Rovos Rail, a private family owned business founded in 1989 by Rohan Vos who bought his first train in 1985, has now grown into what is regarded as the world’s most luxurious train. Rovos Rail travels through South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania, the longest journey being from Cape Town to Dar Es Salaam.
THE PRIDE OF AFRICA
We would highly recommend any journey commencing at the Rovos Rail headquarters at Capital Park in Pretoria. a short drive from Johannesburg O.R. Tambo airport where we were collected from our overnight flight from London. The station is a beautifully restored colonial style building housing a small railway Museum and locomotion sheds where the engines and carriages are lovingly maintained. Whilst waiting in the station for our journey to commence watching Peacocks and Ostrich roam across the tracks, we were met by Rohan Vos himself who excitedly rolled out a beautifully restored steam engine for us to climb on board and be given a run through on how the massive machine is powered (yes we got to toot the horn!).
Whilst we were enjoying the hospitality our luggage was being loaded onto the Pride of Africa, which has 32 beautifully appointed carriages and can carry a maximum of 72 passengers. Our suite was called Hluhluwe, which was a coincidence for us as our first safari in 2004 was to the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi game park in KwaZulu-Natal north of Durban. In the spirit of vintage train travel there are no televisions on board and the use of mobile phones, laptops or any other media is restricted to the privacy of the guest suites. There is also an evening dress code in place which requires a jacket and tie for gentlemen and cocktail/evening dress for the ladies. During the day a more relaxed smart/casual attire is acceptable.
LIFE ON BOARD
When we arrived in our suite we were greeted with a chilled bottle of Champagne in an ice bucket with two beautiful crystal cut flutes engraved with the Rovos Rail logo which we enjoyed whilst we freshened up. We had a small but perfectly well equipped shower room including monogrammed bath robe and slippers, a hairdryer, guest amenities pack, even the toilet roll was presented wrapped with the company seal. Some of the guest suites even have a vintage roll top bath! Sleeping and using the shower on a vintage train is an interesting experience, this is no smooth modern railway. There are lots of bumps jolts and noises but rather than being an inconvenience this added to the authenticity of the experience. The beds, which are set up and made whilst we were enjoying dinner, are very comfortable ensuring a good nights sleep. In the morning whilst all the guests are enjoying breakfast the staff swiftly pack the beds away and change the room configuration to a lounge again, all without us noticing it happen.
On-board the train there is certainly no shortage of hospitality. Passengers are treated to four meals per day, breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner followed by an evening cocktail session in the rear bar carriage. Every meal is fine dining worthy of Michelin stars, accompanied by the finest South African wines and all free flowing. Even the breakfast is a five course affair meaning that on our second day we just couldn’t quite find room for the afternoon tea. Everything is served on china plates with silver cutlery and crystal glassware, all monogrammed with the Rovos Rail logo, with the highest attention to detail from the staff. One day after the cheese course I mentioned how much I liked the chilli Jam accompaniment, and on returning to our room later there was a fresh jar placed in our fridge for us to take home.
This particular route from Pretoria to Cape Town is a 2 night, 1,600 kilometre journey which passes though some of the most incredible scenery slowing down at beauty spots such as a shallow lake north of Kimberley, nesting site to over 40,000 pink Flamingo’s, enabling passengers to take plenty of photos and soak up the view.
The train makes two stops on it’s journey, first at the Kimberley Diamond Mine, home to the Big Hole which at 463 meters wide and 240 meters deep is claimed to be the largest hand dug excavation in the world. Some of the most famous Diamonds, including the yellow Tiffany diamond were found here and in total 14,504,566 carats had been dug from the Big Hole by the time the mine was closed down in 1914. Along with a visitor centre the old mining town is preserved as a museum and visitors can enter some of the old buildings such as the bar and the bank.
The second stop is at Matjiesfontein, a Victorian village on the edge of the Great Karoo which appears to have just stopped in time. Unlike the old mining town in Kimberly, Matjiesfontein is a working village with a population of just over 400, most of which are employed in the historical business’s. At the heart of the town stands the Lord Milner Hotel where visitors can stay in one of the many luxurious rooms or if just passing through, enjoy lunch or dinner in the Dining Room which has been serving guest for over 120 years. The village also boasts a Coffee House, the Pink Church, The Old Post Office, the Petrol station, The Old Bank, a courthouse and jail. The village is even complete with many vintage cars and a London Routemaster bus!
We felt a bit of sadness as we finally rolled into Cape Town as it meant that we were nearing the end of our trip which typically always seems to be over so quickly when it’s a trip that is enjoyed most. But with many other journeys from Pretoria including Victoria Falls, Durban, Namibia, and from Dar Es Salam to Angloa, we decided that it won’t be long before we once again climb on board this remarkable train.
For more details or to book a journey on this incredible train please contact us.
Photo credits of the train and station with kind thanks to Rovos Rail