What is the best way to travel from Pretoria to Durban? One great option is on the luxurious Rovos Rail (www.rovos.com). With ever-available food, drink, and lounging, the trip feels like a very exclusive, classy cruise. Everyone on our train has a private room large enough for a double bed, armoire, chair, table, and a full bathroom (shower, sink, and toilet). The gentle rocking and low hum (nothing like the clicking, jarring rumble in movies) induces napping; with sleeping this easy, we only wish the train could run all night instead of pausing from midnight to morning.
We could keep to ourselves, as some of the passengers do, but we balance our way to the observation car, a comfortable compartment of wide-windows and the rich hues reminiscent of a private study. At first we settle into two big easy chairs for a quiet cocktail, but soon one of the Danish travelers engages us in conversation. He is a major train buff and, eyes aglow with pleasure, he says that Rovos lured him “like the snake tempted Adam and Eve.” At 30 we are at least a decade younger than most of the guests, not to mention the only gay couple aboard, but we soon find ourselves with a joyous little group of friends, sharing stories of home countries and waving to the excited children as we pass. Before bed we head to the outdoor platform at the end of the car, jackets wrapped around our shoulders, and we lean into each other as we fly through the milky light of a misty South African night, not another soul in sight.
Meals are announced by the sound of bells played in the passageway. Men arrive for dinner in jackets and ties, and women in various levels of evening wear. The meals are excellent, tasteful cuisine with a flair for the visual and hints of South Africa in the choice of meats (ostrich and springbok, a local antelope) and fresh produce. A zucchini fritter is a particular favorite, with chives so fresh we ask if there’s a garden on board (the chef tells us that he shops for herbs just before the train leaves Pretoria). The extensive wine list reads like a full-page tour of South African vineyards!
The three-day journey is not all decadent leisure, though; we are promised a safari adventure and we get it. Waking with the sunrise, we tumble into a jeep after a quick stop for a breakfast of granola bars and pastries. The early departure is worth the reward. Located in KwaZulu-Natal, a coastal South African province, known for its beaches, mountains, and savannah populated by big game, the safari destination Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, in the northeast, is home to black and white rhinos, lions, and giraffes. It is an experience that makes us want to return to South Africa specifically to experience one their amazing safari adventures.
The next day, we begin our final leg of the journey, passing through the even lines of timber farms to more and more homes and villages. As we approach the city, I can’t help but feel that we are slowly transitioning back to the “real world.” As we approach Durban, we toast the staff with springbok shots (crème de menthe and Amarula, the fruity, South African answer to Bailey’s). Traveling by Rovos Rail has been the perfect introduction to South Africa, mixing carefully chosen outings, a sampling of the country’s culture, and luxurious, old-world service. Now it’s time for us to head out alone, to stretch our legs and our boundaries in Durban, on the open road, and beyond.