South Africa with Rovos Rail
South Africans call their homeland ‘a world in one country’. It covers an area equivalent to five times the size of Britain, with a climate ranging from temperate, Mediterranean and sub-tropical to desert; it offers spectacular scenery with arguably the finest wildlife on earth and no less than eleven official languages.
18 nights from £4099pp
Call us on 01756 706505 (+44 1756 706505) to discuss this holiday
South Africa is truly a world-class destination! Firstly, a more naturally beautiful country would be difficult to find - from the serrated peaks of the Drakensberg mountains, to the contorted and timeless semi-desert landscapes of the Karoo and the forested sea-shores and mirror-like lakes of the Garden Route, the enchanting temperate valleys of the Winelands, the rare proximity to nature found in the national parks and the instantly recognizable symbol of the country, Table Mountain - all under an endless azure-blue sky. Quite remarkable!
Then there is the wildlife, one of the main reasons visitors travel to Africa. One of the finest places in the world to experience this is the Kruger National Park, which is a similar size to Wales. It is exactly how you imagine the African bush to be, as depicted on countless TV documentaries: areas of sweeping savannah, bisected by rivers full of hippos, muddy waterholes lined with animals quenching their thirst, and the bush itself, home to zebra and antelope, studded by immense biscuit-coloured termite hills and towering above it all, instantly recognisable giraffes! The park is home to an incredible 150 mammal and 500 bird species including the ‘big five’: elephant, lion, rhino, leopard and buffalo. Game-viewing is an intensely moving experience with nothing preparing you for the waves of emotion inspired by an encounter with these wonderful, almost regal creatures thriving in their natural habitat.
Just to highlight the variety of flora too, the Cape Peninsula alone has twice as many plant varieties as Britain, which is 5,000 times bigger. But South Africa is not just about scenery and wildlife, fabulous as it is. The cities are amazing and highlight the country’s diversity. Brash Johannesburg, city of gold and South Africa’s cultural capital, with skyscrapers of concrete and glass separated by canyon-like streets contrasting with townships on its outskirts. Then there is the ‘Mother City’, Cape Town, overlooked by the vast bulk of Table Mountain and easily Africa’s most beautiful and sophisticated city. It is a real multi-cultural melting pot, with stunning Cape architecture, superb beaches, the best cuisine in the country, fabulous street musicians, mime artists and entertainers adding to its cosmopolitan atmosphere.
Any country is shaped by its past - South Africa more than most with its recent history a constant struggle between the British, Afrikaners, and various indigenous peoples, the Zulus being the most well known. The British annexed the Cape from the Dutch during the 18th century, who then set out inland founding the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. However, with the discovery of the world’s largest gold deposits, British interest flourished! This culminated in the Boer War and unification of the country.
We all inevitably associate South Africa with the inhumanities of the old Apartheid system, which needs no explanation. Our visit to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg takes us on a fascinating, horrifying, humbling and ultimately inspiring journey from the dark days of ‘whites only’ privilege, through to Nelson Mandela’s historic release. Documentary film, texts, sound clips and live accounts recapture life in the old South Africa. We also visit the famous battlefields of the Zulu Wars, Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift – one a crushing British defeat sending shock waves throughout the Empire, the other a valiant stand of just 140 against 4,000 Zulus. Few tours visit these remarkable sites, a vital and deeply moving part of South Africa’s unique heritage.
The Garden Route in the Western Cape is legendary. With a mild climate and facing the southern Indian Ocean, this unique region encompasses beautiful coastal and mountain scenery. Depending on the time of year, we’ll have the opportunity to travel to the beautiful seaside resort of Hermanus, the best place for on-shore whale watching. We also spend a most enjoyable few days surrounded by the seemingly never-ending rows of vines in fertile valleys, backed by the lofty mountains of the enchanting Winelands.
This wonderful 16-day tour is designed to highlight South Africa’s truly amazing diversity of cultures, its curious blend of old and new, and its phenomenal scenery and wildlife. You leave with the feeling that the new South Africa, open to the world after years of isolation, is a land of superlatives which cannot fail to impress the welcome visitor!
South Africa with Rovos Rail Itinerary
You should arrive at the airport to take your overnight flight to Johannesburg where you will be met on arrival ready for your transfer.
After our morning arrival, we transfer to the four-star Indaba Hotel in a prosperous suburb, north of the city. On the way to our hotel we take the opportunity to visit the Apartheid Museum, a truly fascinating exhibition charting the apartheid years and the struggle against it, culminating in the first democratic elections. It is a superbly presented walk through contemporary history using original material, riveting eyewitness accounts, photographs and film. The rest of the afternoon is at leisure to explore the pleasant leafy district of Fourways and nearby Montecasino shopping mall.
