Friday, January 14, 2011

Rovos Rail and The Mighty Victoria Falls [Part 1]

Today, I'm going to do something quite different.  Furthermore, this will be done over two successive posts, with possibly a third, if necessary.  Hopefully, it will pique the interest of my regular readers, who may have started to tire of only seeing and hearing about my garden. 

Also, important to state for accuracy and authenticity, I cannot claim a single one of these pictures as my ownAll are my husband's own work, kindly given to me to use.
Earlier today, feeling nostalgic, I was looking through our pictures of a memorable holiday we enjoyed as a family, two years ago. At the time, our son was working in KwaZulu Natal.  Our daughter was based in Cape Town, but travelled quite a bit for her job.  We have always been a closeknit family unit and all felt it would be great to get together and have a Christmas holiday, with a difference..."away from home," for a change. Please click the read more button below to continue ;)

My husband suggested we book with Rovos Rail for their excursion to the Victoria Falls.  As we were to board the train in Pretoria, we first needed to fly up to Johannesburg.  Our son flew home to join us and the four of us flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg on the 23rd December 2008.

Our objective for that particular holiday was to make it thoroughly relaxing and 100% stress-free for all of us!  We wanted to be able to make the most of our time together, enjoying something very special! 

Being Christmas, this was a particularly busy time of year.  Driving around Johannesburg is stressful even at the best of times and so we had pre-arranged for a taxi to drive us to Pretoria, where we'd booked into an all-suite, Boutique hotel for two nights.
Our hotel suite.
We were not going to rush up on the night before.  We wanted to make the whole experience pleasurably enjoyable.  By doing this, we had the added advantage of being able to enjoy the sights of some of Pretoria's well-known attractions.  We visited both the zoo and the Union Buildings on the 24th.

View across the city of Pretoria, from the lookout (below) at the Pretoria Zoo.


What follows next...some of the animals we saw at the zoo...

The cablecars at the Pretoria Zoo.
After a fun day exploring and a very good Christmas Eve dinner at our hotel, we retired to enjoy a good night's sleep prior to commencement of the next leg of our journey, on Christmas Day.  

On the station platform looking towards the passenger reception area on your left.

Our train was scheduled for departure at 12h00 on the 25th December.  All passengers had to present themselves at the privately-owned, Rovos Rail Station by 10h00, to be checked in and to attend the formal Welcoming Ceremony.  This, in itself, was a real treat!

Upon arrival, we were greeted in royal style!  Our luggage was checked, labelled with special Rovos Rail buckled, leather tags and quickly whisked away.  We were then ushered into the vast, but exceedingly gracious, lounge (think old world grandiose style - huge brass and crystal chandeliers, wood pannelling, antique sculptures and paintings, expansive, upholstered leather couches piled with sumptuous scatter cushions, traditional English High Tea with huge, three tiered, silver servers of dainty sandwiches (salmon, cucumber and egg mayonnaise), delicate petit fours and delectable, melt-in-your mouth shortbread fingers!

View across one section of the lounge - we were seated at the far side.  Each area is 'a lounge within a lounge', allowing for groups to sit together.

Large silver dishes full of an assortment of fine, imported chocolates, a selection of salted nuts and biltong (a South African, dried meat, delicacy made from Kudu, Springbok and other game), Champagne-on-ice and large crystal jugs of freshly squeezed, iced orange juice. Think dainty silver platters, lead crystal glasses and fine, English, bone china, Rovos Rail embossed, cups and saucers.  Think generously cut, starched, linen napkins!  If this was the foretaste of what we were in for, it was going to be a "once-in-a-lifetime" experience that we were determined to enjoy fully!

While we were genteely savouring this lavish spread, the old steam engine was lovingly and carefully being put through her paces by her proud and dedicated driver.  She was to pull us out of the private Rovos Rail station and transport our carriages to the main- line station, where we were to be hooked up to a modern, diesel engine for the remainder of our three day journey. 
Even I couldn't help but marvel at this Grand Old Lady!
An engineer's dream plaything!

