Rovos Rail is the journey you need to take at least once in your lifetime. But more would definitely be more! Da-dik-da-dik. Da-dik-da-dik. Da dik … it’s a slow and steady ‘expedition’ in that grand old sense of a captivating, prior-world jaunt – and an exceedingly elegant one too. It’s hugely evocative and it’s a grand spoil. Quite frankly, we’d be hard pressed to think of a better way to see and taste South Africa.
We’ve just had the good fortune to travel on Rovos Rail from Pretoria to Cape Town. It’s a journey of some 1600 km, snaking the grassy tracts of the Highveld, the big, ancient spaces of the Karoo and the Western Cape’s pride-and-joy vineyards.
Our journey began at the Capital Park Station in Pretoria. This arrival, people, is an event all of its own with a warm welcome from Rovos Rail owner, Rohan Vos. In addition to its station facilities and beautiful departure lounge, Capital Park also houses an impressive railway museum, but let’s leave that for now and board the train.
The luxurious suites – of which there are three variously priced options – are warmly inviting with their woodpanelled finishes and their provision of most conceivable comforts, including air-conditioning and a beautiful en-suite bathroom. Yes, there’s also a hairdryer, and there are facilities for tea- and coffee-making, and there’s an electric blanky on your bed (which we were very glad of for the chilly Karoo-stretch of the trip.)
Rovos Rail is not a bullet-train, so it’s not about getting there quickly. The journey from Pretoria to Cape Town takes all of 52 hours, which means you get to have two sleeps on the train. By day there’s ample time to contemplate the views, to enjoy premium food and wines, and if you like, spend some time getting to know the other guests. These folk, you will find, hail from far and wide. All have been lured by reports of the splendour of the Pride of Africa; they are here now to make the Rovos Rail experience their own.
The Observation Car at the rear of the train is a place to congregate, to marvel at the views, to make genteel conversation from a plush armchair and to take tea and cake (or whatever you prefer). It’s just where you want to be at sundown, when pylons and windmills are drawn sharp and black against the tangerine face of early evening. The open-air balcony at the back of the car is where you and your camera commune very nicely with the landscape as it dances fluidly by. At one point, the view was a once-in-a-lifetime sighting of some 50-60 000 flamingoes at a breeding site. Any takers? Yes, please!
The Victorian dining car is very stylish and inviting. Impeccably trained staff serve the onboard-chef’s sensational meals paired with South Africa’s premium wines. See more about wining and dining on Rovos Rail.
At night, if you lift the shutters in your suite, small settlements twinkle fleetingly every now and again, and stars are strewn liberally across an inkpot sky.
The Pretoria – Cape Town Route includes two off-train excursions – one at Kimberley, the town of big dreams and diamonds, and the other at Matjiesfontein. The quaint Karoo dorpie of Matjiesfontein remains delightfully clad in the costume of yesteryear. The whole village constitutes a National Heritage Site and is a sheer delight from one end of the town to the other. Highlights for us were the Marie Rawdon Museum which holds safe a bygone age, and the Lord Milner Hotel and its adjoining Laird’s Arms, providing old-world lodgings and a good-neighbourly watering hole.
At times the train brings an inside whoosh of nostalgia for gracious times that belong somewhere on the backtrack-side of the timeline. The whole experience is infused with luxury, cordiality and warmth.
But along the way, outside, there are also the sad, opportunistic kids who live on the track – sharp little reminders of the privilege of being on the right side of the rails, and a guest on this magnificent train.
Rovos Rail offers a variety of journeys in South Africa and beyond, ranging in duration from three to fourteen days on the train. From time to time, even longer “limited edition” trips are scheduled. The train is also a supreme idea for unique corporate or private functions, when booked on an exclusive-use basis.
Call us on +27 21 797-7122 or mail us to book your journey on Rovos Rail, or to obtain additional information.