Lifting the lid on The Oyster Box, Umhlanga, South Africa

AS the bell is sounded, everyone peers towards the ocean. We spot a large pod of dolphins playfully jumping in and out of the ocean as they swim past us. This ritual has been taking place every day for many years at the Oyster Box hotel in Umhlanga (the Zulu ‘h’ is pronounced as ‘sh’), which is in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa.       

The Oyster Box is a hotel that originally opened as a diminutive tea garden in 1954 opposite the historic Umhlanga lighthouse and was redeveloped as a luxury hotel in 2009 when it became part of the Red Carnation Group. The property has direct access onto the 3km beachfront promenade, which becomes a hive of activity every morning with walkers, joggers and cyclists. There are a host of restaurants and boutiques within walking distance, while the Gateway Theatre of Shopping, the largest mall in Africa, is a five-minute drive away. 

Oyster Box, Umhlanga, South Africa

Oyster Box, Umhlanga, South Africa

Oyster Box, Umhlanga, South Africa

The doormen at The Oyster Box, dressed in colonial attire complete with pith helmets, provide a welcome as warm as the African sun each time we enter. The hotel’s impressive wall of fame provides evidence of all the royals, statemen and celebrities who have enjoyed the trappings of this iconic hotel over the years. Ornate chandeliers that once hung in the Savoy Hotel in London now watch over the proceedings in the Palm Court, the destination lounge to which local residents flock to celebrate special occasions and to indulge in its famous afternoon tea (if lucky enough to get a table). 

The hotel’s 86 co-ordinated bedrooms and suites are adorned with antique furnishings, and the giant beds are embellished with copious squishy cushions.  Huge marble-swathed en suite bathrooms are filled with B|Africa signature amenities, featuring indigenous ingredients blended by Bea Tollman, the founder of Red Carnation hotels. Our balcony overlooks the hotel’s main swimming pool and its red-and-white candy-cane striped furnishings, with a perfect view of the lighthouse and the turquoise Indian Ocean.

Oyster Box, Umhlanga, South Africa

Oyster Box, Umhlanga, South Africa

For dinner we head to the hotel’s colourful curry buffet, an open kitchen-style affair presided over by head chef Kevin Joseph. It features 11 variants of curry and a dazzling huge array of condiments – with a special mention for the crispiest poppadoms and softest naans we’ve ever tasted. After dinner we climb the sweeping staircase to the in-house 24-seater cinema, where popcorn and sweet jars are served before the film commences. 

It’s no surprise that the Johannesburg elite regard the Oyster Box in this affluent seaside village of Umhlanga as their secret retreat. Durban’s new international airport, which is  only a 15 minutes’ drive away, has made this destination more accessible not only for South Africans, but also for Europeans, with multiple non-stop flights every week. As we depart the property for the final time, we hear the jingle of a bell. It’s from Skabenga collar, the hotel’s tabby cat. How lucky is he to be the only permanent resident of the Oyster Box? 

by Amanda Bernstein

Standing majestically on Umhlanga’s beachfront, overlooking the Indian Ocean and the iconic lighthouse, The Oyster Box, part of the Red Carnation Hotel Collection, is one of South Africa’s most cherished hotels and a national treasure.

Rooms are priced from 6,282 ZAR per room per night

2 Lighthouse Road, Umhlanga Rocks, 4319, KwaZulu-Natal

+27 31 514 5000

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