Experience Africa On A Restored Colonial Style Train

Posted on: 24 April 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Be seeped in luxury, spoilt by breath-taking scenery and reminded of a bygone era on Rovos Rail, the only way to travel across South Africa.

The brainchild of Rohan Vos - thus the name Rovos, the Pride of Africa transports passengers in high Edwardian style on various routes throughout South Africa.

Its meticulously restored coaches, outfitted with twenties and thirties style furnishings and mahogany panelling evoke the colonial glamour and elegance of pre-war rail travel.

"I wanted to combine the romance of train travel with accommodation, cuisine and service of the highest standard," says Vos, "Travelling on Rovos Rail is like being in a time warp. We've tried to re-create the ambience of an English country club of the early twentieth century but with attention to modern comforts."

Rohan Vos was involved in the motor spares industry in Witbank. He was very well established in 1985, being involved with 15 small businesses at the time. His first contact with the world of trains was made through an employee of his, Phil Acutt, who enticed him to become involved in a Steam Preservation Society.

Going over Montagu PassHe became more involved until eventually buying and restoring four carriages and a steam locomotive. The idea was to run this private little train around the countryside for himself and his family which prompted him in December 1986 to secure a contract with the South African Railways that would allow him to travel anywhere in South Africa at a fixed charge per kilometre per carriage. But when he discovered the costs involved in towing this hotel on wheels around the country were beyond his private means, South African Railways suggested that he sell tickets.

So Vos, who had no experience with trains or tourism, spent the next few years in his airplane scouring the countryside for old coaches and locomotives, either rescuing them from scrap yards or purchasing them from the railways and from individuals who had converted them into restaurants and residences.

By 1996 Rovos Rail was operating two trains of twenty carriages each, half of which date back to the twenties and thirties. Most were built between 1919 and 1970. They are refurbished at his sheds in Pretoria, rebuilt in a way that blends traditional woods and fixtures with modern conveniences like hidden mini bars and spacious bathrooms.

Engine roomThe suites are designed for either double or twin beds and have a small lounge area with two upholstered chairs, a compact refrigerator, a cupboard and two full-length mirrors. The bathroom comes complete with hot shower, hair dryer, bathroom heater and shaver plugs.  

All suites, the Dining Cars, Club Lounge, Observation and Lounge Cars are fully air-conditioned.  The observation car, from which one can experience the breath-taking African scenery whilst supping a Klip ‘n’ coke, has a mahogany bar, lamp-lit booths with leather, and the cane and rattan furniture that was popular during colonial times. There is also an open-air observation platform which allows you to absorb the African sun as the splendour of the continent passes you by at a pace that allows you to take it all in.

But it's the dining cars, however, that truly transport one to another era.

A brass gong announces each meal, beckoning guests to two opulently restored carriages. The more formal carriage, dating to 1911, displays fluted teak pillars and arches, mahogany tables and tassel tied draperies which combine to create an Edwardian feeling. In the 1935 dining car, a former restaurant in Johannesburg, plush booths, mahogany panelling and square chrome fitted ceiling lights The dining carensconce diners in subtle Art Deco style.

Booking Information

As you would expect, prices are not cheap, but this is a once in a lifetime journey. 

Guests can choose from a series of journeys lasting from 24 hours to a fortnight linking some of Africa’s greatest destinations. 

• A 48-hour 1600km journey between Pretoria and Cape Town, with off-train excursions in Kimberley and Matjiesfontein.

• A 24-hour 550km journey along the spectacular Garden Route between Cape Town and George, with a wine-tasting excursion.

• A 55-hour 1600 km journey between Pretoria and Victoria Falls.

• A 55-hour Safari between Pretoria and Durban, including game drives in the Kruger National Park, Mkhaya Reserve in Swaziland and Hluhluwe in Zululand.

Longer journeys can also be booked:

• An epic journey into the heart of Africa takes place at various times when Rovos Rail departs on a 14 day (6,100km) Edwardian Safari from Cape Town to Dar Es Salaam, via Kimberley, Pretoria, the Kruger National Park, Beit Bridge, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls, Lusaka and through Tanzania to Dar Es Salaam.

• An annual 3 400 km journey to Swakopmund in Namibia in May. The train takes 6 nights/7 days to reach Swakopmund with an off-train excursion in Kimberley, a visit to the Fish River Canyon, a tour of Windhoek with a game drive near the city, and an overnight stay at a game lodge in Etosha National Park with two game drives.

• An annual 9-day African Collage journey between Pretoria and Cape Town in May/June. This most scenic of all trips takes the train via Malelane, Hluhluwe, Durban, Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth, Oudtshoorn, George and on to Cape Town with various off-train excursions.

• A 9-day Golf Safari in April, August and December which takes guests to a selection of the finest golf courses in South Africa, combining scenic beauty with renowned game and cultural attractions. This is a round trip with an equally interesting itinerary for non-golfers departing from Pretoria and travelling via Phalaborwa, Durban, Ladysmith, Sun City and back to Pretoria.

These two pdf files contain dates and prices for 2007 - 2009: Dates and Rates for 2007-2008 and Dates and Rates for 2008-2009.

For further information and booking details visit http://www.rovos.co.za

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