After breakfast we depart for the open spaces and farmlands of the highveld, following the Panorama Route to Kruger National Park, one of the most scenic drives in South Africa. We follow the spectacular rim of the Blyde River Canyon, an amazing 20-mile long and 2,300- foot deep gorge cutting a vast swathe through the Great Escarpment separating the temperate grasslands of the Highveld and the drier savannah beyond. Deep circular rock formations created by years of erosion and many excellent vantage points offer superb photo opportunities for some of the most breathtaking views in Africa. Our hotel for the next three nights is the three-star superior Hippo Hollow Country Estate, beautifully located in the midst of lush forest on the banks of the Sabie River on the edge of the National Park. It has lovely gardens, two pools, a very cosy bar, an excellent restaurant and an open air terrace overlooking the grounds and river where you can actually watch the hippos! A more relaxing spot would be difficult to find. Our 2019 tours stay at the four-star Sanbonani Resort. Dinner is included tonight.
Today we have a full day’s game drive in specially adapted 10 seat 4x4 vehicles. There is simply nothing to beat that rising feeling of anticipation and excitement as we enter the nearby park in the half-light of the spectacular African dawn, surrounded by the noise of a unique ‘dawn chorus’. Which animal shall we spot first? Perhaps an elephant, a family of warthogs or possibly even the elusive cheetah. Our experienced game rangers know the best tracks and waterholes whilst their stories will amuse, inform and fascinate you. Most have lived here all their lives, accumulating a vast wealth of knowledge. One minute they can be talking about the constituents of elephant dung and the next about the mating behaviour of hippos or the latest UK football scores!
This is a day at leisure for anyone who just wants to take it easy by one of the pools at the hotel or do some hippo-spotting from the lovely lawn overlooking the river. Alternatively, you could try elephant-back safaris, exciting helicopter flights or even river rafting (all subject to weather conditions), as well as sunset safaris or night safaris where you can experience the unique thrill of an open 4x4 vehicle game drive by spotlight. Exclusively for Riviera guests, there are also a limited number of places available to stay the night at a tented camp and go on a bushwalk. Our camp is a real ‘back to nature’ experience, with no electricity or en-suite facilities – we use portable ‘bush’ showers and toilets. Our chef will create excellent wholesome cuisine and you can listen out for any nocturnal visitors whilst sitting around the campfire! You rejoin the main tour on the morning of day 6.
Today we leave Kruger on our way to the battlefields of Zululand. After breakfast we’ll drive south, entering the small but scenically beautiful country of Swaziland. As the road climbs past the interestingly-named Piggs Peak we descend through lush green fields and rolling hills interspersed with small farms and drive through the country’s small capital Mbabane, passing the parliament house and Royal Palace en route. We cross back into South Africa in the afternoon and enter Kwazulu Natal province, staying at the simple three-star Battlefields Lodge for two nights on bed and breakfast basis.
After breakfast we visit the battlefields of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift. Brilliantly dramatised in the films Zulu Dawn and Zulu, these two battles, just a day apart, became a defining moment for the British Empire. In 1879 at Isandlwana, a depleted force of 1,300 were surprised and outmanoeuvred by a 20,000-strong Zulu army armed with cowhide shields and spears. Only a handful survived. The next day just 9 miles away, about 140 British soldiers, some wounded, held off 4,000 Zulus for over ten hours at Rorke’s Drift, an action earning eleven Victoria Crosses, the largest number ever awarded in a single engagement. Isandlwana particularly, remains a haunting and lonely place, with mass graves marked by simple white stones. Our specialist Zulu guide will really make those desperate encounters come alive. We return to our hotel in the afternoon. Lunch is included today.
After breakfast we return to Johannesburg airport, flying to George in the Western Cape and at the heart of the gorgeous Garden Route. We take the short drive to the coastal town of Mossel Bay and our hotel, the charming three-star superior Diaz Hotel & Resort with breakfast. The comfortable rooms all boast excellent sea views. Dinner at a local restaurant is included this evening.
Today we head inland, through stunning mountain scenery of the Ruitersbos Nature Reserve to the foot of the Swartberg Mountains. Here we’ll visit the spectacular Cango Caves, formed over millions of years in the soft limestone and South Africa’s best-known caves. Next we head to the small town of Oudtshoorn, a centre of ostrich farming since the 19th century. We’ll have the opportunity to see these fascinating creatures close up and learn about their habits. After an included lunch, we head back to Mossel Bay.
