Cape Town to Pretoria and Beyond on Rovos Rail
by Jerry W. Bird

"The design of the train has given us suites considerably larger than the world's famous trains such as the Orient Express, the Blue Train, Royal Scotsman in England and El Andalus in Spain." Rohan Vos

One of the first lessons one learns on entering the wonderful world of Rovos Rail is that this "tour of a lifetime" is not just a South African experience -- its routes extend to five countries on a network of steel rails. For example, there's an annual excursion to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which many rave about. On this cool January morning, however, the destination is Pretoria, South Africa's capital city and headquarters of Rovos Rail, the Pride of Africa. Our leisurely two and a half day trip north through the country's heartland, allows ample time to relax, lay back, sip the wine, smell the roses, think lofty thoughts and get to know some interesting people. Daniel Dunn, one of the Western Cape's best informed tour guides, drove us to the Cape Town station, where Rovos Rail's owner Rohan Vos and Sales Manager David Patrick greeted us, as our baggage was whisked away in a flash

What a way to celebrate the New Year! As we joined the other passengers assembled on the red-carpeted platform, a traditional toast of South African champagne and orange juice set the mood, while a trio of violinists provided soft, soothing classical music -- a fitting background for such a memorable send off. At the microphone Mr. Vos gave a hearty and humorous "bon voyage," announcing each guest's name in turn as we boarded the train. Many nations were represented that morning - the UK, Norway, Italy, Australia, USA, Switzerland, Spain, Germany, France, South Africa and Canada. These vintage coaches have carried royalty on past tours, and we soon discovered there was a European countess among us, which reflects the company's claim "the most luxurious train in the world. A mild thunderstorm was brewing above Table Mountain, and as rain began to beat on the windows, the train pulled away from Cape Town station. Have no fear, I had a feeling that the trip would be even more enjoyable, looking out from our cozy cocoon on wheels. My intuition proved to be quite true.

New Cape Town to Victoria Falls Combination (see below)
Five Star Hotel on Wheels: Private and Personal
Talk about individualized service from Rovos' team of young, attractive hostesses. Our baggage was waiting in the cabins, plus champagne, a fruit bowl, chocolates and terry cloth robes. Private suites on Rovos Rail are spacious, elegant, fully equipped and finished in highly polished wood panels, with amazing attention to detail. Some of these vintage coaches date back to 1911, and all are beautifully restored. Full sized beds face three large picture windows that open easily, bathing the room with fresh air and daylight as you view the changing landscape, or allow perfect privacy as needed. The writing desk was ideal for my lap top computer, and the in-suite telephone came in handy. Outside Muguette Goufrani's suite, a brass plaque bore the title "The Cullinan," after the world's largest gem diamond, discovered in 1905, and named for mine owner Sir Thomas Cullinan. My private suite was titled " The Etosha," in honor of Namibia's national park.

Order of Good Cheer: As Mr. Vos says, "It is an atmosphere of good food, good wine and good conversation that we are striving to create. " Like Pavlov's dog, and personal memories of cruises on the Alaska coast, a soft gong in the passageway signaled that dinner was being served. Naturally,on Rovos Rail, semi formal dress was the order of the day, and as we took our seats, a red roses was pinned on each lapel. After all, this was a glorious land cruise - and the superb menu featured such local game dishes as Springbok with lemon honey sauce, plus others like South African Botobie and Kingclip in Pernod cream. It goes without saying that the wine list was extensive, and drinks were complimentary for the entire trip, throughout the train.

The Road Ahead: The vistas were spellbinding. Having read Covenant by James Michener, several Wilbur Smith sagas and various other books on South Africa, I was aware that the 900-mile rail journey follows the old pioneer trail from Cape Town north, via Paarl, Worcester and South Africa's bountiful Winelands, wending its way through the Hex River Valley to the interior's higher, drier Karoo country. What I did not expect was the fact that there were some exceptionally long tunnels en route. Just imagine the engineering challenges and effort that was involved in early railroad-building in this area.

History comes Alive: A pleasant surprise was our brief stop at the historic village of Matjiesfontein, which resembles a romantic movie set, with its street of carefully restored buildings, such as the Victorian Lord Milner Hotel, with lush gardens and a friendly pub nearby. I couldn't help imagining that Miss Kitty of Gunsmoke would come through the red velvet curtains and descend the ornate staircase. Several of us could have spent all day at the nearby museum, checking out relics of pioneer days, before, during and following the Anglo Boer War and the frantic gold and diamond rushes. It was hard to imagine that the rich and famous of the world came here 100 years ago, when it was a thriving health resort. Well, we've been told a renaissance is underway.

