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Sisonke Stimela train launched in Southern Drakensburg

Signature Life Hotels steams ahead with its newest and most unique project – the Sisonke Steam train- giving passengers a chance to discover the natural beauty, history and culture of the Southern Drakensburg.

The Sisonke Stimela “experience” is a magnificently restored luxury steam train that offers a choice of various trips through the unspoilt splendour of the southern KZN Midlands and Drakensburg. The journey passes through grasslands, mist belts, indigenous forests and nature reserves, with this magnificent scenery being interspersed with traditional Zulu villages, allowing the traveller glimpses of African Life.

Sisonke is one of the 11 districts municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal, situated in the south of the province and includes the southern most part of the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg National Park adjacent to Lesotho and borders Eastern Cape Province in the west. The Sisonke region is home to over 18 amazing Trappist monasteries and cathedrals built at the turn of the nineteenth century. Centecow Mission in Creighton,  which is one of the largest mission centres established by the Trappist brothers and other missions are Reichenau, Emmaus, and Kavelear.Built in 1894 Emmaus Mission was the very last major achievement of Abbot Francis, and currently an art gallery is being built to feature the work of Gerald Bhengu ,an internationally recognized artist with his artwork that is featured in public and private collections locally and abroad.

The area is recognised as one of the most spectacular and rewarding birding areas in the world, with over 300 species, including 63 endemic and 67 red data species.
Avi Tourism forms the single largest group of eco-tourists globally, and 25% of domestic tourists are interested in birding. There are two top national birding spots and seven birding areas. The Marutswa Forest Board Walk in Bulwer has been completed by Sappi and is fully operational. The Ntsikeni Mobile Vulture Hide at Ntsikeni Nature Reserve is home to some rare bird species and has a Ramsar Convention status.Ntsikeni Nature reserve including its 12000 ha wetland epitomises a raw, untamed, natural beauty and within the Nature Reserve the Ntsikeni Eco-Tourism Development Enterprise operates two lodges.

Says Alans Vels Md Signature Life Hotels: “ This is a dream project for us – it is a combined effort to promote tourism in the region by the Municipalities of the area and TKZN to position our province as a destination for local and international travelers- the unique quality of this luxury steam train and the flexibility it offers for a diverse group of travellers, from those who are keen on eco-tourism ,birding and nature, to historical mission visits, to business and other special occasions, are vast, and we are delighted to be part of a new and distinct hospitality offering”.


The accommodation on board consists of 21 luxury, air-conditioned suites which were originally fitted by Rovos Rail (17 doubles, one Queen and three twins). Each wood paneled suite accommodates two passengers, the compartments are furnished in classic Edwardian style with bathroom and shower en-suite.
The 42 seater dining coach is complimented with both a lounge and club coach. The menu on offer is designed for all tastes and bespoke menus can be created for different trips or occasions. The observatory coach or “lounge” coach, offers an unparalleled view with a feel of a bygone era. An “Out of Africa” boma style theme evening (on the 1st night journey) is also on offer, off train, in the wilds of KZN.

The train can be used for corporate functions as it has a fully equipped conference carriage that can accommodate 40 delegates in schoolroom style set up, in the conference carriage. This is certainly a train that can offer a conference or meeting with a “difference.”

There are Steam train “experiences” already packaged, but the train can also be completely hired for special occasions from Weddings, to special birthdays or celebrations, to music experiences etc.  The Signature Life Hotels team are willing to “tailor make” a package that is requested for the full use of the train. An example of the flexibility of the operation is shown in the 2 night excursion, where guests are transferred by 4 x 4’s to the summit of the Sani Pass for an exquisite luncheon or this excursion can be substituted for on board conferencing.