Reefsteamers – for the love of trains
Some little boys (and girls) never grow up, and certainly a love of trains as a child may turn into a lifelong love affair as an adult. That's certainly the case for many of the volunteers who spend long hours at the Reefsteamers old-loco shed in Germiston, just east of Johannesburg.
Reefsteamers, a non-profit company that came into being when Transnet (a rail, port and pipeline parastatal) discontinued steam operations in the early 1990s, focuses on preserving and rebuilding old steam locomotives.
The volunteers and members of the Reefsteamers club are a mixed bunch of people from all walks of life with one aim in mind: to preserve these giant heritage trains and an age of travel that has almost disappeared. Almost, but not quite, as every few weeks Reefsteamers runs tours and day trips, giving enthusiasts a chance to experience the joy of these old steam trains first-hand.
The most popular journey is the Magaliesberg Express, which departs from Johannesburg's Park Station (usually on a weekend) and comes back the same day. The mountainous Magaliesberg area outside of Johannesburg is a great for walks and picnics, and you can pre-order a picnic lunch ahead of the trip. There are also craft markets and candle-making workshops for visitors.
Keep an eye out for Magaliesberg Braai Express trip ... watch the Reefsteamers website and timetable for details.
The Irene Steam Special is a day trip that begins at the Rhodesfield Prasa Station on the East Rand, heads off to the suburb of Irene just south of Pretoria, and returns later in the afternoon. The Irene Dairy Farm is a great place to stop for lunch and a walk in the beautiful grounds before jumping back on the train and returning to the station.
There are tours farther afield to places like Port Shepstone, on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, so take a look at the Reefsteamers timetable to see if any special journeys have been scheduled. There is also the option of booking out an entire train for an extra-special occasion.