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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 5, Issue 9 (April 1, 1931)

Travelling by Night

Travelling by Night.

The South African nights on the high veldt are full of stars and stillness. The lights from the carriage windows shine on strange sights, here and there a Kaffir camp, where dark shadows fall across the firelight and greet the train with strange calls as it rushes by like a long arrow of light, into the darkness in front; and one wonders who and what are these unknown railway men that “push” these big engines across a dark continent.

The train reaches Mafeking at 7 a.m. The land around is as level as a prairie, with nothing but the grass, the sky, and the sun. The distances are so great that the speed of the train seems only as the crawl of an insect across a world. The earthworks are standing where Baden Powell made history, and near to the page 30 station is the military cemetery. In the quiet of the great spaces the living seem as still as the dead. The soldiers’ graves are well kept, and Dutch names are on some of the stones:

“With those that bred, with those that loosed the strife,

They had no part whose hands were clear of gain;

But subtle, strong, and stubborn gave their life

To a lost cause, and knew the gift was vain.”

Scenes on the South African Railways. The Kruger Statue, Pretoria. (Photo, E. Peters, Capetown.) Victoria Falls as seen from the Gorge.

Scenes on the South African Railways.
The Kruger Statue, Pretoria.
(Photo, E. Peters, Capetown.)
Victoria Falls as seen from the Gorge.

North of Mafeking the train travels for six hours across the Kalahari Desert, with the temperature at 110 deg. in the shade. The sun's rays strike as through a burning glass, and the desert sands throw off heat like the ashes from a fire. At 4 p.m. the desert is crossed, and the country changes to hills and grass.

Night saw a South African storm. Waves of light shone with startling suddenness across half the sky, but at first there was no sound. Forks of fire played along the sky-line, as the electric current came in contact with the iron ore on the hill-tops. Rain fell in waves driven forward by hurricanes of wind. The lower sky was blazing like a world of picture palaces. Then the thunder rolled and the noise split the ears like the sound from millions of machine guns. Yellow flames stabbed the sky, followed with a noise like the crash of worlds, and the country round seemed to be on fire.

The train reaches Bulawayo at 8 a.m. Within one and a half hours drive by motor are the Matopo Hills, where, on the top of a smooth monolith of granite, is the grave of Cecil Rhodes. North of Bulawayo the train passes through country like that round New Zealand's Woodville—good grass and heavy timber, but without the snow-clad Ruahines.

The country is full of lions, and the railway men say they come at night round the tanks for water. The line here runs seventy miles as straight as a theodolite can shoot it—the second longest non-curve run in the world.