By HermoineFeaturedTravel

Riding the Rovos Rail: Luxurious Train Journeys Across Africa

By Hermoine Macura-Noble
Special to The Times Kuwait


Africa is a land of diverse landscapes, vibrant cultures, and captivating wildlife, so exploring this stunning part of the world can be a dream come true for any traveler. For those seeking a touch of old-world luxury and nostalgia, the Rovos Rail offers a variety of unforgettable journeys across this fascinating continent.

Established in 1989, the Rovos Rail offers beautifully rebuilt trains that carry a maximum of 72 passengers in 36 superbly appointed suites. It is hard to believe this luxurious vintage train service, which pampers guests with the charm of a bygone era combined with today’s modern amenities, started as a small family business. Tiffany Vos-Thane, Chief Operating Officer at the Rovos Rail, explains how her father, Rohan Vos, made his dream a reality.

“My dad was in the auto industry for many years, and at around 40 years old, he got passionate about steam locomotion and immersed himself in the train world. An explorer at heart, his initial plan was to educate us and show us South Africa. My siblings and I grew up on the trains… they have been a part of my life since I was three years old.”

The allure of train travel has endured for generations, captivating the imagination of adventurers and romantics, which is why the power couple behind the Rovos Rail, Rohan and Anthea Vos, initially planned to appeal to the five-star luxury space of train travel while also putting their stamp on it by designing the coaches from the inside out.

“The Rovos Rail carriages look completely different from other luxury trains worldwide. They are spacious, private, and comfortable. Our service is also amiable and warm… We strive to get to know our guests,” adds Vos-Thane. The gentle sway of the train, the clickety-clack of wheels on the tracks, and the soothing rhythm of the journey create an atmosphere of relaxation and serenity. The absence of airport crowds, security lines, and baggage checks makes for a stress-free and tranquil travel experience.

Offering 11 journeys across Africa, the most popular short journey is the Pretoria to Victoria Falls route. The journey begins as soon as you step onto the platform at Capital Park Station in Pretoria, where you are immediately transported back in time. The train’s polished brass, gleaming woodwork, and vintage carriages evoke the romance of a golden age of travel. The Rovos Rail is often called the ‘Pride of Africa,’ and as you embark on your journey, you will quickly discover why.

The Pretoria to Victoria Falls itinerary travels through the Warmbaths and Nylstroom, which the Voortrekkers christened as the source of the Nile River as the river happened to be north-flowing. By sunrise, travelers are crossing the Tropic of Capricorn, followed by a lovely four course lunch on board the train as it passes over the Limpopo River, made famous in Rudyard Kipling’s Just so Stories. The journey also includes a visit to Matobo National Park to see Bushman caves and the grave of Cecil John Rhodes, as well as a game drive with expert guides in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe.

Covering an expanse of approximately 14,651 square kilometers, Hwange ranks as Zimbabwe’s largest national park and one of Africa’s largest game reserves. The park’s diverse landscapes range from teak forests and savannas to grassy plains and waterholes, offering a variety of habitats for an impressive array of wildlife. Visitors can meet the famous Big Five – lions, elephants, buffalos, leopards, and rhinos.

In addition to the Big Five, Hwange is a sanctuary for over 100 other species of mammals, including cheetahs, wild dogs, hyenas, zebras, giraffes, and numerous antelope species. Birdwatchers will be delighted by the park’s more than 400 bird species, including raptors, colorful bee-eaters, and various waterfowl. The 5-day journey concludes at the incomparable Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.

Other creative rail journeys include the Golf Safari and the Namibia Safari; however, the Dar Es Salaam journey attracts the most international rail enthusiasts. “Our most popular long journey is the Dar es Salaam train, which is a 16-day trip across five countries. It has the best reputation and has already sold out until 2025. A historian travels with the train and brings each destination to life. On that journey, guests become like family.” explains Vos-Thane.

The Rovos Rail offers a variety of accommodation options, all beautifully restored to their original grandeur. The pullman suites provide cozy and comfortable compartments, while the deluxe suites offer more space and elegance. The royal suites have a private lounge and full-sized bathtubs for ultimate opulence. Gulf travelers will be glad to know that the Rovos plans to introduce vacuum toilets to save on water and a bathroom upgrade that will include a bidet feature by 2025.

“Luxury for us is about privacy and comfort, which means only using the best quality. Both my parents were adamant about using only South African products. My mum knew that would be an important part of our story. Everything you experience on the train is from South Africa and is hand-picked by my mother, who is always looking at ways to elevate the Rovos experience,” says Vos-Thane.

One of the other highlights of any Rovos journey is the superb dining experience. The onboard chefs are renowned for their culinary expertise, as are the onboard staff for their impeccable service. Travelers enjoy a mix of international and South African flavors, all expertly paired with a selection of regional wines. Meals are served in the dining car, and the dress code is formal for dinner, adding to the sense of refinement and glamor.

“Over the years, we have worked with incredible chefs to ensure the menus are seasonal and representative of the countries we travel through. If you are traveling through parts of Zimbabwe, you get to experience the local cuisine…We also offer halal dishes upon request and can easily source halal products,” explains Vos-Thane.

When guests book with the Rovos Rail directly, they can easily avail of the unique VIP butler service, where the Rovos team curates the entire experience for you at a premium price. As more people turn to their bucket list trips post-pandemic, the Rovos rise to the challenges of designing exquisite charters for guests looking to spend time with loved ones. The team even developed a 7-star service charter earlier this year for members of a royal family. “We’ve had plenty of proposals and weddings on board the train, and many people also choose to celebrate their anniversaries on board the Rovos,” gushes Vos-Thane.

The Rovos Rail is not merely a mode of transport but a time machine that transports you to an era of refined travel, where attention to detail, opulent surroundings, and impeccable service are paramount.

For those who seek a unique and unparalleled travel experience, the Rovos Rail stands as a testament to the grandeur of the past, combined with the beauty of the present. The extraordinary rail journeys are not just a trip; they are an adventure of a lifetime, a voyage through history, and a reminder that some dreams are worth chasing.


By Hermoine Macura-Noble The first Australian English speaking News Anchor in the Middle East. She is also the Author of Faces of the Middle East and Founder of US-based 501c3 charity – The House of Rest which helps to ease the suffering of victims of war. For more from our Contributing Editor, you can follow her on Instagram, here.By Hermoine Macura-Noble
The first Australian English speaking News Anchor in the Middle East. She is also the Author of Faces of the Middle East and Founder of US-based 501c3 charity – The House of Rest which helps to ease the suffering of victims of war. For more from our Contributing Editor, you can follow her on Instagram, here.


 



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