Rovos Rail: A Luxurious Safari from Pretoria to Victoria Falls

By Bonnie Culbertson

Amidst the renewed global interest in sustainable and immersive travel experiences, Rovos Rail, renowned as Africa’s most luxurious train and one of the longest continuously-operating luxury trains in the world, offers an enchanting journey that not only traverses exotic landscapes but also intentionally immerses travellers in the rich tapestry of Southern Africa’s culture and wildlife. Bonnie Culbertson recently had the pleasure of experiencing one of the train’s most legendary routes from the South African capital of Pretoria to the mighty Victoria Falls at the Zimbabwe-Zambia border. The experience proved both that the analogue can be elegant, and that it’s possible to steep yourself in local culture even as you swiftly travel through it.

The Departure: A Grand Beginning

The adventure begins at the Rovos Rail Station in Pretoria, a historical marvel restored to its former glory thanks to the tireless efforts of Rovos’ founder, Rohan Vos. Vos’ revitalisation efforts for the Pretoria train station reflect his dedication to preserving and enhancing the historic and aesthetic aspects of the Rovos Rail experience. Recognizing the station’s potential as both a functional hub and a symbol of the luxurious service Rovos Rail aims to provide, he invested in transforming the site into a more welcoming and beautiful space by planting hundreds of trees around the station to both beautifying the area and create a pleasant environment for travellers beginning their journey. 

Upon arrival at the station, travellers are welcomed via a red carpet and a glass of champagne before being whisked away from the hustle of modern life into a plush lounge complete with complimentary coffee, tea and snacks. Before departure, Tiffany Vos-Thane, Rohan’s youngest daughter and the company’s current Chief Operating Officer, personally greets each guest, sharing insights into the journey ahead as well as the train’s rich heritage.

The Train: Timeless Elegance on Wheels

The essence of Rovos Rail’s train design is to recapture the golden age of rail travel with a steadfast devotion to historical accuracy and luxurious detail. The coaches, some originally constructed in the 1920s, are each meticulously restored to their former splendour via Rovos’ team of local artisans. Each coach blends authentic period features with modern conveniences, ensuring that the romantic past meets the comfort of the present. The wood-panelling, plush armchairs, and elegant dining cars adorned with crisp linens and large picture windows ensure the African landscape remains the focus throughout the journey ahead. The train’s Royal Suites include Victorian, claw-footed bathtubs and spacious lounges to stretch out or, for the truly ambitious, attempt an on-board yoga session to try and work off the train’s decadent daily meals. Speaking of which…

Culinary Delights: Dining in Motion

Rovos Rail prides itself on culinary experiences that are as diverse and enchanting as the scenery outside. Meals aboard the train are multi-course affairs, crafted with attention to every detail by chefs who use local ingredients to reflect the regions the train travels through. The dining cars, where guests enjoy their meals, are settings of refined elegance. From the gleaming silverware to the exquisitely set tables, every meal is an event. Breakfasts comprise a generous assortment of pastries, cheeses, and traditional cooked options, while lunches and dinners feature specialities like game meats and locally-sourced vegetables, and each course of the multi-course menu comes paired with a selection of fine South African wines.

The Journey: A Tapestry of Scenery and Culture

As the Rovos Rail departs from the historical Pretoria, the journey unfolds through a mosaic of evolving landscapes that epitomize the heart of Southern Africa.  The voyage continues north across the Tropic of Capricorn, entering a terrain dotted with baobabs, heading towards the Zimbabwean border. Crossing the great Limpopo River, the setting of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Elephant’s Child’ the train moves through baobab country towards Bulawayo, where guests are treated to views of landscapes that shift from vast plains to rugged hillsides.

Excursions and Off-Train Adventures

This journey includes stops at Zimbabwe’s Matobo National Park and Hwange National Park, offering guests unique opportunities to engage with the wild. In Matobo, travellers explore the rugged landscape dotted with ancient granite outcrops and visit historical sites, including the grave of Cecil Rhodes, set within a natural amphitheatre of boulders and offering a sweeping vista across the park, which we happily enjoyed just before sunset. The park is known for its rich birdlife and cave drawings inscribed by our ancient human ancestors, with some drawings considered to be hundreds of thousands of years old. 

In Hwange National Park, the experience is equally thrilling. As the largest national park in Zimbabwe, Hwange is celebrated for its vast herds of elephants and diverse wildlife. The train pauses along one of the longest stretches of straight railway track in the world, allowing guests to disembark directly into the park for game drives. These excursions provide up-close encounters with some of Africa’s most iconic species, including lions, giraffes, and zebras, and are capped off with sundowner cocktails around a campfire, where guests share stories of what animals were spotted that day.

Sustainability: A Core Commitment

Rovos Rail’s dedication to sustainability is evident not only in its operations but also in its broader commitments. Tiffany Vos-Thane is spearheading efforts to ensure that each of the company’s departments adopts more environmentally friendly practices. This includes conducting a “green” audit to reduce waste and enhance efficiency across all operations. The company’s engagement with local suppliers and artisans, such as those from Ardmore, who provide uniquely African luxury goods, underscores its commitment to sustainable and responsible tourism. Rovos Rail’s approach ensures that its impact on the environment is minimized while supporting local communities and economies.

The Arrival: Victoria Falls

Arriving at Victoria Falls, the journey reaches a crescendo as guests are treated to one of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders. The falls present a majestic finale to a journey that’s as much about the destinations as it is about the voyage itself. Guests disembark with a sense of fulfilment and a collection of memories that transcend the typical travel experience.

Booking the Journey

The Rovos Rail journey from Pretoria to Victoria Falls is available throughout the year, offering various departures to accommodate guest preferences. The all-inclusive fare encompasses accommodation, meals, beverages, and excursions, providing an effortless way to experience the grandeur of Southern Africa by rail.

For those seeking a travel experience that combines the luxury of the past with the innovations of the present, while engaging deeply with the environment and culture of Southern Africa, Rovos Rail offers an unmatched journey that is both a journey back in time and a forward-looking adventure into the heart of Africa.


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