When the whistle blew, we all eagerly moved out on to the wide, covered verandahs and station platform area, to take pictures of the engine and ourselves in the engine (for those who felt thus inclined!) and fully absorb the delicious sense of imminent adventure, upon which we were all about to embark.

One of the public lounge areas.

The dining car, quiet, undressed, between meals.  At dinner time, it was turned into sheer magic!

For the smoking passengers, there was this Smoking Lounge (we do not smoke!)


Beyond the doors at the end of this lounge is the viewing area where we spent a fair amount of our time. 
Our fellow passengers were representatives from no fewer than thirteen different countries from around the world - as South Africans, we were very much in the minority!  The anticipation of hearing a range of different accents and languages during the course of our journey, greatly added to the excitement.

Once we'd all returned to the lounge, each family/group was announced (name and country of origin) and summoned in the order of our embarkation.  When it was our turn to step forward and head towards our marked carriage, we could barely contain ourselves - I know I was grinning from ear to ear! 
Our double bed in the Deluxe Suites
We were led to our respective accommodations, where our luggage was already awaiting our arrival. Rovos Rail has three cabin gradings, determined by size (and price): Royal Suites, 2 per coach & super luxurious; Deluxe Suites, 4 per coach and grand; and Pullman Suites, 8 per coach and considerably smaller, but nevertheless comfortably appointed.  We were in the Deluxe Suites, which were amply roomy.  Our children had twin beds, set well apart and on opposite walls, in their suite. We had a double bed in ours.  Both had fully stocked bar fridges, a writing desk, reclining chairs and en suite bathroom with shower.  Luxury gowns, slippers and personal toiletry bags (individualised for men and women, each with top quality brands and every possible consideration taken care of!), were the order of the day.  Embossed stationery and gold pens were provided, all drinking and wine glasses were lead crystal and we were supplied generously with boxes of handcrafted nougat and nuts, replenished daily.
Bedtime "turndown" service ~ the next night, our bed was strewn with red rose petals :)

The dining cars (there were two) are beautifully appointed and the waitrons, handpicked, are impeccably turned out and trained to the highest standard of excellence.  All meals are freshly and  meticulously prepared and produced on site by the highly skilled, Rovos Rail chefs.  All are beautifully served and presented.  The menu changed daily as did the accompanying wines, ports and dessert wines.  Any longer than our three days on board would have ensured we'd waddled off the train! 

Each day presented its own magic as we gently rolled along, clickety-clack-clickety-clack...

Passing scenes of breath-taking beauty...

Our train!  I think there were 30 carriages...

The road through Africa stretches infinitely ahead...

The public lounges, library and on-board bar areas are furnished in the same grand style and there is 24 hour service, inclusive of 24 hour room service.  Each afternoon, a truly scrumptuous High Tea is served in the lounges.  Think chocolate ganaches, cream puffs, ecclairs, strawberry cheesecake.  Again, everything is served in only the best quality china and off silver platters.  Every single passenger is made to feel like royalty, every moment of the journey.  Every request is met courteously, timeously and with immediate attention to detail.
While you're being waited on hand and foot, the train passes through a continually changing kaleidoscope of captivating beauty...

We're coming on right behind!!!

Observe and draw the vastness of these wide open spaces into the depths of your soul - once Africa hypnotises you, you'll find it hard to release yourself from her gaze. 
The room service was of the highest standard and the inconspicuous cleaning staff quietly nipped in to refresh our suites at every mealtime, plumping cushions and checking our in-room stocks, so we had the luxury of returning to freshly hung towels and neatly folded toilet paper each time and our beds were turned down each evening and adorned with red rose petals, chocolates and mini-bottles of iced champagne.  Incredibly, all of this is included in the once-off price of the train ticket. 

Rural life quietly going about its own business...

Magnificent landscapes...

Ponderous skies...

Last light waning...

Ruin etched by an evening sky...

