Rovos Rail Days 1, 2 & 3

Friday 19 September APT Tour – Day 1 Rovos Rail (3 days Pretoria to Cape Town)

At 1.00pm, we were taken from the Sheraton Hotel to the Capital Park Station, the once bustling hub of steam locomotion in the old Transvaal, which is now the headquarters for Rovos Rail. The lovely colonial-style railway station serves as the new departure and arrival point for all train journeys and it has a small railway museum in addition to its other facilities. The Society of International Railway Travelers has regularly named the Pride of Africa, as the train is called, as one of the World’s Top 25 Trains because of its excellent accommodation, public spaces, service, dining and off-train sightseeing.

When we arrived at the station, we were met by staff handing out drinks and snacks and then we enjoyed exploring the station while we waited to board our train. Richard had the opportunity to climb into the cabin of the steam locomotive and check out the gauges and coal feeding. Richard also went across the tracks to the other side of the station to get some great photos of the locomotive.

We were given al briefing in the Station’s Lounge and called forward by name to be met by our carriage hostesses, Elizka and Rianna, who then took us to our suite and explained the facilities and amenities on board the train. As we boarded our Rovos Rail train and made our way to our deluxe suite, which has a double bed, ensuite and large sitting area, we felt as though we had taken a step back in time and were captivated by the lavish old world furnishings. We settled into our suite and then went to explore the train. There are 13 guest cars accommodating 69 passengers, 1 Observation car with an outside area, 2 dining cars, 2 Lounge cars, a Kitchen car and a staff car.

The Train Manager, Eric, came to introduce himself to us and the chef came to talk to us about easily accommodating Sandy’s garlic allergy. The train pulled out of the station at approximately 3.30pm and we sat out in the Observation area with our new friends, Sue, Kevin and Rosemary, watching the scenery go by and having “Tea”.

Dinner was a grand affair, where the “evening attire” was “for the gentlemen, a jacket and a tie as a minimum requirement” and “for the ladies, cocktail/evening dresses or suits”. The configuration of the dining cars are tables of four on one side of the aisle and two on the other, so the five us were able to sit together and enjoy a lovely four course meal and each others’ company. All drinks, including wine, spirits and liquors are complimentary.

We arrived back at our suite to find that Elizka had prepared our bed for the night and had laid out an electric jug, tea, coffee etc ready for the morning. We are really impressed with the little touches eg on the table when we arrived there was a little gift box filled with nuts, dried fruits, and caramels; lavish toiletry packs which even included band aids, sun block, insect repellent etc.

We went to bed, somewhat overwhelmed with how fortunate we are to be on a luxury train in South Africa.

Saturday 20 September Rovos Rail Day 2

We woke early this morning to a stunning sunrise after a different night spent on the train. At times the train was noisy and had a fair degree of sway as it moved along and at other times it was dead quiet because we had stopped to wait for another train. As we enjoyed just sitting and watching the scenic open plains go past, our train manager, Eric made an announcement that we were coming up to shallow lake where there were spectacular flocks of Lesser Flamingoes – approximately 23, 000 – what an awesome sight!!

Our morning excursion was in the city of Kimberley, which is the capital of the Northern Cape Province of South Africa and is approximately 110 km east of the confluence of the Baal and Orange Rivers. The city has considerable historical significance due to its diamond mining (the first discovery was in 1871) and the roots of the De Beers Company can be traced to the early days of the mining town.

Amongst other things, it is famous for its “Big Hole”, the world’s largest hand-dug excavation that was created when thousands of people searched for diamonds at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. By 14 August 1914 22.7 billion kilograms of rock had been excavated, yielding 2,722 kg of diamonds.

We were bussed the short distance to the Big Hole and enjoyed a tour with Scotty (an ex Scotsman). Firstly, he explained to us how diamonds were formed and how they are currently mined. There are 16 major diamond mines in Kimberley – 7 of which have been completely mined out. He took us to a viewing platform, which was an amazing experience. The end of the platform is cantilevered out over the hole, which is 214 metres deep with a surface area of 17 hectares and a perimeter of 1.6 km and is surrounded by the original buildings from the heyday of the mine. We saw a little mongoose on our way back to the Museum, digging in the dirt.

From there we were taken to a replica of an underground mine, where we could see a mine shaft of the 19th Century Diamond Rush and Scotty explained to us how it would have worked. They even had a demonstration of a blast including the siren, the flash/bang and the huge noise afterwards.

Then Scotty took us to the Real Diamond Display and explained about the four Cs – Colour, Clarity, Cut and Carat (although there should be a 5th one – Cost!). We were taken into a huge vault and saw lots of gems, including a replica of the famous 616, named after its carat weight! It is the largest uncut octahedron diamond in the world. We also saw a replica of the diamond named Eureka.

