The African continent has plenty to offer, from gorilla trekking into the secret emerald world of Rwanda’s rainforests to hot air balloon flights over the vast herds of the Great Migration. However, one experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list is a luxury train journey on Rovos Rail.
A Rail Romance
There’s something romantic about Africa. It goes back further than the film Out of Africa to the era of old-day explorers like Livingstone and their published journals of the deep dark African wilderness. And nothing recreates the nostalgia of a bygone era like a luxury train journey in lovingly restored authentic locomotives and coaches.
Established in 1989, Rovos Rail operates out of the only privately owned railway station in South Africa, Capital Park Station in Pretoria. And this is also where our journey began. I’ve had the privilege of travelling on Rovos Rail many times over the last 15 years. Whether you’re hauled by steam, diesel, or electric locomotives, what’s the one thing that always remains consistent on any Rovos journey? Style! And we Rhino Africans like a bit of style.
As we once again joyfully reach for our passports, the one thing I can assure you is that the sophistication and tradition of this bygone era never gets old.
When it comes to Rovos’s luxurious coaches, my preference is always a Deluxe Suite. From here, you can lie back, relax and take in some of the finest African vistas imaginable.
So, we settled into our luxuriously appointed suites, ready for the finest cuisine and excellent service Rovos is renowned for. What more could one wish for on a four-day journey, traversing 1,400 kilometres (870 miles)! And so, we departed to experience one of Africa’s most remarkable destinations – Victoria Falls!
(Finally) Crossing Borders Again
Travelling north from Pretoria, South Africa’s administrative capital, we passed through Warmbaths (Bela-Bela), named after its mineral waters. Then we travelled through Nylstroom, misguidedly christened by our Voortrekkers (pioneer explorers) as the source of the Nile River since the town’s river happens to be north-flowing. On the morning of day two, we crossed the escarpment’s edge and through the Tropic of Capricorn as we entered Zimbabwe.
The excitement was palpable – it was, after all, the first time in over 15 months we were crossing a border! And for all the fuss and uncertainty that Covid-19 has brought to international travel, border processing could not have been easier. After crossing the Limpopo river, we were on our way to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city, the capital of Matabeleland, and industrial capital.
Authentic African Safari
Zimbabwe is by far one of the most beautiful and underrated tourism destinations on the continent. Most notably, it’s home to Mana Pools, Lake Kariba, Great Zimbabwean ruins, Matobo Hills, Hwange National Park, and the mighty Victoria Falls.
It’s a slice of authentic Africa, and long-time president Robert Mugabe’s name should have been up there in the pantheon of Africa’s greats. However, sadly, the one-time hero left behind a country in ruins, an economy in tatters, with its moral fabric torn by poverty and suffering.
While Covid-19 has certainly added to its woes, three years on and things are indeed beginning to improve. One thing is for sure: the very railroad we were travelling on could not be used a few years ago. However, today it has been restored and beautifully maintained.
Africa often gets a bad rap, so I always remind our guests, however bad you think somewhere is, remember humanity is something that we all share, no matter where we are born. Every 60 seconds, bad things happen all over the world – not just here in Africa. But, I can assure you an awful lot of good things happen here too!
The country is home to 16 official languages. And although 70% of the population speaks Shona, English is an official language, taught to a very high level in schools across the country. Therefore, you won’t have any trouble getting to know the locals.
Okay, back to the train! By this time, I think we are on day three. However, details are all getting a little vague as the gin and tonics flow like water and beer like honey! Also, you don’t want to miss out on those after-dinner cocktails in the bar and observation cart at the back of the train.
The observation cart is also a great place to experience one of the world’s longest stretches of straight railway track – 114 kilometres (70 miles) – before arriving at Zimbabwe’s safari jewel, Hwange National Park. Home to over 40,000 elephant, I think we might have seen them all. We also saw all the big and beautiful cats and over 400 bird species. Hwange is a rich and diverse wildlife sanctuary where one game drive is just not enough. Trust me; you’ll be back for more!
Like all good things, our sojourn sadly ended on the morning of day four as we arrived at the incomparable Victoria Falls. Fortunately, we had a few days to enjoy Africa’s Adventure Capital and visit the Falls. What a spectacular sight! You can’t help but feel so small when you look up at it. You will need a little time to take it all in – and to get dry since you’re going to get soaked if you visit when the falls are in full flood.
When Should I Plan My Luxury Train Trip to Victoria Falls?
We were lucky because the high season is from April to June, which coincided with our visit. During this time, about 500 million litres of water gushes over the Falls every minute, making it all the more impressive. However, anytime from May through to September is really is the best time of year to see the Falls.
From January to March, you often struggle to see much through all the spray. As the end of the year approaches (October to December), it’s still a sight to behold. However, water levels drop to about 10 million litres every minute, so the Falls are much less forceful. During this low water season, one can generally swim in the famous Devil’s Pool, a bucket list item on its own. But in April, we definitely needed our anoraks!
Want to Embark on Your Luxury Train Trip?
At Rhino Africa, we are Rovos Rail Experts! With so many different journeys on offer, it can often be challenging to decide. Luckily, our team of Travel Experts are here to help whittle down your options. And we’ll help you find the perfect Rovos Rail holiday to combine with your African safari.
You can start planning by browsing the Rovos Rail section on the Rhino Africa website. Still, from personal experience, I can tell you nothing on our site will ever be as valuable as chatting directly to one of our Safari Travel Experts!
Today the world may be a very different place. But one thing that will never change is that our feet will still itch, and we will still travel! So whether you decide to head to Victoria Falls, Dar es Salam or the Mother City, Cape Town, rest assured we at Rhino Africa are excitingly booking travel again. We can’t wait for our guests to once again explore, see, smell, hear, taste and enjoy the sensation of Africa – with peace of mind. Contact us today and let’s start planning!
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