Family groups, captured by my husband's lens...pastoral simplicity

Herds of animals grazing off the lush green pastures...

Wildebeest with their young...

Train graveyards...

Bridges fording river after river (it was the rainy season, so we had quite a lot of rain on our trip!.

Acacia trees...symbol of Africa's soul!

For anyone interested in reading further about this truly luxurious way of travel, here's the link to Rovos Rail.  You may well be tempted to book yourselves on a "once-in-a-lifetime" holiday experience with them, too!
My next post will introduce you to the magnificent, awe-inspiring, Victoria Falls, known locally as
Mosi-oa-Tunya (the Smoke that Thunders).


  1. Wow..thankyou for taking me on this magnificent visual journey...what a fabulous post..awesome!!

  2. Oh *sigh* Desiree! I loved every minute of this leg of your journey. I've never been on Rovos Rail but it's on my "must do" list. I've just sent my younger dil this link and said, one day soon, we must go as a family. <yu family spent five idyllic years in Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia) and I'll be back to read your next post! Africa really is truly the most beautiful of all. Have a great weekend. Jo

  3. Wowwww,,......what a great trip you have made !! thanks for sharing this with us !! love ...happy

  4. Stunning! I can't wait for part two. This is superb.

  5. I needed an african journey today. thanks for sharing this . I hope you have a lovely weekend.

  6. Hi Desiree, I must keep this post from Grenville who is a train fan or he will want to book the next flight to South Africa. Thanks for sharing.

  7. What an amazing train and trip! I loved seeing so much of the scenery of this part of Africa. Amazing to see so many of the same animals in your zoo. At the zoo near us they have a whole African Savannah section, I always wondered how authentic looking it was.
    I look forward to seeing the next part of the trip.

  8. In response to your comment on my Winter Gardens post, I'm sure that the architects would have conidered Crystal Palace in creating their design; in the same way that I'm sure tropical glasshouses in the gardens of historic country estates influenced the design of Crystal Palace.

  9. That is one fabulous train. We love train trips. Must put it on my bucket list. Enjoying your holiday.


    I'm thrilled to know you've all enjoyed this post - I'm going to be working on the next installment & hope to have it up by tomorrow.

    I've been away from home today doing my good deed for the week - I went to Cape Town to garden for my daughter. She has a very full programme this month, working every single day and has not been able to give her little garden the usual love and attention she lavishes on it. It grows like a mini-jungle, so requires regular pruning and trimming to keep everything looking happy. So, that's what I did for her, today! I had a great time and when I left, it was all looking super. A nice surprise for her to come home to later!

  11. What a wonderful record of your trip your husband made with his camera! Thanks for sharing your memories of it with us. I didn't see this yesterday, and read it first thing this morning (now I'm hungry for high tea on china plates)!

    Off to read Part Two!

  12. No...I didn't understand a word of Afri..?? What? But, no matter, I loved just looking at the words..and to me it is amazing that you understand and can write it! I am honored and delighted to see a language I have seen before!

    Even the train is beautiful! I once knew an artist that painted nothing but trains! He did a few portraits but usually stuck to just trains. I had to wonder if he had ever seen these?
    Thank you so much also for your compliment on my shot?! :)
    I just need something updated, badly!
    Now on to catching up...(I never tire of your garden!!) Thank your husband for all of us for lending you his photo's. They are wonderful...
    Hugs and love,

  13. Wow, that is some train trip. I'll have to put that one on my 'Bucket List'. Thanks for posting it.

  14. Thoroughly enjoyed the train trip. Your husband's photos evoke that lovely feeling of anticipation at what lies ahead.
    Fun seeing the passing countryside too.
    Oh how I'd love to travel like that!

    Thank you Desiree! ..oh, and, most definitely, hubby too ;-)

  15. I am reading posts that you wrote before I discovered your blog.....which I thoroughly miss nowadays. Your writing, photos (yours and your husband's) and subject matter are of such superior quality. I learn so much and find them so enjoyable. Thank you again.


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