This morning, we take the long scenic drive to the Cape’s beautiful Winelands. During July to November we drive via Hermanus, the world’s best spot for on-shore whale watching. These gentle giants move in seemingly permanent slow motion and are a truly amazing sight as they playfully cavort in the water. You arrive in the Winelands by late afternoon, staying two nights on bed-and-breakfast at the excellent four-star Devon Valley Hotel, which is a real find. This little property is set on the valley slopes offering breathtaking views, lush gardens, a relaxing shady terrace, a comfortable bar with dark leather armchairs, fireplace and a wide selection of single malt whiskeys.
Today we tour the awesomely beautiful Winelands. Set in a valley backed by majestic mountains, rows of manicured vines and orchards stretch into a distance studded by lime-washed, often thatched, 300-year-old wineries built in the unique Cape Dutch style, seemingly mirroring the undulations of the surrounding countryside. Our first stop is elegant Stellenbosch, established 300 years ago and home of South Africa’s most prestigious university. Period buildings and historic streets reinforce the town’s dignified atmosphere. We have time to explore this delightful town before enjoying a fascinating cellar tour and tasting at the Neethlingshof Wine Estate. After that, we visit the small town of Franschoek, set at the head of a valley. Tonight we’ll enjoy an included typical South African BBQ or Cape Malay buffet dinner at our hotel.
This morning we visit the amazing Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, located just outside Cape Town and set against the eastern slopes of Table Mountain. These incredible gardens are some of the best in South Africa, with numerous fascinating endemic flora and orchid varieties. We soon arrive in Cape Town and our hotel, the four-star Southern Sun Waterfront Hotel, staying three nights on bed and breakfast. It is located right in the centre of this bustling city within walking distance of the V&A waterfront. The afternoon is spent at leisure when you can start to explore this beautiful city.
This morning, we visit Cape Point and the legendary Cape of Good Hope, firstly driving past pristine beaches to the picturesque fishing harbour of Hout Bay. We continue along the breathtakingly scenic Chapman’s Peak Drive, full of rugged seascapes, to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, then on to Cape Point itself. We see the confluence of the Indian and Atlantic Ocean currents and the treacherous promontory of rocks and swells, the scourge of mariners for centuries. Finally we visit Boulders Beach and its penguin colony, returning to the city during the afternoon.
Cape Town, featuring British, Dutch and Cape Malay influences, is simply one of the world’s most naturally beautiful cities with so much to offer the visitor! You could do some bargain shopping at the Waterfront, followed by a sumptuous seafood lunch. Or maybe go people-watching at fashionable Camps Bay? Obviously no visit to Cape Town is complete without taking a revolving cable car ride to the top of iconic Table Mountain which has announced the city to generations of sea-farers. The views are fabulous. You should also visit Robben Island (weather permitting and based on availability), where Nelson Mandela spent most of his 27-year incarceration, and whose visitors since its opening have included Bill Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, Bill Gates and even Nelson Mandela himself. Perhaps though, simply wander where your feet take you, or relax a little, taking afternoon tea in beautiful colonial splendour at the Mount Nelson hotel – the choice is yours.
Transfer to Cape Town railway station this morning to board the gleaming carriages of Rovos Rail and settle into your luxurious wood-panelled private Pullman or Deluxe cabin. Our train departs at 11am and as we roll through the Winelands you’ll be able to enjoy the first of many wonderful meals on board. Traditional afternoon tea is served in the Lounge and Observation cars as we approach the charming perfectly-preserved Victorian town of Matjiesfontein where we disembark for a short tour. This evening listen out for the gong that heralds dinner and make your way to one of the two dining cars for one of the best meals you’ll ever have on a train!
Wake to the wide-open panorama of Africa. There’s no hurry to get up today as breakfast is served until 10am! After lunch our train pulls into Kimberley, South Africa’s most famous diamond-producing town. At over 700ft deep the Kimberley Big Hole is the largest man-made and hand-excavated hole in the world. We also visit the nearby Diamond Museum, a moving testament to the thousands of miners who toiled here over the years. Back on board it’s time for afternoon tea again before this evening’s sumptuous final dinner.
As we near our journey’s end we travel through Johannesburg and the goldfields of the Witwatersrand before arriving at Rovos Rail’s private railway station in Pretoria at around midday. We say goodbye to our extraordinary home for the last two nights and enjoy an included lunch in Pretoria and a short sightseeing tour of the city before our flight home this evening.
You arrive home this morning after a truly remarkable tour of South Africa.
- Insightful guided tours and visits
- Local departures
- Financial protection
- Personal service
- Hand-picked hotels
- Breakfast and dining options
- Outstanding tour managers
- Free time to explore
- All local taxes and overseas transfers