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Photo Tours &
Railfan Tours

Sandstone narrow gauge Garratt South Africa Tanago railfan tours photo charter

South Africa:
Photo Charters on
the Sandstone Farm

25/26 June – 1 July 2021

South Africa: Photo Charters on the Sandstone Farm

Sandstone is a large commercial farming estate on the picturesque South African/Lesoto border. The principal business here is agriculture, with crops including wheat, soya and the very colourful cosmos flower that are grown for their seed.

It also offers an outstanding collection of railway items, as well as agricultural machinery, steam road vehicles, traction engines, steam cranes and military vehicles.
Sandstone has an outstanding narrow gauge railway system with over 28 kilometers of scenic track, about 24 working steam locomotives and 200 items of rolling stock.
The entire collection was showcased at the „Star of Sandstone“ festival, a bi-annual event, last hold in 2019. The farm management has decided not to run the festival anymore, but to focus on their agricultural main business, we are pleased to be the first tour operator to offer photo charters on the farm in 2021!
Our event will focus on running authentic trains on 610mm gauge, we plan to have these classes of locomotives available for you: NG4, NG6, NG10, NG15, NGG11, NGG13, NGG16, plus several smaller steam locomotives of German, French, Belgian, American and British origin.

Your stay in South Africa may start with a morning photo session of a class 15A (cape gauge) at Pretoria.

This tour offers an affordable package of transfers, accommodation, full board meals, and our unique charter train itinerary!

Railfan Tours Icon
No. of participants min. 30 - max. 50
Duration 7 days
Meals full board
Price from 1.980 €
Open for bookings Open for bookings.
Book this tour now


Your tour programme

Friday, 25 June 2021
Some participants will have been enjoying steam in Zimbabwe, they will arrive at Johannesburg on 24 June and stay in the area for 1 night. We are planning an early morning photo session with a class 15CA steam locomotive on Cape gauge – be prepared for some perfect South African glint shots! We will then stop at Rovos Rail’s Capital Park station and depot (subject to approval) before passing by Johannesburg’s OR Tambo airport on the way to the Sandstone farm near Ficksburg in the Freestate – that will take about 5 hours.

If you are joining us today, you will be met at OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg around lunch time. If you have not been to Zimbabwe but would like to see the 15CA, you should arrive at Johannesburg on 24. June to join the group in the evening.

On arrival at Sandstone, check in to your accommodation before a short safety briefing, a reminder that we will be staying on a farm with a lot of activity, both on the farm and railway.
Overnight stay on the Sandstone Farm.
Meals: basic breakfast, dinner.

The farm provides accommodation of varying standards. We have reserved all available beds for our group. There is a limited number of single rooms, so please make your reservation as soon as possible!

Saturday, 26 June 2021
Our British locomotives day
In general, we will run 2 sessions of photography every day: 3-4 hours very early in the morning to catch the wonderful light around sunrise, and another session of 3-4 hours in the afternoon, ending after sunset. We will also have a night photo session here and there.

Today will feature the two Lawley 4-4-0 locomotives that are scheduled to run from the main Hoekfontein station to the Grootdraai loop before running through Hoekfontein to Mooihoek and back.

Over lunch time you may wonder around and visit some of the spectacular collections the Sandstone Farm has to offer, enjoy your included lunch, and prepare yourself for the afternoon session. We will run a NG4 to Mooihoek and the Pandora Pond, aiming for glint and sunset shots around Mooihoek. Some of the preserved buses and the famous oxen-cart will be featured today as well.

Overnight stay on the Sandstone Farm.
Meals: Full board (breakfast, lunch, dinner) on the farm.

Sunday, 27 June 2021
Our Garratt day

Today, we want to feature "the" African locomotive by showcasing the famous “Garratt” design: in the morning, we will be on our way to Mooihoek with an NGG11 Garratt, and after that we will take our train to Grootdraai and back to Hoekfontein.
In the afternoon we will see two NGG16 Garratts in front of a mixed train on the main line to Vailima and "around the mountain" and then back to Hoekfontein. As this is the most challenging part of the line, and if conditions do not permit a trip around the complete loop we will run to the S-curves behind Vailima only before returning to Hoekfontein.
Our photo extras today: tractors and/or vintage cars.

Overnight stay on the Sandstone Farm.
Meals: Full board (breakfast, lunch, dinner) on the farm.

Monday, 28 June 2021
Our German day

German steam locomotives are on the agenda today: the NG15 will be on its way to Grootdrai first this morning, then towards Mooihoek. Our locomotive, number 17, was manufactured at the Henschel factory in Kassel, and was first used in today's Namibia. When the South African colonial powers decided to convert all narrow gauge lines to Cape gauge in the area during the 1960s, the NG15 was transferred to Port Elizabeth, where they were nicknamed “Kalahari” after the desert region in Namibia. They clocked up more mileage on the line to Avontuur in regular freight and passenger train service. The NG15’s were very popular with the staff due to their large driver's cab, they managed to replace the traditional Garratts on the line thanks to their excellent performance.

