Southern Africa trains

In July ’06 I made a deposit of $2,400 for trips on the following Shongololo Express trains in Southern Africa: Good Hope, March 6-21, 2007 ($3,680), Dune Express, March 27-April 11 ($3,905) and Southern Cross, April 11-26 ($4,350) — total cost, $11,935.

So it was with concern that I read in ITN the news item “South Africa Train Woes” (Nov. ’06, pg. 24), which stated that Spoornet, the national rail operator in South Africa, had announced it could not guarantee the availability of locomotives and coaches in 2007 for private tour trains and would only inform tour operators three days before the starting date whether or not a train would run.

I made inquiries and on Nov. 30, 2006, did get an e-mail from Leonard Potgieter, Marketing Manager of Spoornet, stating, “I suggest your travel agent contact the different train tour operators directly to determine whether this tour will take place or not.”

I contacted my agent at Wild African Ventures, who replied, “Please do not worry about the train journeys. The Shongololo trains that you are going on are set itineraries and they operate. The article was referring to trains that are rented out for business meetings, conferences, etc., not your everyday scheduled journeys.”

I’m pleased to report that I had a marvelous 52 days. The Good Hope trip covered Johannesburg, South Africa, to Cape Town; the Dune Express, Cape Town to Windhoek, Namibia, and the Southern Cross, Chobe, Botswana, to Livingstone, Zambia, to Maputo, Moçambique, and the Kingdom of Swaziland. My itinerary for the three trips comprised 67 pages, single-spaced.

I did talk to Shongololo train managers and guides re the article in ITN and was informed that all managers, train personnel and guides were very much concerned about Spoornet’s announcement. The employees were very much concerned because it meant that employees could find themselves without jobs.

I was told by train personnel that a group of them had attempted to find out who was responsible for the new directive but could not find anyone in management who knew anything about it. Apparently, the matter just faded away.

I booked my trips through Wild African Ventures (10505 Wheatland Ave., Shadow Hills, CA 91040; 800/358-8530, www.wildafrican

Each train carried six or seven 11-passenger vans for our daily tours. We had French, German, English and Italian guides for all of our inclusive tours and tour add-ons.

The following are some of the included trips: taking the panorama route by vans to view an endless cascade of mountains, forests and waterfalls; Blyde River Canyon; Zulu cultural show; city tours; battlefields (Anglo-Boer War); a drive through South Africa’s most spectacular mountain range, the Drakensbergs; Addo Elephant National Park; oyster-tasting picnic on Namibian dunes; microbrewery (Drakensberg); the burial place of Cecil Rhodes; Kruger National Park for game viewing, and Great Zimbabwe, the most significant archaeological site in Africa south of Egypt.

Now let me set forth a few of the optional programs (at additional cost): boat cruise on the Zambezi River; horse riding; diving with sharks; wine tasting in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek; Robben Island, where former President Mandella was held prisoner for 27 years; cable car up Table Mountain in Cape Town; Swakopmund; Sossusvlei fly-in to climb the tallest shifting sand dunes in the world; overnight in a tented camp in Etosha National Park; helicopter over Victoria Falls or whitewater rafting; Kruger game reserve walking safari; Windhoek pubs at night, et cetera.

I would recommend all three train trips. All were great. The train manager on the Dune Express said she thinks this trip will be canceled because not enough people are signing up for it. There were only 31 tourists on our train trip to Namibia.


Sun City Center, FL

At press time, Mr. Kelsea told ITN he had gotten a postcard from a friend on the “Good Hope” in South Africa, who said a locomotive could not be found for the train and they had to tour by coach. ITN called Deborah Urquhart of Wild African Ventures, who had just received notice from Shongololo Express saying that this applied only to Swaziland, which was allowing only freight trains to enter. Tour members will see that country from the train’s vans, overnight there in a hotel and meet the “Good Hope” the next day to continue the tour.