We awoke early with a thrill of expectancy on the morning that our magical journey was to begin. When we arrived at the station we were still not aware of what kind of adventure awaited us. As the car drew up, uniformed attendants astonished us by greeting us by name and conducting us to an elegantly furnished waiting room glittering with silver and crystal. This was the special lounge for passengers of the Blue Train. After introductions, we were served with drinks and chocolate, and then almost carried to the train. Sipping champagne in our compartment we read up on the history of the Blue Train.
Real travelers and children feel at home wherever they are in the world.
George Bernard Shaw
However, if you are ever lucky enough to travel by the Blue Train you will feel not merely at home, but in a dream world.
Prior to 1910, there were two luxury trains in South Africa; one the Corridor Express belonging to Natal Railways, and the Limited Express operated by Cape Railways. Then Rhodesia (today Zimbabwe) launched the Tren de Lux, alias the Zambezi Express, which ran between Cape Town and Bulawayo. In 1903 Central South African Railways launched its own version of the Tren de Lux, the service that today is known as the Blue Train. In 1923 South African Railways replaced this service by a faster train, and in 1933 named the dining car after the famous flower, the protea, and painted it blue. Subsequently, another blue carriage was added, and the name Blue Train was coined.
Today the Blue Train runs between Pretoria and Cape Town primarily, but also from Pretoria to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and the Valley of the Olifants in Botswana, and via the Garden Route. The service offers superb comfort and luxury, and its high standards have been recognized by numerous awards. The Blue Train is the African equivalent of the Orient Express. There is an attendant for each compartment, which boasts underfloor heating, luxurious decoration, and fresh flowers placed in a silver vase on the table every day. Even the soap and bubble bath are exclusive, and if you wish you can sip champagne from a crystal glass as you bathe in the marble bathtub! The compartment is cleaned and made ready for the night by invisible fairies when you leave to go to the dining car in the evening.
If you travel from Pretoria to Cape Town your first stop is the city of Kimberley, celebrated for its diamond mines. The train then passes across the Karoo, a semi-desert plateau, and through the world’s fourth-longest tunnel into the Hex river valley, with its summer roses and emerald green vineyards. After passing Paarl, where South Africa’s finest wines are produced, Table Mountain comes into sight and you arrive in Cape Town. Pretoria and Cape Town are South Africa’s most beautiful cities, the former adorned with jacaranda trees introduced from South America. Cape Town, which is known as the Mother City by the South Africans is justly described as one of the loveliest cities in the world by those fortunate enough to live there.
Bartholomew Diaz was the first European to come here in 1488, and in 1497 Vasco de Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean. He was followed by Sir Francis Drake in the late 16th century, and the Dutch began to found colonies here in the 1600s.
Passing through Fairest Cape National Park you arrive at the Cape of Good Hope, where gigantic waves batter the rocks and tourists eagerly take photographs of this renowned spot. The coast near Table Mountain is famous for its beaches, windsurfing, grandiose mansions, and colonies of seals and African penguins living on offshore islets. There are tours by motorboat to see these, the outward journey taking half an hour. And of course, you should not miss the sights of the city itself.
So we came to the end of our train journey and were bid farewell in as memorable a fashion as the welcome in Pretoria. It was time to catch our homeward flight from Cape Town airport, and we dreamed of new adventures as we headed for the equator through the clouds.