The story of Rovos Rail is an impressive one. It began in 1989 with one man’s dream and determination. Despite several obstacles, Rovos Rail is now a well-established, thriving business with several different itineraries including trips to Victoria Falls, Dar es Salaam and Cairo. Its international reputation for offering truly world-class travel experiences is proof of the enduring nostalgia and romance of train travel in a weary world. Our eclectic group of fellow travellers hailed from Hawaii, England, Scotland, Australia and South Africa. Like us, they were all there to experience one of the most luxurious trains in the world.
Our journey began at the elegant lounge of Rovos Rail’s colonial-style station at Capital Park in Pretoria where we were welcomed with drinks and snacks. We were then given an introductory speech that set the tone of anticipation for the journey and made us tingle with excitement. Thereafter, we were escorted to our exquisite suite on The Pride of Africa.
Rovos Rail’s refurbished carriages date from the early 1900s. The Edwardian style décor is subtly complemented by modern conveniences. Dark wood panels and emerald and gold carpets enhance the elegance of the train. There was a lounge car with a gift shop, and a dining car at one end and an observation car with a balcony, a small library and a smoking room at the other. The sleeping cars were nestled between both ends. The lounge and observation cars were stocked with board games and leather-bound books and magazines and had huge glass windows ensuring that we didn’t miss the views. My personal favourite was the balcony at the end of the train which offered an unparalleled open-air vantage point. Staff were always on hand to replenish our drinks and snacks as we captured umpteen photos of some of the most kaleidoscopic scenery imaginable. We passed harried commuters on train platforms, and little shacks from which the inhabitants waved to us. We went through dark mountain tunnels and rode through arid desert, crossed meandering rivers and passed verdant vineyards.
Our room needs were taken care of by our personal hostess, Nazeerah, who was always just a call away. Whenever we returned to our room it had been discreetly tidied and our supplies had been replenished. In the evenings, while at dinner, our beds were turned down and heated and the lights dimmed. There was something incredibly comforting about being rocked off to sleep by a moving train while ensconced in a comfortable bed with fine cotton linen, heated by electric under-blankets.
The spectacularly memorable sight of thousands of pink flamingos upon Kamfer Dam, indicated our arrival into Kimberley. The dam is one of only six breeding sites for lesser flamingos in the world. A short while later, we disembarked and were taken on a tour of The Big Hole Museum, the largest hand-dug excavation in the world, and its surrounds. I had been to Kimberley before but on this visit we were accompanied by an entertaining and informative guide, Frank Dippenaar, who greatly enlightened our knowledge of the Diamond City while simultaneously treating us to a laugh a minute.
The service was impeccable, led by example from the top. Rohan Vos, the owner of Rovos Rail, was waiting to welcome us at Cape Town station and personally assisted us with our luggage to the car, We were amongst the last passengers to be picked up but he ensured that we were safely seated in our transport before leaving. It was a gracious end to a grand journey.
I now cease to see trains as just a mode of transport but rather a journey unto themselves. It is delightfully indulgent not to have to worry about deadlines and household chores, your only task to enjoy the decadent and opulent lifestyle on board as you glimpse into the soul of Africa. An indelible impression has been made on me and my appetite for train travel has certainly been ignited.
“There is nothing like a train journey for reflection.” ― Tahir Shah, In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams
See Rovos Rail’s video here.