Have you heard of Rovos Rail?
A hidden African gem that we were so lucky to experience. We took the Rovos Rail train traveling from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe to Pretoria, South Africa. Over 5 enthralling days we travelled through national parks stopping for a safari game drive where we saw a pride of 7 lions stalk prey alongside a watering hole, we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, got dressed up every evening for dinner, met lovely people from all over the world, and the kids just loved their bedrooms as they sat on their beds enjoying the best tv you can imagine, watching in amazement through their windows as we passed all kinds of African wildlife. Mesmerizing, enchanting, beautiful, exciting- not enough words can describe Rovos Rail - it has to be experienced.
Here is my story of a very unique African adventure…
Very close to the majestic Victoria Falls is a simple train station. But within this train station sat a majestic train, all green and gold, inviting us to come onboard and begin a journey like no other. Rovos Rail is the African answer to the Orient Express. Originating in South Africa the train crisscrosses multiple southern African nations and then ends back in Pretoria, South Africa. We had been invited to experience the Zimbabwe-South Africa leg, hence we were setting off from the Victoria Falls station. Over the next 5 days we would travel across the rugged countryside of Zimbabwe, cross into South Africa, see the rural beauty of this magnificent country and finish up in the old school capital of Pretoria. Also during the 5 days we would make 2 stops, one to experience a safari in Hwange National Park, the largest one in Zimbabwe – 14,700 sqm of land, equivalent to the size of Belgium and containing 35,000 elephants and 250 lions – while the second one to stop at sacred cultural spot that symbolized the growth of Africa and Rhodesia (the previous name of Zimbabwe) as it broke free from the shackles of colonialism.
The highlight of the safari was us coming to a watering hole just as a pride of 7 lions showed up; what followed was straight out of a National Geographic episode as the lions waited patiently, camouflaged themselves brilliantly (at one stage looking like rocks strewn across the banks of the watering hole) as various other prey like zebras and gazelles ventured closer to have a drink. It was fascinating to see as the prey sensed danger but still kept approaching the water while the lions let them get closer and closer before launching a full attack. We also realized it was part of a learning experience as the young lions kept giving away their presence while the older female lions patiently coaxed them closer and closer to the prey. We could have literally sat and watched this for hours, but the train had to keep moving so we ventured back, onboarded the train and set off again.
The following days experience was a visit to World Heritage site Matobo National Park which is the country’s oldest national park. One of its sublime features is the Matopo Hills a series of granite kopjes (rock formations) formed over 2 billion years old This is was also the land/home of the traditional bushmen who lived in the caves leaving behind incredible rock art and the grave of Cecil John Rhodes. Read more on his legacy here: https://www.victoriafalls-guide.net/cecil-rhodes.html
Invigorated by the safari, we cleaned up and headed to the dining room for lunch; as we sipped on drinks and munched through delicious food, we kept our eyes on the ever-moving landscape through the train windows. Because we were still in the national park and there were many more animals to spot – a safari by train, an experience like no other.
As we took pictures and tried to share our experience with friends and family, we came across a dilemma that would follow us for the duration of the 5-day journey. A dilemma or a blessing, it all depended on your perspective. The train had no Wi-Fi- later on we learnt it was on purpose as Rovos Rail truly wanted you to disconnect and truly take in the journey and the surrounding areas we were passing through. However, for people that still want to stay connected, the best option is to have a local Zimbabwe chip for the phone and pray for decent coverage.
We need to talk about the main character in this story which is the train itself. Straight out of the history books, Rovos Rail is a wonderful homage to the great trains of the past, when they were the main modes of transport. Elegant, luxurious trains are a way for people to travel into the history books while experiencing the nature of today.
Rovos Rail is especially important as it provides access to luxury train travel in Africa, a one-of-a-kind experience that cannot be easily accessed on this fascinating continent. For our family of 5, Rovos Rail had very kindly offered us 2 Spacious delux bedrooms, each with their own bathrooms (powerful shower included). Even though we are talking about train cabin rooms, the size is deceiving. We had ample space to move around and there was lots of storage room as well.
For the train passengers, other than their rooms, there are 3 areas to explore. There is obviously the dining cart, situated in the center of the train and the heart of the action every day as breakfast, lunch and dinner is served with immaculate train efficiency. Dinners are a lot of fun as everyone gets dressed up, formal attire is recommended, and everyone sits back to enjoy sophisticated candlelight dinners. The lounge area, located next to the dining cart, is also a very comfortable place where passengers can go for pre or post drinks whilst also being a nice play to relax during the day, play cards and read books. But certainly one of the most favorite areas of the train is right at the back. The last cabin is a lounger/bar area that also has an observation deck; a fantastic place to chat to your fellow passengers, enjoy sunset drinks and watch the views. A lot of us gathered there when we crossed from Zimbabwe into South Africa across an imposing rail bridge, certainly one of the highlights of the ever-changing landscape.
The one thing that delighted me about Rovos Rail was that it was a true adventure for my children. They had not really travelled in a train before, so they soaked in the atmosphere with much glee and were thoroughly intrigued by the workings of the train and obviously spotting wildlife through the windows was a thrilling bonus. Even at one of the first South Africa train stations where we had an extended stop due to passport control, the kids jumped off the train, ran to the front of the train to explore the engine rooms and then played football on the station platform. A true African experience.
Even for a seasoned and profession travel designer like myself, Rovos Rail sits in a separate section of my portfolio that I offer to my clients. It is so unique that it needs its own category. I would like to position Rovos Rail as a very unique traveling experience (an adventure for sure) to all my clients but I also have to temper expectations as they will be travelling through remotes part of southern Africa that has its positives and negatives but which alls adds to the drama of the adventure. You have to go in with an open mind and an open heart. If one does, then the beauty of the experience reveals itself.
The overall experience was simply amazing and my family and I are beyond grateful that we got to experience Rovos Rail.
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