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Covering Tracks: aboard South Africa's Rovos Rail

In this article, Joseph Boulous describes an eclectic cast of characters rolling through South Africa on the Rovos Rail luxury train – it’s a scenario to tempt Agatha Christie herself.

An eclectic cast of characters travelling through South Africa on a luxury train staffed by liveried crew – it’s a scenario to tempt Agatha Christie herself. Joseph Boulous plays the role of detective on his Rovos Rail journey from Pretoria to Cape Town.


All that’s missing is a dead body. And after what seems an eternity of flights to Johannesburg, mine is the closest thing to that, so the sight of a gentleman in a chauffeur’s uniform holding a sign with my name is a great relief. I am greeted and whisked away in a Mercedes-Benz to a privately owned, colonial-style railway station in Capital Park, Pretoria. This is Rovos Rail, dubbed ‘The World’s Most Luxurious Train’.

exterior view to interior of pullman car rovos rail train, africa

The red-carpet treatment has begun – literally, we are walking along a crimson runner – with a team of smiling individuals attired in white gloves and green jackets providing the warmest of welcomes. My luggage is tagged while I am tasked with sipping champagne and eating cucumber sandwiches, a role at which I excel. If this is any indication of how the three-night 1600-kilometre journey will unfold, I know I have made the right decision.

interior of deluxe double suite on rovos rail train, africa

It’s then time for the pre-travel ritual where the cast of guests from across the globe begin to size each other up. There are Australians who appreciate a laugh (and a beverage). There’s a group of distinguished locals joking in Afrikaans, two couples flying the flag for French chic, a scattering of passengers from the United Kingdom, and even a South African celebrity television chef. Indeed, it seems we have the recipe for a classic Agatha Christie whodunit. The charming owner of the railway line, Rohan Vos, even makes an appearance to wish us bon voyage. Rovos Rail was established in 1989, and is still family owned, and Vos is pleased to introduce us to his opulent ‘Pride of Africa’ fleet. 

On entering the train, I feel as if I have stepped back to a time where the rail journey is the holiday. I am ushered to my Suite, and am pleasantly surprised and delighted at the spaciousness of my private haven. The included mini bar is a nice touch, complete with a liquor requirements card, so my fridge is stocked to my preferences.

interior of observation car in the afternoon rovos rail train, africa

 I hear a knock at the door and am greeted by Mandy, who introduces herself as my hostess. Her warmth and efficiency proves to be second-to-none. I am shown how everything works in my suite, then invited to meet my fellow travellers in the open-decked observation car.


Later, when I retreat to my suite, all traces of my existence have been removed – the bed cushions returned to their rightful place, the mini bar completely restocked and the bathroom restored to its immaculate state. The only question I can ask is, “Whodunit?”

A couple walking along the platform beside the Rovos

When packing my suitcase for an African safari, a dinner jacket and tie were not top of mind. But on Rovos Rail, one dresses for the train. If I have any doubts, the parade of smoking jackets and dazzling cocktail attire passing by reaffirms the dress code. As I enter the dining car, the atmosphere is set by mahogany panelling, soft lighting and fine china showcasing the Rovos emblem. The evening’s multi-course affair features local dishes, including springbok (which tastes similar to lamb), perfectly paired with fine South African wines, including some from the renowned Stellenbosch region.

Matjiesfontein station in South Africa

When it’s time to retire for the evening, I’m awestruck at how my suite has been transformed from day to night. The turn-down is perfectly presented, including the all-important chocolate truffle. However, what impresses me most is it’s as if my very existence has been wiped away.


After disembarking at Matjiestontein for a stroll around the historic village, I return and realise there is something mysterious afoot. Each time I leave my suite, it is magically transformed ready for my return. I am now determined to find a solution to the puzzle.
exterior of rovos rail train in montague pass, africa

On the final evening, as I make my way to the observation car for a last hurrah with some of my now lifelong friends, I realise I have left something. On my return, I discover Mandy and her team in the act of servicing my room with military precision, sprucing things up right until the last minute of the journey. She knows my movements before I do, leaving me wanting for nothing. I should have known it was her all along. Mandy done it.

Need to Know

It's time to cover those tracks! Start your African adventure in style, travelling from Pretoria to Cape Town on our 6 Day Rovos Rail trip. Journey through a kaleidoscope of landscapes from Pretoria and South Africa’s highveld region, via rolling grasslands, to the acclaimed winery country of Cape Town. This rail adventure includes a visit to Kimberley, famous for its diamond mining past with the first recorded discovery in 1871.