Southern Africa’s terrain is one of the most beautiful and diverse in the world. From lush forestry, to the ocean, and the flat, dry plains, which stretch for miles, juxtaposed with rugged mountains, casting a shadow as you make your way past, the Southern African land is truly fascinating to explore. A landscape as unique as ours deserves an equally unique way to explore it – by steam train. South Africa offers a selection of luxury steam locomotives that promise an unforgettable and relaxing journey across Southern Africa. The steam train has a rich history in South Africa with the first railway locomotives arriving in 1859. A year later, in 1860, the first railway line was opened and the first steam train made its official inaugural trip between Durban and the Point (a small harbour-side town). For a while railways were only used to transport people, goods and coal, especially along the harbour, but have since grown to encompass luxury steam trains specifically for holidays. We aim to offer unique African experiences, and nothing is more different than a train journey. So, all aboard for an African adventure of a lifetime!
One of South Africa’s most renowned luxury steam trains is the Rovos Rail. Known as ‘The Pride of Africa’ the Rovos Rail offers trips across South Africa and greater Southern Africa including the magnificent Victoria Falls, Botswana, Namibia and beyond. The train is known for fine cuisine, quality wine and opulent accommodation, and comprises of luxurious Edwardian suites. The suites are comfortable, lavish and charming and guests will have a choice between Royal, Deluxe and Pullman Suites. Royal Suites are more spacious with a private lounge area and a full bathroom with a Victorian bath. The Deluxe Suites are perfect for couples and come with a double bed and en-suite bathroom, and the Pullman Suites have a sofa bed and an en-suite bathroom. As one of the most luxurious trains in the world, the Rovos Rail has a dress code of smart casual in the day, and formal at night during dinner. No television or radios are available to help with the vintage ambience onboard the train. Safari journeys and golfing journeys are readily available.
Rovos Rail Fact: Although the Rovos Rail is a fully operative steam train, it only uses the steam locomotive while in the vicinity of the Rovos Rail station. While journeying the train uses electric or diesel locomotive. This is because the use of steam has become more difficult as coal and water shortages have become an increasing problem.
The Blue Train, like the Rovos Rail, is one of the most luxurious train journeys in the world. The Blue Train meanders across South Africa, promising a relaxing and truly unique way to explore the country. The stunning train provides luxury accommodation as it navigates the tracks, offering spectacular viewing opportunities. Journeys include Pretoria to Cape Town as well as Pretoria to Hoedspruit, traversing some of South Africa’s most beautiful landscapes. The Hoedspruit route has recently added a trip to the Kruger National Park, offering guests a safari coupled with a luxury train getaway. The Blue Train consists of De Luxe Suites and Luxury Suites, each providing guests with lavish elegance and comfort. The suites are all fully en-suite, and double rooms have a beautiful bath. As well as this, the suites come with a personal butler who is ready to wait on you hand and foot. The Blue Train is not short of luxury, with classy dining rooms, beautiful lounges, and world-class fine dining. The Blue Train is a 5-Star hotel on tracks, and one of the best train journeys available!
Blue Train Fact: The Blue Train was originally planned to join the south and north of Africa in one stunning train journey known as the Cape to Cairo. Unfortunately, this never materialised, but we hope to one day have a remarkable journey like that available!
The Shongololo Express describes itself as ‘The Great African Railway Adventure’ and this could not be more true! The train offers 12 to 15 day journeys across Southern Africa, including South Africa, Swaziland, Namibia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, with fantastic views of the terrain. The suites are charming and comfortable, allowing guests to relax while the train heads on, full steam ahead! Known for its safari experiences by rail, the Shongololo Express is perfect for travellers who are looking for a unique spin on the traditional African safari. The train offers a specialsied Luxury Safari Club that helps travellers choose a safari package to suit them. Suites include the larger Emerald Suite and the Gold Suite, as well as an observation car and dining car. Fine cuisine is serve onboard, including traditional meals such as Cape Malay, Central African, West African and South African food.
Shongololo Express Fact: Shongololo is a Zulu word for a millipede, and this is what the mighty train resembles as it traverses along the train tracks across Southern Africa. The sight is certainly one to behold, and the view from inside the carriages is even better!
The Rovos Rail, The Blue Train and the Shongololo Express are some of Southern Africa’s most well-known train journeys, but there are plenty more offering day trips that are perfect for family adventures!
Atlantic Rail (Cape Town)
Ceres Rail has recently bought the Atlantic Rail, a refurbished vintage steam train which aims to taking travellers back in time with an authentic railway experience. The train provides day trips from Cape Town to Stellenbosch and back again, showcasing the stunning Cape Winelands. The trip is about seven hours and is the perfect way to spend your day!
Apple Express (Port Elizabeth)*
The Apple Express is Port Elizabeth’s favourite steam train! The train is recently back up and running offering short trips around Port Elizabeth. The Apple Express trips are only an hour long and a wonderful mini-adventure for children!
*Please note the Apple Express is currently unavailable as it is in the middle of an operation review and is receiving maintenance
Friends of the Rail (Pretoria)
Friends of the Rail, or FOTR, is a day trip steam train, similar to the Apple Express, which takes day trippers to the small town of Cullinan. The trip is excellent for families and travellers wanting to do some sight-seeing.
Umgeni Steam Railway (Durban)
Umgeni Steam Railway is set in Ichanga, a small town just outside of Durban. What started as a railway preservation group in 1982, on a railway line dated back to the 1800s, is now a wonderful outing for families. The train takes guests to a picnic area and a craft market, where they can relax, eat and spend some quality time, before boarding once more. The train offers plenty of fun themes, such as the Santa Train, which runs during December.
If you’re keen on a unique African adventure or just a lover of trains, these excellent railway getaways are perfect for you! Enjoy your African experience in the most remarkable way with an African railway adventure.