Then we watched a short film called Destiny and Diamonds, which took us back to early 1867, when curious children picked up a stone on the banks of the Orange River. The stone, which was meant to be for their rock collection, turned out to be a diamond. The fascinating story of its discovery changed the destiny of the entire region.

While some of our fellow rail travellers went shopping, Richard and I explored the Old Town filled with period buildings that have been preserved or restored. These include a church built in Europe and shipped to Kimberley, the diggers’ sleeping quarters, an old garage and the De Beers Railway coach, to name a few.

After our very interesting morning, we were returned to the Pride of Africa in time for lunch. We sat with the other members of our APT group and enjoyed a very different lunch! Our main course was “balsamic and lemon-marinated slices of ostrich fillet, with ribbons of blanched courgettes on a bed of whole-grain mustard and mayonnaise potato salad:. We have to admit that we were somewhat skeptical, but it was absolutely delicious! It took us 2½ hours to work our way through our 4 course lunch even although each serving was quite small.

The afternoon was spent in our suite, just relaxing, watching the view out our windows, catching up with our blog and sorting through photos.

We had a lovely evening with Rosemary and Kevin, chatting and enjoying our dinner, before heading back to our suite to get organised for bed after a wonderful day. When we entered our suite, there was champagne and glasses on the bed, as well as chocolates and roses – from our lovely hostess Elizka.

Sunday 21 September Rovos Rail Day 3

After a good night’s sleep, we woke up early to have breakfast so that, for those who wished to, we could disembark the train at Whitehill Siding and walk the five kilometres into our next stop, Matjiesfontein. We walked along a dirt/gravel track up and down a few hills, taking in the beautiful views and enjoying the fresh air.

When we arrived at the station in Matjiesfontein, we dropped our stuff off in our suite and then headed off to explore the historic village. The Railway Museum had all sorts of antiques and the Transport Museum had an amazing collection of vintage cars, bicycles in all styles, an ex-London bus and a steam train, as well as two Royal Daimlers from King George VI’s tour of South Africa with Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II). We wandered around the rest of the village before heading back to the train to catch up with some of the Aussies in the Lounge, drinking cups of tea/coffee and chatting.

When we left Matjiesfontein, we passed through Tweeside and Touws River before reaching the Hex River Pass. We travelled through four tunnels through the mountains, the second one 13.5 kilometres long.

While we enjoyed our lunch, we were able to watch the changing landscape – we were now in the wine growing area and there were also lots of mountains, some with snow on the tops. The Hex River Mountains make up the second highest mountain range in the Western Cape province of South Africa. The train climbed down the escarpment to the Hex River Valley, which hosts hundreds of grape-producing farms. They yield most of South Africa’s export grape harvest and accounts for a quarter of the national wine production with 20 wine cooperatives and several brandy distilleries.

After lunch, we sat in our room, watching the beautiful changing scenery as the train made its way to Cape Town. Cape Town is the provincial and legislative capital of South Africa and is the second most populated (after Johannesburg), with 3.74 million.

After a wonderful and relaxing 3 days on our Rovos Rail train, where we were very spoilt by all the staff, we arrived in Cape Town at 6.00pm. We have thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience of the Rovos Rail. All meals on the train were designed to be fine dining experiences that were not to be rushed, allowing conversations with fellow passengers. Most meals averaged about 2½ hours and we tasted food we hadn’t had before and although we had 4 courses for lunch and dinner, they were small courses. We also had lots of time to just relax, taking in the views and chatting to our fellow passengers and especially getting to know some of our APT tour group.

We were met at the station by a representative from APT and our luggage was brought out from the train and loaded into the mini bus. All the staff from the train came out line up and wave goodbye, including Rohan Voss, the owner of Rovos Rail.

We were met at the Table Bay Hotel by the staff with drinks and also by our Tour Guide, Delia, who took us into a conference room for a briefing about our tour.

We settled into our room, which overlooks the historic Victoria and Alfred Waterfront.

We decided to have a snack in our room and catch up with our blog.

3 Responses to “Rovos Rail Days 1, 2 & 3”

  1. Liana says:

    Hi you two!
    I went on an enjoyable virtual tour with you once again, this time I took Thys with me 🙂 Hope you are enjoying CT & surrounds today? Had a nice hot start to the day hey? Yzerfontein where we stay, is about 70km north from CT – West Coast.
    Lovely photo’s! Thys grew up close to the Vaal River in the area where you saw the flamingo’s – was it at Welkom?
    Talk again, looking forward to the next story & pics! 🙂

  2. Maria says:

    Hi Sandy and Richard – the photos and description of your Rail Journey are wonderful…..particularly liked the photo of the Pharmacy :)…keep enjoying every day xoxo

  3. Janet says:

    Hey Dad, your photo of the sunrise looks like it’s straight out of The Lion King!
    Your room looks nice and so does the food! And I love that you have to get dressed up for dinner, what fun 🙂

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