rovos tog bags!

All in all a most magnificent experience and one we are sure to share with our family and friends for many years.

Thank you and congratulations on your achievements.

Sincerely, 

Lord Cranworth

If you would like information on our Dar es Salaam journey then please do not hesitate to contact Alicia on alicia@rovos.co.za 

Photo credit: Jos Beltman from Icento Treinreizen in Holland.

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Darling Namibia and a new video!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch the video here.

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

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Rovos Rail Namibia Safari

A Lovely Letter

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

Dear Mr Vos

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to watch our Namibia Safari video.

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Chasing Trains

Written by Brenda Vos

Chasing trains to make movies. What a way to kick off 2013! I had no idea how exhausting, hot or nerve-racking it would be. At one point we were driving through the Karoo, car doors open with our cameraman hanging out to “get the shot”.

But let me start at the beginning.

It was quite soon into my new role at Rovos Rail that I realised our video collateral needed some serious updating. These shoots cost a pretty penny and it’s easy to push them to bottom of the list because operating trains is a costly business. But the way of the world is video and I wanted to create movie magic.

I enlisted the assistance of a production company, Big House, along with our trusted photographer and videographer, Ross Hillier. We’ve known Ross a long time and his work is beautiful. Plus he’s always up for any adventure and chasing trains ranks high on a list of cool things to do!

So off we set on a hot Pretoria afternoon to follow the train to Cape Town. None of us really knew what to expect and, if I’m really honest, I still can’t believe that not one punch was thrown! The temperatures were fierce, the driving fast and tedious, the nights late with only about two hours sleep each evening and meals were sporadic and junky. We waited alongside the train tracks in De Aar, in the Karoo, for over an hour and the recorded temperature was 42°C. But even in these tough conditions the funny banter never stopped and there were times when we all cried from laughter. There is just something special about putting the right group of people together, magic happens, and that’s what we shared on our three-day 1 500km quest.

Now fairly addicted to the adrenalin of a film shoot, I decided we needed to capture our Durban Safari too. KwaZulu-Natal and its Midlands has some of the most spectacular scenery that South Africa has to offer. The vegetation is tropical, lush and so blindingly green that the contrast between the arid Karoo, I knew, would make for beautiful footage.

So off we set again and aside from an initial vehicle breakdown that resulted in a hilarious afternoon spent in a mechanic’s garage in Alberton, this trip was far easier. The travel distance was just much shorter so there was less driving and more sleeping! But wow, did we see South Africa’s raw beauty. The train passes through a tiny station called Balgowan at about 6am, which is right next to Michaelhouse in the Midlands, and the mist that morning was all the colours of the most beautiful sunrise which seemed to blanket the train as it meandered slowly and quietly passed us. It was a sight and a feeling I will never forget. Another special moment was filming a time lapse of the sunrise on Mount Alice. Rovos Rail guests enjoy a fascinating lecture on the Anglo-Boer War on Mount Alice so we snuck up a bit earlier to capture the valley at sunrise and to film the lecture given by raconteur, Ray Herron.

It was a few months later, at the beginning of winter, that I realised I didn’t have enough footage of guests on board so I sent the crew on another Cape Town journey but this time they got to travel on board. On the second evening, the train parks at a siding called Gemsbok, situated somewhere in the Karoo, and the crew braved the wintry temperatures to film a time-lapse of the beautiful night sky. Being city slickers, a sky on fire is not something often seen so it had to be captured and was a magical experience even in the sub-zero temperatures.


My only real job on all of these shoots was to ensure guests were happy, to keep the crew fed and to pay for fuel! But one thing I did do was film our adventures on my iPhone. The footage was used to make a behind-the-scenes video which, I admit, is mostly just for our memory banks and entertainment but if you would like to see the escapades then click here.

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