Whether you’re into the golden age of rail travel, a classic African train safari or a gentle day’s chuffing on a steam train, South Africa has some remarkable train adventures on offer.
Here are four to consider if you're keen to try a more languid means of getting from point A to B.
Dubbing themselves the world’s most luxurious train, Rovos Rail is all wood-panelled Victorian nostalgia and elegant silver service.
Aboard Rovos, the bubbly flows, the high teas are splendid and the wining and dining is formal and fabulous. The suites are named after famous money-men of British colonial times – and have huge windows, generous lounging space and paddock-size beds for maximum viewing pleasure.
Gentle journeys into Africa begin with a shrill whistle, great clouds of steam and the popping of champagne corks.
Linking famous African attractions like the red dunes of Namibia, South Africa’s glorious Garden Route and the game reserves of East Africa, Rovos journeys vary from 48-hours to a month. A classic is the six-day Cape Town to Victoria Falls trip.
One of its highlights is a stop off at the historic Karoo village of Matjiesfontein – where the station itself is a real Victorian charmer, and you can explore the quaint railway museum, head for a coffee shop or lunch at the Lord Milner Hotel.
Much vaunted by train spotters across the globe, Matjiesfontein is a tribute to the fascinating railway history of South Africa, and naturally, the grande dame of rail travel, the Blue Train, also stops here when she’s in the area.
Iconic Blue Train
Presidents and kings have travelled aboard South Africa’s five-star luxury train, known for her impeccable service and unbridled luxury. The name comes from the 1940s, when the Union Limited-Union Express line’s distinctive sapphire blue carriages were a symbol of luxury and were nicknamed ‘those blue trains’.
The most iconic Blue Train Route is the 1600km journey from Pretoria to Cape Town. You clack across the Highveld in the afternoon and onto the vast plains of the Karoo by sunset; down to the craggy mountain ranges of the Cape overnight, awakening perhaps to snow in the mountains above the Hex River Valley, before reaching the Mother City.
Ancient Red Dunes
The name ‘shongololo' is Zulu for millipede and that’s what the Shongololo Express resembles as she heads off in the name of adventure. Their train safaris are geared towards exploring the wildest and most wonderful southern African attractions – like Botswana’s vast Etosha Pan, the ancient red dunes of Namibia and the sparkling waters off South Africa’s Fairest Cape.
Shosholoza Meyl’s Premier Class is an increasingly popular way of criss-crossing the country, whether you’re heading from Johannesburg to Cape Town, Durban or Port Elizabeth and back. Their overnight journeys offer luxury compartments, fine dining and Premier Class will also take your car on board – a great value add for travellers wanting to mix and match train and road tripping.
Old Fashioned steam train
And if you simply want to indulge your Thomas the Tank Engine fantasies – hop aboard the Magaliesburg Express, an old-fashioned steam train ride that chuffs you out of Johannesburg to the nearby village of to the town of Magaliesburg for the day, and brings you back by sunset. Run by a group of rail enthusiasts called Reefsteamers, the Magaliesburg Express is a great way to show your children the age old rituals of firing and coal trimming, ash pan cleaning and wheel tapping – and spend a fun day in the country, shopping, strolling and wining and dining.
Contact if you go:
- Shosholoza Meyl Premier Class: Tel +27 (0)11-773 7620
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