27 August 2019 by Tim Tan
Luxury rail specialist Tim Tan takes a look at the southern hemisphere’s greatest train journeys, spanning three continents – Africa, South America and Australia:
I’ve been lucky enough to travel on the “Pride of Africa” twice and was enormously impressed on both accounts. It’s undoubtedly Africa’s most luxurious train, offering the chance to step back to a bygone age of travel. Expect wingback armchairs in the lounge cars, open-air balconies in the observation carriage and restaurant cars resplendent in Edwardian grandeur.
Indeed, the full-board dining is superb, with the very best in regional ingredients showcased across multi-course meals, each announced with a sounding of a gong. It’s all washed down with open-bar drinks; I particularly enjoyed the wine pairings, with different South African varietals presented depending on the meal. The private cabins were a further highlight. Featuring three windows each, they’re the largest train berths I’ve stayed on, host to the likes of double or twin beds, along with original fittings in the en suites.
Lastly, in terms of routes, I’ve been lucky enough to travel as far up as Victoria Falls with Rovos Rail. However, the train’s signature remains its three-day Cape Town to Pretoria leg, sweeping through vineyards and barren desert. To inspire, I’ve put together the following itinerary.
Rovos Rail outside Oudtshoorn
Cape to Kruger by Rovos Rail
13-day luxury rail journey
The journey on Rovos Rail from Cape Town to the country’s historic capital, Pretoria, is three days of wine-paired dining, open-bar indulgences and spectacular scenery, winding through river valleys and South Africa’s dramatic interior. You’ll even pause for included tours of Matjiesfontein and Kimberley’s Victorian-colonial charm. On this itinerary, you’ll also start with a three-night luxury stay in beach-clad Cape Town, perhaps exploring Table Mountain and the surrounding penguin colonies before you end with a luxury safari in Greater Kruger National Park. Here, you’ll take in the Big Five on twice-daily safaris, returning to all-inclusive drinks and fine dining, with a stay in one of just a dozen 1920s cottages at a luxurious &Beyond property.
Royal Suite, Rovos Rail
Having only launched in 2017, Peru’s Andean Explorer is a decidedly more contemporary affair. Think plush leather seating, a hand-painted ivory exterior and in-built oxygen for comfort at high altitude. There’s even an onboard spa, with a full range of massages available. However, from hand-woven fabrics to local-stone en suites, it’s all dressed in Peruvian accents inspired by the train’s route.
The dining, too, is suitably well- informed. Peruvian cuisine is enjoying its moment in the sun, and I’m happy to see that the onboard meals promise the finest in local flavours, served up with modern flair. It’s all taken among the macramé fittings of the spectacular restaurant carriages and washed down with open-bar cocktails, backed by a live piano soundtrack in the lounge car.
However, with the Andean Explorer travelling one of the world’s highest railways, the destination truly takes centre stage. Expect views of snow-capped Andean peaks – best taken in from the open observation car – to mark your journey between some of Peru’s most iconic sights. While the standard one-night itinerary links Cusco’s Incan treasures and Puno’s traditional floating reed islands, I highly recommend extending for one extra night, to arrive at Arequipa’s colonial charm. To inspire, I’ve showcased the two-night journey in the itinerary to the right, mixing in a luxury independent tour of Peru’s other highlights.
Observation Car, Belmond Andean Explorer
Luxury Peru by rail with Belmond
13-day luxury rail journey
Although centring around South America’s most luxurious train, I’ve designed this itinerary to add in the very best of Peru either side. On private tours included throughout, you’ll take in everything from Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley’s Incan treasures to the colonial charm of Arequipa and Lima, Peru’s food-loving capital. Your three all-inclusive days on the Belmond Andean Explorer will also bring you out of the Spanish idyll of Cusco and into the stepped rice terraces of Colca Canyon, before ending with the indigenous heritage of mountain-ringed Lake Titicaca – the world’s highest navigable lake. It’s all knitted together by private transfers and nights in Belmond properties – some of South America’s most luxurious hotels. My favourites include a converted monastery built atop Incan ruins and, for the ultimate privilege, the only hotel next door to Machu Picchu.
The Belmond Andean Explorer under the Andes
Australia is lucky enough to be blessed with multiple luxury trains, offering some of the world’s only few truly trans-continental routes. The two most iconic remain the Ghan and Indian Pacific, with the former running between the north and south and the latter east to west. However, while they might differ in direction, they share the same taste in onboard luxury. Read on for details.
Each cabin is wrapped in wood-panelled fineries, featuring picture-window views, optional audio commentary and en suites – perfect for freshening up after a day exploring. The three-seater lounge is then cleverly converted into cosy upper and lower berths, while upgrades add in ¾ size doubled beds. However, for the ultimate, look to the Platinum Service. By day, cabins are configured as a private lounge – host to a table and pair of ottomans – and by night they’re transformed into a luxurious bedroom, with either double or twin beds. Along with the refreshments and gourmet breakfasts served in your cabin, guests will be treated to premium drinks and dining in the exclusive Platinum Club, all leather banquettes and brass fittings.
Across each train, you’ll enjoy a full range of included excursions, taking in the best of their respective routes. So, while you’ll be treated to a gorge boat cruise and a lesson on Indigenous spear throwing on the Ghan, you’ll enjoy the likes of vineyard wine tastings on the Indian Pacific and a visit to Canberra’s parliament on the Great Southern. As with the excursions, the drinks and dining are all inclusive, fostering a relaxed, club-like atmosphere. Multi-course menus showcase the finest ingredients from the trains’ various routes, from kangaroo fillets to Top End barramundi. It’s all accompanied by complimentary beers, spirits and fine Australian wines, best enjoyed in the convivial ambience of the lounge car.
Ghan bar car
The Ghan & Kangaroo Island
12-day luxury rail journey
This is the Ghan’s original route, following in the hoof-steps of the 19th-century cameleer explorers that first mapped it. Taking three ultra-scenic days, it wends almost 3,000km from Adelaide to Darwin, sweeping through the deserts of the Red Centre. Stops include lazy cruises along the Katherine River, the chance to explore the frontier town of Alice Springs, and visits to the Jawoyn Aborigines for painting and basket-weaving. Either side, we’ve included some time to relax, with stays among Adelaide’s church spires and Kangaroo Island’s iconic wildlife, showcased on an included two-day tour. It all ends in Darwin – a city of artisan markets and tropical-beach sunsets on the edge of the Timor Sea.
Australia by Rail: Indian Pacific
13-day luxury rail journey
Pair Australia’s city greats and gourmet delights with one of the finest trains the world over. Indeed, after Perth’s glorious beaches and colonial Fremantle’s gastronomic favourites, you’ll cross the Outback aboard the Indian Pacific, pausing at historic frontier towns and the church spires of Adelaide. It all ends with Sydney’s icons before some time in the Hunter Valley to enjoy what are consistently considered to be the country’s finest vineyards.
The Indian Pacific
Inspired? Take a look at our itineraries below, or get in contact today.