I always love a long (and luxurious of course!) train journey so taking Rovos Rail – first from Victoria Falls to Pretoria and then a day later on to Capetown- is the one to do in Africa for a longer trip.
Rovos Tail was started by a train enthusiast Rohan Vos who originally bought a couple of carriages to beautify and use with his family but now it is available to everyone and includes beds, a bar/lounge an observation car and a dining carriage.
It takes a while to get use to the jerking and brake sounds on a train when you are trying to sleep but the movement seems to do the trick and there’s lots of time for afternoon catch up snoozes. The food – four course dinners but sensibly sized portions – was consistently superb and they offered a great choice of South African wines.
Out first stop was the Hwange national park in Zimbabwe when we went out for a 3.5 hour early morning game drive. We were lucky to spot a pair of cheetahs in the distance plus zebra, antelope and a dozy pride of lions who looked liked they had been well fed recently – always good to know when you are a tourist! Certainly seeing the African wildlife again has made me want to do another proper safari when I can.
After three nights on the train we arrived at Pretoria for an overnight stop at a hotel. This is not the most interesting place on earth but I’m glad I had an afternoon and morning there. On arrival we visited the Union Building where one of the SA parliaments is housed (the other is in Capetown). The building bottom left is an old synagogue now in disuse so no access allowed but it was also used for the infamous treason trials of many political prisoners including Mandela and Sisulu.
A wonderful sight is the giant sized Mandela sculpture looking over the city. We saw some little 4 year olds come up to see it and they ran up to it shouting “we love you Mandela” completely unprompted – they were genuinely excited. He is so beloved here – and for good reason. We need a few more like him around the world.
On our second day in Pretoria we headed to the Vortrekker monument high above the city – which is a memorial and museum to the primarily Dutch settlers who trekked to this part of the world and started a new life here. Unfortunately for them, the Zulus and other tribes were already here and wanted to defend their land, so there was a lot of bloodshed on both sides and this is not skimmed over in the museum although it is only really focussed on the Dutch side of the history. I loved the giant stone frieze which was made up of about 50 panels depicting the stories of what happened including the important role the pioneering women played in starting a new life. Well worth a visit.
Back on the train again for a two night journey – first stop was Kimberley – the world famous source of much of the world’s diamonds and where De Beers first started chaired by Cecil Rhodes (who seems to be loved or hated depending on your disposition about imperialist!) who originally made his money in the diamond mines. Some of the mines were still open but the one that we went round is now a museum town replicating the mining heyday and includes the famous Big Hole – it is the largest man made hole in the world. We had a great guide who had worked in the mines and was passionate about diamonds – and after all who can blame him; if they were good enough for Elizabeth Taylor, they are certainly good enough for me!
The final stop on the train was a cute town in the middle of nowhere called Matjesfontein. Originally a “nothing place” the concept of making it a small town where visitors would stop to see how people lived back in the day came from a Scotsman – and he was right – people do come – although it certainly wasn’t crowded at all – other than the 40 or so of us on the train.
An excellent museum (Marie Cawdon Museum) actually on the station platform had all sorts of interesting collectibles from Victorian times – cameras, kitchen equipment and my favourite – the apothecary – it was a huge place (remember we are in the middle of nowhere) – I loved it as much as I loved stretching my legs.
And so our train journey of rattling sleep, fantastic food, varying scenery, windswept observation carriage moments and lots of delays (trains here give British Rail a run for their money) ended in Capetown 6 days after we left Victoria Falls and traversed a large chunk of Zimbabwe and top to bottom of South Africa.
And now on to spending time in Capetown and surrounding areas – apparently there is a lot of wine to be tasted around here – as if I didn’t know:)