Even as a South African, I can never get enough of the African Bush. Safari experiences are always exciting and the thrill of seeing the Big Five in a natural and wild setting is unbeatable. So it goes without saying that combining a safari experience with the luxurious and unique experience of a journey with Rovos Rail with my friend Kiersten from The Blonde Abroad was a dream come true.
A journey back in time
Rovos Rail is one of the most luxurious trains in the world and you can’t help but get caught up in the old fashioned glamour and romance of rail travel as soon as you set foot on board. The carriage’s wood panelling, thick upholstery, attention to detail and beyond incredible level of service combined with their strict no phones or laptops in public spaces policy transport you immediately back in time.
We boarded the train at Rovos Rail’s private platform at the Durban train station and it felt like I was stepping straight back into a black and white photograph I’ve seen of my grandparents in chic hats and gloves. We were greeted with cold drinks and a tour of our suite, which had a large bed, private bathroom and loads of clever storage space for luggage and clothing.
Our three-day journey took us from Durban to Pretoria, through the Drakensberg Mountain range, stopping along the way at Nambiti Conservancy, a Big Five private retreat set on 20 000 acres of malaria-free bushveld in KwaZulu-Natal and Spionkop Game Reserve. For cultural enthusiasts, there’s the alternative option of an escorted tour of the battlefields Spionkop Lodge and a visit to the famous Ardmore Ceramics Gallery.
While on board, daytime attire requires a smart casual look, while evening dinners see men donning suits and ties, and ladies in evening or cocktail dresses. It’s quite an experience, sitting in the observation cart, watching the world go by in colourful paint smears, cold gin and tonic in hand, cellphone all but forgotten in your suite. In the evening, the dinner gong rings and guests sit down to candle light and silver service, diamonds glistening and dress shoes shining. It’s such a nice excuse to get dressed up and spend hours chatting to each other and fellow guests between multiple courses.
We saw a lot on our game drives, including loads of giraffes, rhino, and zebras. While observing a huge pod of about 15 hippos from about 8 meters away, one of our fellow guests jumped off the safari van and our poor guide had to do her best to keep calm while trying to persuade him that “nature calls” is not reason enough to be eaten by one of the African bush’s most deadly giants. His wife’s argument of “we signed an indemnity form” did little to persuade the guide that her husband being eaten would be any less traumatic for the rest of us. (Just a note: Please, never be this guest on safari! It might seem quite safe, but wild animals are wild animals and this is not a petting zoo. Always respect the wildlife and your guide and ask before you do so much a blow your nose loudly)
The food on board was unbelievable, and we indulged in multiple courses at breakfast, lunch and dinner. I couldn’t imagine how such a high level of quality could be coming from a tiny kitchen on board a moving train. Each dish was paired with a local wine, which I loved and took ample advantage of. When we weren’t on safari or eating, we played board games in the observation cart and listened to the train tracks clacking along below us.
The staff, train, safari excursions and overall experience were all impeccable and this bucket list trip was one of my most memorable. If you haven’t yet, you need to add it to your travel bucket list. It’s an especially unique safari experience, and combines the magic of rail travel with the luxury of five star accommodation and the excitement of African safari.
There are several Rovos Rail journeys to choose from, including Cape Town, Durban, Victoria Falls and even a 15 day journey to Dar es Salaam. This is a true bucket list experience that is something completely unique in its novelty and luxury. All meals, beverages and excursions while on board are included in the rate.