In the afternoon, the NGG13-49 Garratt will run to Mooihoek and back. Built in the late 1920s by Hanomag, this robust and easy to operate locomotive soon became the backbone of South African 610mm narrow gauge railways for the next 40 years!

Following the famous "Star Gazer" train run during the Stars Festivals, we plan to go out one night to take pictures of our steam locomotive(s) under the starry sky of South Africa. Of course this depends on the weather forecast - the farm is flexible and we will pick the best cloudless night!
Overnight stay on the Sandstone Farm.
Meals: Full board (breakfast, lunch, dinner) on the farm.

Tuesday, 29 June 2021
Our American day

Another Sandstone star is the recently rehabilitated NG10 number 61 (42633/1915) from Baldwin. This iconic locomotive will haul all our charters today: we will start with a session to Grootdrai, followed by an afternoon action around Mooihoek and Vailima. We are expecting another chance for superb glint photography! Some of the farm´s US-built agricultural machinery will be on the move, too!

Overnight stay on the Sandstone Farm.
Meals: Full board (breakfast, lunch, dinner) on the farm.

Wednesday, 30 June 2021
A small locomotive day

Some of the smaller steam locomotives on the farm cannot be used on the main line without creating “issues”: the distances to the next water stop may be too long and some of the gradients are steep. Thus the farm management decided to build “Seb´s railway” which was inaugurated in 2017: a new line running in the South-East of Hoekfontein and specifically designed to facilitate the smaller locomotives!

We will again have a morning and afternoon session here, using 2 steam locomotives per session hauling goods wagons or cocopans. The steam locomotives will be featured as double- and single-header.

Overnight stay on the Sandstone Farm.
Meals: Full board (breakfast, lunch, dinner) on the farm.

Thursday, 1 July 2021
Our superpower event!

Our last photo-session during this tour will feature the newest addition to Sandstone´s fleet of active steam locomotives: the NGG16 Garratt #155! Originally used on the Alfred County Railway out of Port Shepstone, it was rebuild by the famous mechanical engineer Phil Girdlestone who incorporated some of the technology that was used at the famous Class 26 Red Devil in 1980: a gas producing combustion system, Lempor exhausts, an improved spark arrester, lightweight multi-ring articulated piston valves, improved valve events and improved mechanical lubrication.

The improved NGG16 Garratt, now labelled NGG16A, performed perfectly well and exceeded the old NGG16 Garratts as well as the new class 91 diesel locomotives by 25% in power. The Alfred County Railway was convinced that this new locomotive would be the future and decided in 1990 to build a complete new class of Garratts, based on the NGG16A design, to be classified as NGG17. Sadly, traffic levels dropped when road transport took a lot of customers away from the railway, sending the ACR (and the project to build the NGG17) into history.

We will motor back to Johannesburg around 10.00, expecting to arrive at the OR Tambo airport around 15.00.

The tour prices

24. - 25. June 2021 15CA at Johannesburg

  • 100 Euro Accommodation in a shared twin room, 15CA in steam, all transfers, breakfast
  • 160 Euro Accommodation in a single room, 15CA in steam, all transfers, breakfast

25. June – 1. July 2021 Photo charters on the Sandstone-Farm

  • 1.980 Euro if you book a shared Twin Coupe on the sleeping car (farm)
  • 2.260 Euro if you book a single compartment on the sleeping car (farm)
  • 2.490 Euro if you book a shared Twin room at the Victorian Cottage (farm)
  • 2.760 Euro if you book a shared Twin room at the Railway Cottage (farm)
  • 3.280 Euro if you book a single room at the Railway Cottage (farm)

Please refer to the "Overnight stay on the farm" section at the "Important notes" page for full details on the individual accommodation options.

The accommodation options on the farm are limited and are allocated strictly in the order of bookings. Unfortunately, we cannot accept letters of intent of the type "I will contact you again" for this trip.

The Sandstone-package includes the following services:

  • Transfer by comfortable tourist bus from O.R. Tambo airport Johannesburg to the farm and back;
  • 6 nights including full board meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) on the farm;
  • Accommodation as booked;
  • All photo charters as advertised;
  • All necessary transfers on the farm;
  • Entry to the farm´s collections of various machinery.

Not included are:
Travel to/from Johannesburg airport (we are happy to arrange your flights);
Expenditure of personal nature (phone, minibar, laundry, etc);

This trip will be charged to us in foreign currencies. As the exchange rate of foreign currencies to the Euro (our invoicing currency) has become very unpredictable and we do not want to burden the tour´s price with fictitious currency reserves, the published price represents the exchange rate as of 1. May 2020. We therefore expressly reserve the right to price deviations due to international currency fluctuations and any unforeseen price increases imposed on us by our partners or the law. The Sandstone-Farm has already informed us that we might be subject to a 10% price increase due to potentially higher prices for locomotive coal. Should this occur, we will present this to you in accordance with our terms and conditions for the decision "I do accept" or "I do not accept", depending on the effective amount of the surcharge.

