Coming to the Cape

It’s our second morning on the train and we awake to another beautiful day in South Africa. This morning we are not up quite so early, and it’s already past sunrise and there is a wonderful golden glow to the countryside passing by our windows.

The glow of the sunrise turns the countryside gold

This morning we have the opportunity to disembark the train at a location called Whitehill siding approximately 5km outside of a township called Matjiesfontein. After disembarking we will walk through the countryside to the town where we will meet up with the train again. We are looking forward to a bit of exercise as we fear the rich food may play havoc on our waistlines, and the only exercise on the train is walking from our suite all the way to the back of the train and vice versa. We head off to grab a quick bite to eat and take a couple of photos while the morning light is still good. It's quite desolate out here, but the countryside looks magnificent.

Old windmill

In the early morning there’s quite a lot of traffic on the line passing us ...

Goods Train

...and we spot the occasional old farm building as we pass.

Old farm buildings

 At around 8am we pull up to the siding at Whitehill but there doesn't seem to actually be anything here, I was expecting perhaps an old platform or some buildings. However we are eager to get in a bit of fresh air and walk and we are soon down off the train and heading up a small hill on our way to Matjiesfontein. It’s our first opportunity to say hi to our train driver...

Our Rovos Rail train driver

...and really get a good look at the whole train, no wonder it takes so long to walk to the Observation carriage. The train looks incredible out in the middle of nowhere with the mountains looming behind it.

Rovos train at Whitehill siding.

The train pulls away slowly and we wave to those who stayed on board as it moves off down a cutting in the hillside.

A look at the Observation Carriage

We are bringing up the rear and there’s quite a spread out line of walkers off in the distance. Accompanying us from the train is Tebbs who’s one of the senior staff members on the train, and we have a great chat with her as we are walking.

Tebbs

She tells us that the train is like a family and on this particular trip they will have been on the train from Victoria Falls to Pretoria, Pretoria to Cape Town and then back all the way up to Dares Salaam a total of 39 days without a break! I’m not sure I'd last that long on a train.

Today it’s a beautiful morning and the walk is quite easy and we realise it’s our first opportunity to experience the countryside first hand.

Kelly and Tebbs

After about 45 minutes we approach the town and the railway line splits the main town from the outlying residential areas.

Outlying houses through the railway tunnel

Matjiesfontein is an entire Victorian village, envisaged and built by a Scotsman, Jimmy Logan who arrived here in 1890. 

 

The railway line and station run parallel to the main street along which stand an assortment of highly ornate buildings. In fact there is one large building that bears the name of my grandmother, Rita Milner! I wonder if I'm somehow related?

The Lord Milner Hotel

There’s an old museum, stores and houses. Just walking down the street is like going back a hundred years.

An old store

Great little artifacts everywhere, like this old petrol pump.

Petrol pump

The train is heading out at 10:30am so we make our way up to the station and climb aboard for our final 195 mile journey into Cape Town.

Matjiesfontein Station Sign

After departing Matjiesfontein we passed through an area called Tweedside and Touws River and at approximately 12 noon we reached the first of four tunnels that will take us through to the Hex River Pass. The first tunnel we enter is 13.7km long and it’s quite an experience hurtling through this very narrow dark tunnel with the noise and the wind from the open windows.

After the tunnels we head for the other of the two dining cars and enjoy lunch as we pass through the Hex Valley and the town of Worcester.

The other dining car

The countryside is changing very quickly now as we approach Cape Town and the dry brown plains have given way to mountains and green fields and there are some great vistas from the observation car.

Lush green countryside of the cape.

We are almost at Cape Town and we are passing through some of the townships that ring the city and whose houses are built so close they almost touch the railway lines.

Township

There is such a jumble of shanty houses and they stretch off into the distance. At around 5:30pm we get our first glimpse of Table Mountain as we navigate our way through the junctions and spurs of the railway yards at Cape Town.

Our first glimpse of Table Mountain

It’s not long before we are standing outside the Cape Town railway station, having finished the first leg of what we hope will be an amazing African Adventure and if the start is anything to go by it will be amazing!

Kudos to the staff and management for delivering what was a remarkable experience under what I'm sure are sometimes very frustrating conditions. The standard of accommodation and service was second to none and I'd recommend that anyone who loves trains should make sure that Rovos Rail are on their lists of must do voyages.

Tony Redhead

93 Maud Street, Unley, SA, 5061, Australia