The following is a guest post by Natalie Irwin about traveling from Johannesburg to Cape Town on the Premier Classe Train. One of the few regrets I have about our time in South Africa is that we never managed to do just that, and I was very happy to get at small glimpse of it through her story.
So, this Christmas break, we were boarding a train.
Yes, a train. Friends of ours had recommended taking the Premier Classe Train to Cape Town and then flying back. I have only slept on a train once in my life and I thought this would be a great opportunity for my children to have that experience.
We had a bit of both.
At R2,500 one way per person, the cost of the trip is expensive, but we felt like the experience of sleeping on a train and seeing the countryside of South Africa was well worth the price.
The brochure that I had picked up in the lounge at Park Station described sleeping on the train in this fashion: “The lights of sleepy towns twinkle upon the horizon and then retreat softly into the night as your journey passes them by, peaceful and sedate, waiting for the first rays of dawn”.
Well. That is not exactly how it played out for us.
At about 3:00 am I woke up because I felt like the train was going incredibly fast. My husband was awake too and said he felt the same way. We didn’t know if this was normal. You do, after all, have to go downhill from Johannesburg to Cape Town at some point. But at a clip like this? The train finally stopped and we dozed back off. A little while later the train was trying to start again, jolting us with the most incredible jerks accompanied with the sound of nails going down a chalkboard. Pretty much the opposite of peaceful and sedate, if you ask me. This jerking went on throughout the early morning and it was impossible to sleep. There we go, we thought, this is Africa. It would have been dangerous to have tried to walk down the corridor as you would have been sent flying. There was no announcement that anything was wrong, so when things had calmed down we decided to make our way to breakfast at 8:30 am. Just as we sat down to eat we arrived in the town of Beaufort West. (Beaufort West happens to be the hometown of Dr. Christiaan Barnard, who performed the world’s first human heart transplant). It was then that the conductor made an announcement that the locomotive was broken and that we needed to get a new one and that we would be 80 minutes late arriving into Cape Town.
We had arranged for Avis to meet us with a rental car at the train station, which I would highly recommend to future travelers. It made for a smooth transition to the exploration of Cape Town and surroundings, where, funnily, we kept bumping into parties we had seen on the train – a family on Table Mountain and a couple on the same ferry as us to Robben Island.
Overall, I wish our night had been a bit smoother and less scary, but after we got the new locomotive we had an amazing trip into Cape Town. Our family played cards, read, played on iPads, and talked. There were a few people travelling alone, and several travelers were always in the bar car, if you had wanted to meet new people. We totally enjoyed the experience of unhurried luxury of a bygone era. I would take the train to Cape Town again if I had the time and did not have any pressing engagements.
Traveling Premier Classe was an experience in every way for our family. And, of course, we finally made it to Cape Town!
|According to Natalie, a Joburg Expat blog post wouldn’t be
complete without mention of a toilet (ahem!) so here it is.
The Premier Classe train leaves Johannesburg Park Station every Thursday and Sunday at 3:00 pm and arrives at the Cape Town Train Station at 4:15 pm the next day.
Make your reservations online at www.premierclasse.co.za.
The cost for the train is currently R2500 per person one way. Children ages 0-2 travel for free, 3-9 years old travel for half price and children over the age of 10 pay the full fare.
Arrange for private transport to Park Station, or alternatively take the Gautrain.
Check in more than an hour before departure at the Premier Classe Lounge for good seating in the waiting area as it fills up quickly. The lounge is located downstairs and to the left.
Cabin doors lock from the inside. In addition, there are two security guards on the train. You do not get the sense that locking the doors is necessary.
The wine selection in the dining car is limited but fairly priced. I suppose you could have brought beer, wine, soft drinks and snacks on the train with you if you had wanted to.
You are not given a choice for dinner but are able to specify ahead of time if you need a vegetarian option.
If you are renting a car in Cape Town, make sure you have it waiting for you at the train station.
The comments on Tripadvisor at the moment are not the most flattering, but fairly accurate.
Natalie Irwin is an American expat living in Johannesburg with her family of four and enjoys all that South African life has to offer.