Even if you are travelling alone, you can book a "shared" double room, we will try to allocate another "shared double room” person. If, contrary to expectations, this does not succeed, we will charge the single room surcharge.

The tour is run by Tanago. The group language is German and English. Please book by 15. February 2021 at the latest. We will be running this tour with a minimum of 30 and a maximum of 50 participants.

We are looking forward to another successful visit to the Sandstone Farm!

Tanago is one of the regular visitors to the farm, our photographers took unique pictures there in the early years of steam operation. In recent years, we have contributed a great deal to the success of the preservation on the farm with our visits, but also with the publicity we have been creating for the "Stars of Sandstone" festival, which ran every 2 years.

The success of the festivals in 2017 and 2019 made the farm management, despite their enthusiasm for the festival, ask whether the effort needed to run the festival was compatible with the agricultural needs on the farm. The bigger the festival became in its non-railway activities (military parades, airplane show, demonstration of agricultural equipment, etc), the less time (and staff) was left for the daily operation of the farm.

With these limited resources a repetition of the 2019 festival was impossible and the farm management decided that there would be no more festival, but the collection of working locomotives should still be made available to interested parties. So we discussed whether we could organize a pure railway-focussed photo event for 2021 - without a tank show, without private planes flying past, and the general hustle and bustle of a public festival.

Sandstone said yes, and thus we want to continue the tradition of special tours on the farm with 6 days of first class photo action.

Overnight stay on the farm
There are basically 3 ways to stay overnight on the farm: in the Cape gauge sleeping cars that have been set up on the farm, in Victorian Cottages, and in Railway Cottages. Naturally, the number of available beds is limited, especially as we often do not book the maximum occupancy.

Sleeping Cars: they offer the classic sleeping car compartments as single- or double-bed compartments. There is no entitlement to a specific compartment size for use as a "single room". The sleeping cars have electricity and a 24 hour modern ablution block with shower facility is nearby.

Victorian Cottages: these basic accommodations offer 2 separate bedrooms, each with 2 separate beds. Kitchen and bathroom are shared. Due to the limited number of rooms, single use is not possible.

Railway Cottages: a very limited number of rooms, each with 2 separate beds and its own sanitary facilities including a shower, are available.

All accommodations are located near the "Hoekfontein" central station.

The quality of the local infrastructure in many places cannot be compared with Western Europe, please do not expect luxury. Our accommodation on the farm offers a basic but clean and well maintained level. Please note that central heating is not available in most cases, even in winter! If it gets too cold you can help yourself with extra blankets or an electric heater.

Although the maintenance standards of the vehicles and railway systems on the Sandstone farm are very good and professional, we cannot guarantee the availability of a particular locomotive, class or line. In the event of unavailability, we will make every effort to provide you with the best possible travel experience. We exclude any further claims for pro rata reimbursement or compensation.

The currency of South Africa, the "Rand", can be exchanged at Johannesburg with very favourable rates. However, daily life in South Africa is not cheap although prices are below German levels.

South Africa is a beautiful tourist destination and, as so often, some negative reports of crime and corruption have distorted the overall picture. There are problems with public and individual security in the big cities but we will spend our time in the quiet province of the Freestate, where the situation is much more relaxed and peaceful. If you adhere to the general rules for world travellers (leaving valuables at home, not walking alone through dark alleys, not displaying wealth) you will have a great time. The Sandstone farm is well guarded and entry to the farm is carefully checked!

Please do not forget your travel health insurance! On our trip to China in February 2013, one participant fell ill. Without insurance he would have had to use the Chinese hospital in Fuxin - and would not have been able to fly home. Four days before the start of our 2016 India tour, one participant had to cancel due to illness - the cancellation fee was 75%! On a more positive note, South Africa has excellent private health and hospital care.

It is winter time in the southern hemisphere and we expect day temperatures around 20°C, at night the thermometer can go back into the single-digit plus degree range, but brief sub-zero temperatures can also occur. The air is extremely clear, we travel to the country during the dry season, so we expect little or no precipitation. Normally the days are sunny with low wind, but we have also had to experience weather conditions with continuous cloud cover. Be sure to bring a hat against wind and sun! Use sturdy shoes (we will be out all day long) and also get dressed for "outdoors". Please leave jackets or trousers in bright colours in the wardrobe at home.

Entry requirements
A free tourist visa is issued at Johannesburg airport. Please make sure to have at least 2, and if possible, opposite free pages in your passport, which must still be valid for at least 6 months after the end of your trip. This information applies only to German nationals. Please check the possibly different regulations for your home country!

Corona-money-back-promise: please do not allow Corona to spoil your interest in trains or photography! We do not know how Corona will influence the rules and laws for the summer 2021 vacation. Therefore we want to make booking this unique trip easy and safe for you and promise that you will receive a full refund of all payments done if the tour has to be postponed or cancelled due to legal requirements imposed by the South African government or decisions made by our partners.

See you soon on the Sandstone Farm!