Bec and I wanted to do something special to celebrate our 10th Wedding Anniversary so we decided a two week adventure in Southern Africa would fit the bill. We flew to Johannesburg on Wednesday, July 31st, met our car transfer, and made the short drive north to South Africa’s capital, Pretoria. We would be spending one night at the Sheraton which had a great view of the Union Buildings, the official seat of South Africa’s government.
The next morning, we arrived at Rovos Rail Station. I had heard about Rovos Rail from a colleague years back and decided this was the perfect occasion to travel on “The Most Luxurious Train in the World”. We checked out the small rail museum and were given a tour of the bustling yard with rail car maintenance activities going on before sitting down to enjoy the welcome drinks and snacks. Unfortunately, there was a problem with the rail line heading out of town so we were transferred by coach to Pyramid 20 km north where our train was waiting for us. We were shown to our home for the next three nights, a wood-paneled sleeper Pullman suite named Walvis Bay. It was furnished with a day time sofa-couch that converted into a double bed in the evening, with en-suite bathroom and shower. After popping the bottle of Tradition brut, we were soon trundling northwards on the narrow-gauge railway with the final destination of Victoria Falls.
Lunch was served in the dining car of salmon, leek and ricotta tartlet while traversing the Magaliesberg Mountains. The meals served on board the dining car were fabulous and always complemented by a selection of fine South African wines. We enjoyed the afternoon teas and the observation car at the back of the train was a great spot to relax or join other guests for cocktail hour.
That evening, the train stopped so we could enjoy our dinner stationary. The train then continued on throughout the night into the early hours of the morning when we reached the Limpopo River, the natural border with Zimbabwe. We would cross the border into Zimbabwe in the morning.
The train started rolling while we were enjoying breakfast and we spotted Nile crocodiles sunning themselves on the river rocks. The train crossed at Beitbridge and we waited for the train staff to complete the border crossing formalities while a troop of baboons passed through the rail yard. Our train continued north and we made a stop in the town of Gwanda that afternoon. It was nice to stretch the legs and to meet some of the locals who had set up a handicrafts market nearby. That night, the train stopped in Bulawayo around 11:00pm and we were glad it didn’t move again until the morning making for a better night’s rest.
On Saturday, the train covered the world’s longest stretch of straight rail – 114 km. That afternoon, we entered Hwange National Park and stopped at Kennedy Siding where The Hide safari resort is located. There, we jumped into the Land Cruisers and headed out on a safari drive. We saw plenty of wildlife with the highlight being the lone male lion guarding a baby elephant kill. There was a sunset cocktail reception waiting for us when we got back to the siding. After enjoying the sundowners, we hopped back on the train to get ready for another wonderful dinner. Rebecca and I enjoyed the formal dinners each evening with men wearing jackets and ties and the ladies in evening dresses. No cell phones were allowed at meals or in any of the common areas (hence the lack of food pics). That night, there was a cocktail party for the guests in the observation car following dinner. We enjoyed a night cap to end our last evening on the train.
The next morning, the train got rolling from Thompson Junction during breakfast and the landscape began to change from the generally flat terrain that most of the journey had been. We arrived in Victoria Falls around 10:00am and said goodbye to the train staff who had looked after us so well over the past three days. We stored our luggage at the famous Victoria Falls Hotel and set off on foot to the Falls. We entered the gates and were immediately impressed by The Devil’s Cataract. What is Victoria Falls? That’s a big question. It is one of the world’s 7 natural wonders. David Livingstone was the first European to have laid eyes on this wonder and I could spout a few facts, but those like me will need to click on the link to Wikipedia…the world’s font of information to get the full history and geography of the falls. I will say that our drivers and guides referred to it as its known locally as Mosi Oa Tunya (the smoke that thunders). It is truly a sight to behold and as Livingstone wrote, “…scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victoria_Falls. We were prepared to get soaked but the water levels were lower than normal for the time of the year due to a drought that was beginning to have severe effects on Zimbabwe. We enjoyed the leisurely paced walk along the pathways leading to amazing lookout points. In fact, we even re-traced our steps after turning around at Danger Point to take in the views one more time.
Back at the Hotel, we enjoyed a thirst quenching beer with a couple from our train before saying goodbye. We were then transferred by car to the Zimbabwe border post over Cecil Rhodes’ brainchild, the Victoria Falls Bridge, where we would cross into Zambia and onto the next leg of our journey, a stay on the Zambezi River.