Last month we travelled across South Africa on a luxury rail journey with Rovos Rail. Lasting two nights and three days, our journey took us from the Mother City of Cape Town across the plains of the Great Karoo to Pretoria, with delightful stops at Matjiesfontein and Kimberly along the way.

Read about our time aboard the most luxurious train in the world, Rovos Rail. If you’re a fan of luxury vacations and would like to embark on a nostalgic, elegant rail journey, contact us for more information and book a Rovos Rail trip across Southern Africa!

Rovos Rail map from Cape Town to Pretoria
Our route from Cape Town to Pretoria

Day One, Depart Cape Town, Matjiesfontein

Our journey began by meeting in the Rovos Rail headquarters in Cape Town where we enjoyed a glass of bubbly while listening to the sounds of a live string orchestra.

After a welcome and introduction by Rovos Rail founder, Rohan Vos, our trip could finally begin! We walked through Cape Town station to the private Rovos Rail platform and stepped into what would be our home for the next two days.

We were shown to our cabin, Mzilikazi, named after the great Southern African king who founded the Matabele kingdom in what is now known as Zimbabwe. Our cabin, a Deluxe Suite, was equipped with the finest finishings, quality amenities and creature comforts.

Along with two single beds, complete with soft and comfortable linen, a kitted out bathroom with a shower, a cupboard for storing clothing, shoes and our collection of hats, the cabin also came with a small seating lounge area. As we arrived, a document pack was waiting for us on the table. It included a welcome note, the Rovos Rail magazine, a snack pack and our itinerary.

After a cabin orientation from our hostess, Bianca, we were escorted to the dining cart for our first meal on the train.

Meals on Rovos Rail are a truly grand affair. Breakfast is less formal, and travellers can choose from a selection of breakfast options from an a la carte menu. Lunch and dinner, on the other hand, is a service of a four-course menu, with each course paired with a South African wine or dessert liquor.

Our first meal aboard the train consisted of a melon and parma ham starter, seafood main, a cheese course and a dessert of pavlova and fresh fruit. Here, during this first lunch service, we met the food and beverage staff. Martha, Elliot, Alecia and Hendri were amiable, helpful, tentative to dietary requirements and knowledgeable about meals and wine.

After lunch, we moved to the very opposite side of the train to enjoy a glass of wine in the observation cart. Here, a relaxed lounge complete with a well-stocked bar opens up to an external viewing deck. Not only does the deck at the observation cart offer incredible views, but it makes for a great photo op!

Woman drinking wine in the Rovos Rail observation cart
African Travel Canvas founder Gill Cox enjoying a glass of wine in the observation cart

We decided to relax in the lounge and enjoy a few moments attempting to read – a challenging task as the landscapes we were passing by were breathtakingly beautiful and certainly commanded attention. Adding another distraction to the mix was the scrumptious high tea. As well as being served a healthy portion of snacks, ranging from biltong to crisps and pretzels, the daily high tea consists of various cakes, fresh fruit and savoury snacks.

At this point, we’d been journeying for a few hours now, making our way through the beautiful landscapes of the Greater Cape Winelands of the Western Cape. Shortly after high tea, we made our way into Matjiesfontein, a small, very small, town in the Great Karoo. We disembarked and enjoyed a few minutes to explore this beloved tourist destination.

Matjiesfontein is a historic town in the heart of the Great Karoo. Incredibly small, with a population score of only a few hundred people, Matjiesfontein has been perfectly preserved to give the current and future generations a snapshot into what South Africa’s founding days looked like.

Founded in 1884, Matjiesfontein was created as a railway route for those travelling from the Cape Town port to the diamond fields of Kimberly. In 1968, the town was purchased to preserve its Victorian charm, and, roughly ten years later, was declared a National Monument.

Lord Milner Hotel in Matjiesfontein, South Africa
The famous Lord Milner Hotel in Matjiesfontein, South Africa

As we stepped out onto the Matjiesfontein platform, we were greeted by a firecracker of a man, dressed head to toe in formal wear as well as a top hat. Ushered along by his trumpet, we jumped aboard an old London bus, decorated with old pictures, newspaper clippings and signage, for a tour of the high street of Matjiesfontein… all of which lasted the better part of three minutes.

As the sun was setting, we spent the next half hour exploring the town, walking up and down the high street, viewing the preserved houses and buildings, exploring the famous Lord Milner Hotel and enjoying a song and dance in an old pub. Matjiesfontein is also home to a transport museum. Here, we viewed a number of old vehicles, including vintage cars, penny-farthings, steam trains and more.

After our short stop in Matjiesfontein, we returned to the Rovos Rail and began preparing for dinner.

Dinner services aboard the train are a lavish affair. There is a strict dress code, where attendees are expected to dress formally for dinner. Donning our best attire, we returned to the dining cart for a scrumptious dinner service.

Dinner aboard the Rovos Rail
Enjoying our first dinner aboard Rovos Rail

Again, we found ourselves delighting in delicious food, beginning with a smoked salmon tart for a starter, a dukkah crusted ostrich cut for the main course (and a poached salmon main for Lisa, the pescatarian), a cheese course and traditional South African malva pudding for dessert.

During this dinner service, we discovered one of our new favourite wines; the chardonnay from Hamilton Russell Vineyards.

After dinner, we enjoyed a nightcap in the observation cart before returning to our Mzilikazi suite for the night.

Day Two, Kimberley Big Hole

Our first morning lazily waking up on the train began with a lovely breakfast. After a few hours of relaxing, it was time for lunch again!

