The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 5, Issue 9 (April 1, 1931)
Impressions of The South African Railways
Pretoria is a charming city—to those New Zealand Rough Riders who thirty years ago lined up along Church Square, sitting in their saddles in the hot sun, waiting to be inspected by Lord Roberts, the charm of the place still remains. But the years between now and then have brought changes. The forts on the hills above, on which the Kruger Government spent millions—from which not a shot was fired—are now abandoned to the roving breezes and the creeping shadows. From the look-outs no horseman can be seen patrolling across the boundless veldt, and no gunfire startles the quiet of the sun-scorched spaces.
But to the range finder the puzzle of the distances is the same—everything seems near. A pillar of smoke rising up from the Premier Diamond Mine, thirty miles off, seems within reach, and the Maollisberg Ranges—fifty miles away as the vulture flies-seem just under your hat-brim. And the moon shining at the Fountains, and the Waterkloof, is still the moon of other days, and the roses in the garden at “Jerr's” cottage still blow in the breezes just as they did when the Rough Riders from Maoriland rode by, all on a summer's day.
Pretoria Railway Station.
The railway station at Pretoria is an imposing stone building where quiet and order reign. The trains leave on schedule time, and the rolling stock appears to be kept in excellent repair, the engines are big and powerful, and the carriages are designed to make travelling easy over long distances (from the Cape to the Zambesi one is five days and four nights in the train), and the officials are courteous and well-informed.
The tracks are well ballasted, and running conditions are smooth. The curves are wide, with little side sway when the trains are running fast.
Under the compartment system one has privacy, while the platforms along the full length of the train give ample opportunity for walking about. The beds are clean and comfortable, and night travelling is a pleasant experience. Electric reading lights are at the head of each bed, and the attention is equal to that on a well-conducted steamer. Morning coffee at 6.30, breakfast in your compartment or in the dining carriage at your choice, and—your ticket is looked at once a day.
Booking may be done days before travelling, and your name appears on an official list at the station, and also on the window of the compartment where your seat is. There is no rush, and everyone knows just where to go. Leaving Johannesburg at 8 p.m., level crossings are numerous.
There is a lot of signalling, and travelling is slow till the open veldt is reached, when the train then quickens up to a long easy running swing as it starts to eat up the 1,000 miles between it and the Zambesi.
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.”
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.
The Great Victoria Falls.
The train arrives at Victoria Falls at 10.30 p.m. The hotel adjoins the station grounds. A swarm of “boys” take your luggage to the finest hotel beween the Cape and Cairo. The Turkish carpets are soft under foot, the fountains throw their spray on gorgeous palms, the plaza is ablaze with light, and bright silk frocks page 31 move across into the shadows—the home of the “lotus eater” and the palace of the Alhambra.
Mosquito nets are in evidence, for it is a fever country, and only 1,200 miles from the equator.
The Farmers And The Railways.
“We farmers are to blame to a large extent for the position of the railways,” was the candid admission of Mr. D. B. Higgins, a Matamata farmer, who was a member of the deputation which waited upon the Government recently, at which four Cabinet Ministers were present.
“There was a general feeling,” said Mr. Higgins, “that it was possible for the farmer to have made the railways pay, but they had taken the traffic from the railways. Mr. H. H. Sterling, General Manager of Railways, had met them to discuss the matter, and they were going to ask all farmers in their district to put their freight on the rails. If they showed a little consideration and supported the railways, they would soon put some of the American lorries off the roads, and would enable the railways to work at fuller capacity….”page break
Here and There on the Auckland-Rotorua Line, New Zealand
Some interesting snaps obtained during a recent trip on the “Rotorua Limited: (running daily between Auckland and New Zealand's Thermal Wonderland). (1) Mr. T. D. Street, the driver of the “Rotorua Limited”; (2), (3) at Frankton Junction; (4), (13) Mr. T. A. Cox (guard) giving familiar signals to the enginedriver; (5), at Hamilton Station; (6) descending the Mamaku Hill; (7) crossing the Waikato River at Hamilton; (9) at Morrinsville Junction; (10) at Matmata; (11) at Rotorua; (12) at Putaruru.