What would you do if I offered you a trip on a luxurious train while travelling through one of the most wonderful countries in the world? Add to that the possibility to play some of the most iconic golf courses or enjoy excursions in some amazing places and legendary game reserves, and you would be packing your bags instantly, right?! Well, Rovos Rail offers just that, with their African Golf Collage tour which will take golfers and non-golfers around South Africa on a 10 days extravaganza to experience the most amazing trip in this rainbow nation. And I had to experience it.
Last year I travelled on Rovos Rail for the very first time, and instantly fell in love with it. It’s by far the most relaxed and luxurious way to travel south of the equator. Back then I did the Pretoria to Capetown route and those three days were the perfect way to get hooked to this kind of travel.
As said, this time I opted for the African Golf Collage tour, a 10 day trip from Capetown to Pretoria (you can also do it the other way around) stopping at all the famous golf courses along the way. If you don’t like to be on the green all day, you can enjoy several excursions in some of the most iconic game parks or coastal destinations in South Africa, which you will visit along the way.
As usual, the journey starts with a reception at the train station, where Rohan Vos, the owner and founder of the Rovos Rail welcomes all the guests with the first of many glasses of bubbly while live musicians make your red carpet entrance even more grand. After this we all board the train. On this trip there were around 40 guests and most of them were return guests which doesn’t come as a big surprise once you experienced a trip onboard the Rovos Rail. After we were assigned to our suite, we quickly made our way to the last carriage, which is home to the bar and wonderful open air terrace. During this trip it felt more like the 19th hole, as golf surely was one of the favorite topics to talk about while enjoying a nice drink.
For the ones that didn’t read the review of my first trip on Rovos Rail, or don’t know what to expect when travelling on this epic train, I’ll give a short recap. The train has a maximum of 78 passengers, and all of them stay in one of the restored suites. There are three types; pullman, deluxe and royal. They all have their own bathroom with private toilet, sink and shower. The royal suites even have their own free-standing bath.
During the trip the guests are pampered all the way, but maybe most of all in the dining car where the most delicious plates are served. Mostly South African inspired and through the use of local produce they are just pure perfection. And what about the drinks? Well, Rovos has an extensive wine list which is made up solely from the best South African wines. You’ll find names like Meerlust, Rustenberg, Thelema just to name a few. And yes, all the food and drinks are included in this trip so no nasty surprise at the end of the journey.
Soon we pulled out of the station and left the Mothercity behind us, to start enjoying the ever changing landscapes. It is crazy to think you drive through wide open plains, gorgeous mountain ranges, vineyards, thick bush, amazing coastlines and many other types of landscapes, while never leaving South Africa (besides a small part of Swaziland). It is so diverse that it’s hard to keep your focus anywhere else but outside. Though lucky enough you’re travelling on the equally beautiful Rovos Rail, where you can let your eyes feast on amazing staterooms, inviting public areas, mouthwatering food and an endless list of drinks to enjoy while taking all of these impression in. And the master ingredient to make it all come together is the crew who are always on hand to make sure you have everything you need.
As mentioned, the emphasis on this trip is playing golf all around the country. South Africa has always been a golf nation and during this journey you’ll get to play some of the most iconic courses like Fancourt, Leopard Creek, Ernie Els Oubaai,… There is even a professional golfer on board who will guide you to all these courses, but also makes sure your clubs are waiting for you when you arrive at the practice range.
There is of course also a program for the guests who don’t play golf, and it is as impressive as any other of the Rovos Rail itineraries. During these 10 days you’ll have the chance to visit places like Oudshoorn, Durban, Port Elisabeth to name a few. But also go on several safaris in world renowned parks like Kruger, Hluhluwe, Addo Elephant park,… You’ll even visit one of the battlefields of the Boer War in which Churchill and Ghandi were involved.
I’ll highlight some of my personal favorites along the way and first up is a stop at George, a small town in the Western Cape. From here, Rovos takes you to Knysna to enjoy a boat trip on the beautiful estuary, and afterwards to Wildernes where you can a stroll on one of the most amazing beaches South Africa has to offer. But what was even more impressive for me during one of those first days, was the railway you ride on which is located right next to the water. It is an amazing sight, waking up and looking outside to see and smell the ocean, while the sun comes up and covers everything with a soft and warm glow. When leaving George, the train must climb over the Montagu Pass to reach Oudshoorn, and this is probably the most spectacular part during the whole trip as the train slowly moves up the mountains, through the wonderful fynbos, canyons, tunnels,… Everybody on the train stopped what they were doing, and just enjoyed the magnificent landscape that passed by.
Another excursion that was perfectly organized by Rovos, which left a deep impression on me, was the visit to the battlefield of Spioenkop. It was here that in 1900 the British troops fought against the Boers in an epic battle on top of the Spioenkop. While visiting the battleground, you can still see the trenches and the graves from the ones who lost their lives. It’s an important part of South African history and one that will surely leave a lasting impression on you. It was also in this battle that Churchill and Ghandi fought together on the British side.
When crossing South Africa for 10 days, it is only a given that you’ll be able to visit several different game parks and reserves. On this journey we explored 5. Always making sure we were treated like vip’s, Rovos had the whole organization done perfectly. My favorites? Hluhluwe and Kruger National Park without a doubt. We had some amazing game drives, and the guides were very knowledgeable. Even the golfers joined us at Hluhluwe as there was no golf planned that day. And after being together on this journey for several days, guests become friends so it was a really nice day where we all enjoyed our time in the magnificent South African nature. It also resulted in some very memorable evenings in the bar where the crew will pull all the stops to make it even more special.
And while all these experiences were leaving lasting impressions on all of us, it was the crew that always made sure we were happy to return to the train which soon began to feel like a home you really didn’t want to leave. Sometimes we boarded the train in the middle of nowhere (to avoid long transfers for the guests), but still the crew would pull all the stops to make sure we could freshen up with some cold towels while handing us our favorite pre-departure drinks to have a friendly chit chat among the guests and staff, before boarding the train once again to continue the journey to the next adventure or golf course.
The feeling you get while travelling on this train is like no other, cause it’s not only about the endless dinners and matching wine lists, or the awesome landscapes you cross, or even the exceptional excursions outside the train. What this really is all about is the people and the fact that you shift your life in a lower gear to take time and really start talking with each other. Not only with the guests, but also with the staff. Having the luxury to experience such a journey together, you build real friendships and even though it’s back to reality upon return, it has something magical to be able to escape from it all and just enjoy the moment. And that’s what Rovos is all about, and what they do best.
So, is this a once in a lifetime experience? Yes and no. Yes, because this is a journey you have to experience, and no, because you will never just do it once! This was my second time on Rovos Rail and I can’t wait to go and enjoy one of the other journeys they have on offer. Cause every trip is different, and as there is so much beauty to discover in this part of the world, Rovos is the most suitable way to explore it all.
Text and Images @KEyckmans