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Travel Through Africa on a Steam Train

There is nothing like seeing Africa while travelling on a luxury, beautifully restored steam locomotive. One can sit in the comfort of a luxury coach and peer out the windows, observing the colourful changing landscapes and listening to the sound of the shunting of the steam train. This is the privilege of finding yourself on one of the most luxurious trains in the world, Rovos Rail. So when you find yourself in Africa, or have been on a safari through Africa, why not extend your time here and experience more of this beautiful country by climbing on board a 5-star Rovos Rail steam train.

How it all began

It simply began when a trio of people came together: Rohan and Anthea Vos and Phil Acutt (a steam train locomotive enthusiast). Rohan Vos had a successful auto-spares business in Witbank and was always ‘obsessed with all things mechanical’. In 1985, Rohan, together with Phil Acutt, attended an auction to buy a coach or two. They wanted to restore four carriages and hitch them to a South African Railways train as a family caravan. Steam-train enthusiast, Geoff Pethick, another steam train enthusiast met Rohan and he quickly realised that “here was a man of vision”. Rohan purchased several coaches and they were all taken to Witbank to be restored to their former glory.
After facing complications with working with the South African Transport Services, Rohan decided that he needed to become independent and purchased a 1938 Class 19D locomotive from Lowenthal’s Scrap Metal in Johannesburg. It was rebuilt by Rovos Rail and he named it ‘BIANCA’ after one of his daughters.

After a few negotiations with Sam Taute of SAR, Rohan was granted permission to run his train in December 1986, and so Rovos Rail began their vintage train business venture.


rovos_rail_ tanzania_hills

There are many trips through Africa that you can explore the country with.

Here is a list of a few:

Cape Town Journey

As you relax in one of the public cars or your own train suite, allow the train to take you on a 1 600-kilometre meander through South Africa. Experience the golden grasslands of the Highveld to the stark emptiness of the Great Karoo. Observe the continuous mountain ranges and scenic winelands of the Cape, where your journey will come to an end.

Durban Safari

This train safari takes you on a journey between Pretoria and Durban and departs during the summer months. Expect game drives, a battlefields tour and the Nambiti Conservancy where you can spot the Big Five. This private retreat is situated on 20 000 acres of malaria-free bushveld in KwaZulu-Natal. Explore the mountains, bush and variety of birdlife at Spionkop Lodge. Also incuded is the Valley of a Thousand Hills on your way back to Durban.

Victoria Falls Journey

Here you will leave from Rovos Rail’s grand station in Pretoria before it meanders its way south through Johannesburg and the goldfields of the Witwatersrand, and then heads west alongside the Magaliesberg Mountains. It crosses over the border at Mafikeng, and then shunts north the following day through Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, crossing the Tropic of Capricorn. Your journey continues via Mahalapye and Francistown to the Zimbabwean border at Plumtree. A highlight of this journey is Hwange National Park where wildlife can be spotted from the train, not to mention the majestic Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River where this safari comes to an end. Take part in cruises, whitewater rafting, bungee jumping, photo safaris and much more.

Namibia Safari

Departing annually, this nine-day 3 400-kilometre train ride allows you to take in the savannahs of the Highveld to the Atlantic in the west. After departing from Pretoria, your first stop is Kimberley, famous for being one of the world’s famous diamond rushes. Enjoy the ambience of the 1870s while exploring the mine museum village.
Continuing through scenic Northern Cape, the journey takes you to the Fish River Canyon – the second largest canyon in the world, a breathtaking sight. Sip on a refreshing drink while you cross the stark beauty of the Kalahari Desert to Namibia’s capital; Windhoek. This is a vibey city with a great nightlife and strong German architectural influences. A short flight takes you to Sossusvlei, a salt pan in the Namib Desert, rich with wildlife. The following day more wildlife awaits you in Etosha National Park. Finally, Rovos Rail will wind its way to the German town of Swakopmund – an amazing beach resort where you can soak up the African sun.

Life on the train


The Club Car

There are Observation Cars at the back of the train, where you can gaze out the large windows or sit on one of their unique open-air balconies, giving you a close-up look at the countryside.

Their Classic and Edwardian Dining Cars are lavishly designed with 1940’s décor. Two twin diners have eye-catching carved roof-supporting pillars and arches, with a dedicated kitchen car.

Due to the popularity of the train, they had to increase the seating capacity from 42 to 72 guests, making a second Lounge Car a necessity. The coaches were stripped and refurbished to create comfortable lounge cars, which are placed in the middle of the trains, ahead of the dining cars. Luxurious sofas and wingback chairs allow you to recline back or even take a quick nap after a satisfying meal. All the service cars are air-conditioned, even though you can open the windows. This is a unique feature allowing you to stick your head out the window and enjoy the scenery, while being inside a cooled lounge.

The Club Car was created for smokers, as well as providing an overflow facility adjoining the Observation Car. The end suite was demolished to provide this area. A glass passage wall, allows guests to safely observe the scenery on both sides of the train.

For your nightly slumber, three perfect Suites have been carefully chosen to suit your requirements. You can enjoy a Royal Suite, which takes up half a carriage, a Deluxe suite with twin and double beds or a Pullman Suite with a sofa-bed, all with en-suite bathrooms.

Dining on the train


The Dining Car

Superb meals are served in the appealing Victorian atmosphere of the dining cars and are complemented by a selection of South Africa’s finest wines. Breakfast is served between 07h00 and 10h00, and lunch is at 13h00. A delectable formal dinner is served at 19h30, with a gong sounding for each meal time. Not forgetting tea time which is at 16h30 in the midway Lounge Car or Observation Car at the rear of the train.

Rovos rail have literally and figuratively ‘covered their tracks’. All your travel requirements will be met with friendly service on this unique mode of transport. So if you have never experienced the ‘clickety clack’ of the wheels on the tracks, or seen the black smoke billowing from the engine, or heard the eerie whistle of the train, taking a trip through Africa with Rovos Rail is definitely a must for your never-ending bucket-list!

For more information, please visit their website.

About Bronwyn Paxton

Article by: Bronwyn Paxton
on April 23, 2014
Filed under  Africa Blog • South Africa • Travel Articles 
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