Kimberley's Diamond Legacy: Speaking of journeys into history, our next major stop was at Modder River station, a lonely spot where the Boers and British once clashed in a major battle. Disembarking from the train, we boarded a bus for Kimberley, and received a history lesson, which set the stage for our visit to this provincial capital and luncheon at the exclusive Kimberley Club, once male only and frequented by Cecil Rhodes, De Beers and colleagues. Well-fed and ready for action, we were off to the famous Kimberley diamond mine. A restored village surrounded what they call the "greatest hole in the world, " a huge excavation that was once a gentle hill. Our final lesson included mining practices and replicas of world famous diamonds from South Africa.

Pretoria and Capital Park Station
The following morning our train passed slowly through the suburbs of Johannesburg, city of gold and South Africa's thriving metropolis. Beyond was Pretoria, our final destination. I will elaborate on these two great cities later, but it's important to mention the Capital Park Station complex, heart of Rovos Empire. While there, we explored the rail yards, workshops, museum and training area, which is like looking backstage at a major Broadway production. Mr. Vos sums it up in the following statement, " All our rolling stock, consisting of 60 carriages and 5 operating locomotives, our administrative operation and workshops are now based at Capital Park. We could indeed not have wished for a better location, especially as Capital Park has played such an important part in South African Railways History, and thus provides the perfect home for our trains. The site covers 25 acres and boasts 15 lines, totally a distance of 12 km of which 100 m section is under roof. It is our aim, not only to rebuild the site to world-beating standards, but also to transform it into a working railway museum. Our new Headquarters will cater to steam enthusiasts, tourists and local visitors alike. "

Having heard about Rovos Rail since the early 1989, when I originated the series, "Railways of the World" in the travel trade media, this New Year's excursion was like a dream come true. It goes without saying that the Rovos team won our hearts and earned our respect as true professionals, a credit to South Africa and to the travel tourism industry. Many thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Vos for such a wonderful lifetime experience; one we're proud to tell the world all about. Our Rovos Rail story continues with new installments at, e-mail:


Rovos Rail offers new Cape to Vic Falls combination
(with complimentary hotel stay and transfers in Pretoria)

Rovos Rail has launched a new 6-day packaged journey from Cape Town to Victoria Falls/Livingstone. The journey is a combination of the existing Cape Town to Pretoria route with the Pretoria to Victoria Falls/Livingstone route and includes a complimentary overnight stay in a pre-selected Pretoria hotel on a bed and breakfast basis, including transfers to and from Rovos Rail's Capital Park Station in Pretoria

"Whilst some agents and operators have already been combining the two back-to-back journeys into one itinerary, we felt the need to add value for the guest and reduce the workload for our agents by booking and including the overnight stay in Pretoria with transfers" said Rohan Vos, owner and founder of Rovos Rail. The overnight stay in Pretoria provides an opportunity for guests to explore and discover the historic capital city and it's numerous attractions. "Our agents and operators can confidently put their clients in our hands for a full 6 days knowing that all their needs and desires will be  exceeded in the style and luxury with which our product is associated". A Pretoria city tour can be arranged on request and is not included in the overall package.

Off-train excursions during the journeys include a stop in the quaint Victorian village of Matjiesfontein, a tour of the historical diamond mining town of Kimberley, a game drive in Kapama Game Reserve in the Kruger National Park and a flight from Pietersburg to Livingstone aboard Rovos Air's Classic aircraft. En-route, guests will be treated to Rovos Rail's legendary service, fine cuisine, and luxurious accommodation on a fully-inclusive basis. The new packaged itinerary will be available for booking from 1 October 2005 on selected fortnightly Monday departures out of Cape Town during the Victoria Falls train departure months. For pricing and other information please contact Rovos Rail Reservations and Marketing on +27-12-323-6052, or

AUTHOR: Jerry W. Bird is Managing Editor of Africa Travel Magazine and President of the Africa Travel Association's Canada Chapter. He originated the series "Railways of the World" in 1989, and has written many articles on rail travel. If you have items or comments regarding Rovos Rail, or railway travel in general, please e-mail:

From Kentucky, USA
"..... we welcome you to see our site. I loved yours! Very interesting and upbeat, and makes me want to hop on a train."
see letters
Eleanor Flagler Hardy, President, Society of International Railway Travelers

For more Railway items and stories, see:
Marrakech to Casablanca by Rail and Adventure Rails (part of a series from our two combined websites)




Muguette Goufrani, Africa Travel Magazine's Associate Editor covers destinations and events in Francophone Africa. She has lived in five West African countries, working for Air Afrique, Royal Air Maroc and Citroen. As a Travel Agent, she worked in North Africa and France, where her family operates an inbound tour company, and later in Tahiti and Cambodia.

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