Explore Cape Town, then journey across South Africa to Pretoria in utter comfort on the luxurious Rovos Railway.
Chamber music and champagne on the station platform is the welcome to passengers traveling from Cape Town to Pretoria with Rovos Rail — a preview of luxuries to come. This journey across the Karoo begins in a historic city and ends in an administrative capital, with plenty of luxury along the way.
Exploring Cape Town
Prior to boarding our train, we had spent four days at the foot of Table Mountain in Cape Town, a picturesque city founded in the 18th century by the Dutch East India Company as a supply depot for ships plying the spice trade. Awakening from its Victorian past in the 21st century, the city boasts world-class hotels as well as historic colonial buildings. Allow at least three or four days for a taste of it; the Cape Town tourist information website is a good place to begin your trip planning.
This port city’s past is recaptured by the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront district, known as the V&A. Children flock there daily, with parents, nannies and school groups, mingling with visitors from all over the globe who come to see tugs, pilot boats, ferries and other fascinating aspects of a working harbor, then to be mesmerizes by jugglers, mime artistes, rock’n’roll bands, magicians, sword-swallowers, and fire-eaters who entertain those who care to watch and listen, and perhaps contribute a few Rand in appreciation.
It’s also a mecca for shoppers and tastemakers. Here, African crafts from Natal, neighboring Mozambique, Tanzania and Namibia vie for attention with the latest from Nike, post leather goods from Italy and yes, genuine safari gear. The V&A also caters to all taste buds with restaurants in every budget.
A short drive south, en route to the Cape of Good Hope, was Hout Bay for a launch trip to Seal Rocks. This spectacle of thousands of seals sunning themselves on the boulders, cavorting in the surf, diving for fun, it seems, as well as for food, was an amazing sight. Even the penguins were amused. Standing at The Fairest Cape, not quite the southern-most tip of Africa (Cape Agulhas has that distinction), and gazing south it was hard to believe there’s nothing but ocean until Antarctica; to the right the south Atlantic, to the left the Indian Ocean.
Across the Karoo by Rovos Rail
As the Rovos Rail engine pulls out of Cape Town, Table Mountain is shrouded in white clouds, the legendary “table cloth.” We explore our new rolling home and quickly understand why monarchs, rajahs, sultans and potentates of old liked to travel by train.
Rovos Rail is the brainchild of a visionary South African who scoured the scrap yards, backyards and museums for Edwardian rolling stock and totally refurbished each unit to its original splendor, at the same time installing every conceivable modern luxury and convenience.
Our individually air-conditioned compartment, appropriately named Stanley, has a queen bed, writing table, two easy chairs, a dressing table and a small refrigerator. In addition to toilet and hand basin, the en-suite bathroom boasts a walk-in shower, a sumptuous array of fresh white towels and luxury toiletries. The attendant assigned to us was always seconds away when we called and never failed to straighten up the room on every occasion we left.
Dining was another splendid experience. In the wood-panelled Edwardian Club Car, crisp white linen clothes, fine china, crystal and fresh flowers are on every table to complement truly excellent food and wines. Service is impeccable. In between meals, two lounge and observation cars beckon with deep armchairs, settees, writing tables, books, magazines, a tiny shop and bar/kitchen service to insure total comfort. (The well known Blue Train was refurbished in the late nineties at considerable expense to the South African government, which owns and runs it).
The Karoo, the great flat central plain, unfolds outside our window. Cattle and sheep still graze here as they did in the early days, supporting the Voortrekkers (pioneers) who first settled this land. Water holes, pumped in windmills, punctuate a landscape still shaking off the southern winter and acquiring a carpet of spring-fresh green.
South Africa is a Land of Diamonds
The train stops to take on water and we are encouraged to walk through small historic towns.
In Kimberley we visit the famous diamond mine, its museum, and Cecil Rhodes’ house. The world-renowned De Beers Company is still headquartered here. Our train fare includes these excursions, and lunch at the Kimberley Club.
Now being pulled in traditional manner by a pair of steam engines restored by Rovos Rail, we arrived after 48 hours of grand travel, in Pretoria, South Africa’s administrative capital.
This is not the end of the train’s journey, only ours. We shall return.
Rovos Rail regularly goes on to Victoria Falls and, once a year, all the way to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, on the Indian Ocean. For more information on schedules and routes, contact your travel agent or visit their site at Rovos Rail.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.