Three nights’ on a private train in Africa
After spending just over a week in Zimbabwe and Botswana, my friend Jenny and I took the Rovos Rail, a private railway company that operates out of Capital Park Station in Pretoria, from Zimbabwe to Pretoria over three nights.
We began our adventure on Christmas Eve morning by meeting the train at Victoria Falls private railway station which is opposite the Victoria Falls Hotel. We were checked in by the Rovos staff and our bags were taken by porters onto the train. This afforded us the opportunity to walk around the hotel’s gardens. The hotel is Edwardian style and was built in 1904 and the grounds are pretty spectacular [not that you can tell that from my photos].Inside is pretty stunning too…The grounds also have a stunning view of the spray from Victoria Falls and the bridge that marks the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia.After a complimentary glass of champagne and a briefing on our impending travel, we boarded our train and within minutes had departed.
My friend and I each chose a Pullman Suite which has a very comfortable sofa during the day which then converts to a double bed for the evening [every evening once the bed is made by the wonderful staff, there would be a lovely little surprise; a small box of chocolates, a small bottle of champagne or a Christmas gift – I loved this!!]. There is also a small bar fridge filled with your beverages of choice. The suite also has an en-suite bathroom with shower. Before we departed the chef and his team came and spoke to me about my dietary requirements – a lovely personal touch.
There’s an accent on fresh local ingredients, and traditional dishes such as game are a speciality; of course not for me. Every morning there’s a full breakfast as well as dishes cooked to order. A selection of cold meats, croissants, pastries, fresh fruit, yogurts, cereals and preserves make up the breakfast buffet.
For lunch and dinner there is a starter then a choice of fish, meat or a vegetarian dish, followed by a dessert and these are complemented by a selection of really good South African wines. Dress code for the train is smart casual during the day and evening attire is more formal – for the men a jacket and tie is a minimum requirement while for us ladies a cocktail/evening dress or suit is required.
And to celebrate Christmas, the train was decked out with Christmas decorations in each of the common areas and dining cart…a lovely touch! One afternoon I walked up to the one of the two lounge cars; this one being near the rear of the train. It was 4pm and afternoon tea was being served. Fruit, biscuits, petit fours and small sandwiches are on offer along with whatever beverages you wish.
I had just finished two books lent to me by a friend so I borrowed one of the train’s to enjoy during the rest of my journey. It wasn’t that good but gave me something to read.I managed to take some photos of African homes and the countryside.Positioned at the rear of the train past the lounge car is the observation car which can seat thirty-two passengers. It’s a lovely area to sit and watch where the train is travelling and of course see that lovely countryside. Permission was sought and granted by South African Railways to place the observation cars at the back of the trains, which allowed windows to be enlarged and an open air type balcony to be built. During the trip we passed along the edge of Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe’s largest wildlife reserve travelling south-east to Kennedy Siding for an overnight stop.
On Christmas morning we woke very early and disembarked for a game drive at The Hide. As we disembarked the locals were waiting for us selling their wares.We saw zebra, giraffe, elephant and many unusual and beautiful birds…
After the safari we stopped off at a small campsite where the staff had set up a wonderful hot and cold morning tea – so enjoyable and as I didn’t get up for 5am breakfast, I tucked into some lovely food and a cup of tea.
Then when we arrived back at the train, our wonderful staff had again set up tables but this time with champagne and orange juice to celebrate Christmas day – lovely!We then head for Bulawayo whilst Jenny and I exchanged Christmas presents – nice to do this on a train! We then crossed the Botswana border at Plumtree during the evening and in the morning we travelled south through Francistown and on towards Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. A short time later we crossed the South African border and lunch is served as the train passes through the farmlands of the Marico Valley.
We then head over the Magaliesberg Mountain Range, whilst we enjoyed dinner after which we pulled into Krugersdorp for our overnight stop – no rocking to get to sleep on our last night…but a lovely sunset from my suite’s window.Finally [and sadly] we arrive in Pretoria on the day after Boxing Day around mid-morning. A lovely surprise to see Mr Rovos himself waiting to welcome all the passengers. I still had my train legs (bit wobbly) for some time after disembarking the train.
What a worthwhile experience; one I shall not forget!