The dining cart of Rovos Rail
The dining cart of Rovos Rail

This service included a vegetarian ravioli, traditional South African bobotie for main, a cheese course and a South African classic, melktert or milk tart, for dessert. This staple, a firm favourite dessert, is a delicious, sweet and cinnamon tart served in a crisp pastry casing. Our dessert had with not one but two melktert servings, the second being a Tant’ Sannie se Melktert, an alcoholic cream liquor inspired by the desert.

After lunch, we arrived in the famous town of Kimberly. Here, we disembarked the train and were transferred to view the Big Hole of Kimberly.

One of the top diamond destinations in the world, Kimberly became the centre for the great Diamond Rush of 1871 where thousands of people flocked in from all over the globe to seek their fortune in the diamond trade. While there are countless mines around the town, each of which bore countless deposits of Kimberlite ore, the most famous mine of all is the site of the Big Hole. What initially began as a small hill has since become a colossal hole and mining site, and now is an extremely popular tourist attraction for South Africans and international travellers alike.

After arriving at the Big Hole of Kimberly, we were guided to a movie theatre to watch a 20-minute documentary. The film explained in detail how the first diamond deposit was found, how the word of the mines spread across the country, how a little town in the Great Karoo attracted thousands of people from around the world, the involvement of Barney Barnato and Cecil John Rhodes, and how the famed diamond mining firm, De Beers, was formed.

After the documentary, we enjoyed a guided tour of the Big Hole, viewing its grandeur from the safe distance of the viewing deck. Here, our guide imparted a world of knowledge and explained the different rock sediments, mining procedures, further history about the town and the processes relating to diamond manufacturing.

Next, we moved underground and explored a makeshift mine. Created out of fibreglass, the replica mine gives the traveller a basic idea of what the conditions would be like in a real mine, minus the loud noises and unbearable heat. Also within this replica mine, travellers can witness an imitation explosion that is intended to mimic a dynamite detonation used to break up the rock deposits within the shaft.

Exiting the replica mine leads to an exhibition hall filled with a multimedia display explaining more about the mines, the town and the diamond deposits, as well as a special display room that showcases a selection of diamonds.

After the tour of the Big Hole, we were left to explore an imitation town which has been created out of genuine buildings from the original old town of Kimberly.  A few decades ago, a number of houses, buildings and shops were taken from the streets of Kimberly and placed in the Big Hole heritage site to give travellers an idea of what the old town looked like. Here, travellers can view an old bar, a church, a shoemaker, dressmaker and tobacconist.

As we returned to Kimberley Station, we happened upon another railway museum. With only a few minutes to explore, we hopped into an old steam train for a few photographs.

Once returning to Rovos Rail, we indulged in a few glasses of bubbly in the observation cart and enjoyed a stunning sunset as the train passed Kamfers Dam. An extremely beautiful sight, we were lucky enough to witness hundreds of flamingo perched at the dam.

We returned to our cabin to get ready for the final dinner service. On the final night of the journey, it is customary for the guests to wear a rose, so, upon arrival in the dining cart, we were met with a selection of fresh red and orange roses that the train manager, Lucinda, pinned to our clothing.

The final dinner was nothing short of exceptional. Beginning the service with glasses of champagne, we enjoyed a starter of scallops followed by a sea bass main. During this dinner service, we discovered another two favourite wines, Kanonkop Pinotage and the Meerlust Rubicon.

After another fantastic cheese course and a dessert of chocolate fondant with ice cream, we finished off our dinner with a selection of handmade chocolates before returning to the observation cart for a customary, end-of-journey cocktail party.

Day Three, Arrival in Pretoria

With the gentle lull of the train, relaxing with a book in the cabin, sipping on some freshly brewed coffee, we enjoyed a leisurely start to the day – not a Blue Monday in sight!

Shortly after breakfast, we pulled into the private Rovos Rail station in Pretoria. A beautiful space, the Pretoria station, the headquarters of Rovos Rail, boasts a stunning lounge, a small railway museum, a workshop with a train carriage on display, and various animals in a menagerie.

Man looking at the Rovos Rail Station sign in Pretoria
Exterior of the Rovos Rail Station in Pretoria

After collecting our luggage, we said farewell to the magnificent Rovos Rail and began our journey onward into Johannesburg to one of our favourite hotels in South Africa, Fairlawns Boutique Hotel.

Our time on Rovos Rail was exquisite and utterly unforgettable. We’d like to thank the incredible team that made our time aboard so pleasurable, particularly the train manager who took the time to sit with us and answer all of our questions about locomotives, the Rovos Rail brand and train travel. We’d also like to thank the drivers that offered us safe passage, the team in the kitchen that kept us very well fed and the tour guides in both Matjiesfontein and Kimberley that enriched the trip with their knowledge and passion for South Africa.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time on board the Rovos Rail, and would highly recommend a luxury rail journey to all who visit South Africa.

As well as our two-day route from Cape Town to Pretoria, other popular Rovos Rail routes include:

If you would like to embark on a memorable luxury rail journey across the beautiful countries of South Africa and surrounds, contact African Travel Canvas and we’ll gladly create a bespoke itinerary for your dream vacation in Africa.

Standing outside the Rovos Rail luxury train
Enjoying a glass of bubbly outside the train

If you have any questions about Rovos Rail, luxury rail travel itineraries or travel across Southern Africa, or would like to share about your time aboard the Rovos Rail, share your questions or feedback below in the comments section. We love receiving your feedback!

Thanks for reading!

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