A Railway Romance to Remember
Smoke billows from the fiery beast, the ‘choo choo’ of the vintage engine heralding its arrival into the station. It is time to hop aboard the Steam Train to Elgin. The destination: a steampunk-style market replete with all of the mystique of a bygone era.
While this scenario might easily have taken place in the 1800’s, it is easy to recreate now with the Ceres Rail Company. Every weekend, Bailey, Jessica and Dominique – the faithful locomotives of the railway family, chug their way in steaming glory to the Elgin Railway Market and back again. So whether it is pure nostalgia, or a bold new adventure, we invite you to step back in time and embark on the whirlwind ride.
A history tidbit
Having been originally built at the turn of the 20th century, starting in July 1910 and finishing in May 1912, part of Ceres Rail Company’s mission is to help preserve and promote South African Rail Heritage, which involves restoring and refurbishing old locomotives and coaches.
What to expect?
On weekends, the train departs at 8am from the Harbour Bridge Hotel in Cape Town’s Foreshore.
Nestle into the beautifully restored carriages with comfy leather couches and enjoy the scenic views, the landscape shifting from the city scape to the open, rolling hills beyond the Hottentots-Holland mountains. Open the windows and feel the rush of cool air as you steam up the iconic Sir Lowry’s Pass. Try and spot the odd sheep, or cow dotted in the fields of yellow canola. If you need a small snack, the bar cart is open, but is simple in its offering, so save your appetite for the market instead.
The train stops at the Elgin Railway Market in all its glory at 11am – the waving market visitors energised by the spectacle of the whistling arrival – a grand arrival if there ever was one. Here, you have 3.5 hours to explore and absorb the gateway to the Overberg region.
The Elgin Railway Market
Housed in a refurbished old apple warehouse, the Elgin Railway draws crowds both by rail and road. The decor is a magic combination of Art Deco-Art Nouveau, a vast hall, and vaulted balcony overlooking the railway and smorgasbord of delights waiting to be sampled. A Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-style fan system of belts and pulleys that result in turning the heads of many who unsuspectingly enter the place.
This, all to the tunes of live music create a uniquely exciting atmosphere.
Choose from shawarmas, fragrant curries, Mexican dishes, health foods, pies or pizza but make sure that you leave space for local delights like pancakes, vetkoek, and biltong.
Of course, you need something to wash this all down with, and as you are not driving, it is the perfect opportunity to indulge in some fine, cool-climate wines from the region, as well as a selection of local craft beers, hand-crafted gins, ciders or freshly-pressed juices or smoothies.
When you feel fed and watered, wander through the craft stalls and pick up a vintage item or some leather goods, or venture beyond the realms of the market if you want to explore a bit more of the beautiful Overberg.
If you are visiting with the little ones, and need to burn off some energy, hoist them up the indoor-outdoor climbing walls, join in on a zipline, or let them loose on the jungle gyms and roundabouts.
Plan on staying the night? Enquire about renting a vintage car, or hire some bicycles. Those curious about exploring Elgin’s famed wine farms and attractions can check in at the info kiosk for more information, where local tour operators, Elgin Leisure Tours, are based.
Heading back home
The train departs from Elgin at 2:30pm. After a full day of adventuring, it is a comfort to enjoy the relaxing train journey (and perhaps a bit of a snooze) back to Cape Town where you’ll arrive back in the 21st century at about 5:30pm.
Book your train tickets
Tickets: R750 per Adult / R500 per Child / Infants under 2 – FREE
Duration: 9.5 Hours
Inclusions: Train Trip
Exclusions: Goods for sale at the Elgin Railway Market
Departure Point: Harbour Bridge Hotel and Suites, Dockrail Road, Foreshore, Cape Town
Visit the Ceres Rail website to purchase tickets online.
Blog post by Tarah Darge