Having grown up in Durban, it always feels like I’m returning home when driving down the highway into the rolling green hills of Kwa-Zulu Natal which, as you approach the coast, give way to miles of sugar cane plantations and thick lush coastal forests laced with the intoxicating smell of the warm Indian Ocean.
The seaside city of Durban, and its coast north and south, is the new hip place to holiday - with its views of endless azure sea, stunning long beaches (the warm Indian Ocean allowing long swimming sessions in the waves), ‘amped’ surfers of every age lined up for the next big one, colourful trendy bistros and bars, long beachside promenades filled with people jogging or taking an afternoon stroll, grand old plantation style homes on the ridge, lush frangipani scented gardens, the strong smell of Indian curry spices and of course - an iconic red and white lighthouse…below it standing a very grand and gracious hotel – The Oyster Box.
Situated just north of Durban in the resort haven of Umhlanga, The Oyster Box first opened as a hotel in the 1950s. My first memory of it in the 1990s was of its food. The curry was always legendary and everyone in Durban knew that but the hotel itself felt out of date and a bit drab. Things changed when the Founder and President of Red Carnation Hotels, Stanley and Bea Tollman, purchased the property in 2006.
To sit comfortably within Red Carnation’s stable of luxurious hotels around the world, they were determined to restore it to its former glory. Keeping a few iconic pieces in place and an atmosphere authentic to grand and gracious days gone by, the Oyster Box had a complete overhaul and the result is quite simply exquisite. The new luxurious hotel that has emerged is in perfect balance retaining the best of the traditional yesteryear and mixing it seamlessly with the new, updated and modern world and therefore establishing it securely for the future.
The moment you arrive you are treated like royalty. You hand over your car keys at the grand hotel entrance and, with warm welcoming smiles, you are ushered through the hotel’s original revolving doors into another world. You are now in a gracious colonial plantation home – complete with black and white terrazzo floor tiles, grand staircase, whirling bamboo ceiling fans, palms at every corner, pith helmeted helpers, turbaned waiters in starched white and long wooden shutters opening up to the iconic view of ocean and lighthouse. Something I also notice immediately is the artwork with some paintings being striking and modern although blending perfectly into this environment.
High Tea is being served as we are shown about and I have to pull my sons away from the view of a large table bursting with cakes, pastries and every other delectable snack you may feel like during the hazy lazy afternoon. A piano tinkers in the background - glasses and teacups are "clinking". There is a comforting peace about the place although it is humming with people; perhaps a group of girlfriends celebrating a birthday tea, a wedding anniversary couple in the corner, a burnt out executive reading a book on the lounger gazing over the ocean or a family with young children, their little faces smeared with rich chocolate cake.
Our accommodation is as lavish and sumptuous as I expect it to be. We are in a Garden Suite – enough space for the family. Great excitement as we discover we have our own plunge pool, children downstairs and parents upstairs and every luxury and attention to detail we can imagine. The best part of all is to find two menus on my bed – one for a choice of luxury pillows from soft down to foam and the other, a menu of luxury soaps – from magnolia to frangipani. Oh the extravagance! I can’t wait to phone housekeeping and order fragrant magnolia for my bath.
The Oyster Box is an institution with a settled comfortable soul – there is no doubt about that. Some hotels just have the ‘wow’ factor and this one certainly does. For some, it is the five star luxury, the attention to every detail, the discreet but attentive service, the grand olde-worlde experience, sumptuous accommodation, the lush gardens – for others, perhaps it is the comfortable at-home atmosphere for families, the ideal grand wedding or other celebration venue, a classy meeting place in one of their popular elegant bars, a world class spa or a perfect place to unwind taking a walk down the beach promenade and enjoying the hotel’s world famous cuisine. For me, it is about sitting on their fabulous red and white Ocean Terrace overlooking the Lighthouse and the vast Indian Ocean, listening to the ‘clink’ of glasses and the idle chitchat of content people around me – counting the cargo ships on the horizon waiting to enter the port just as I did as a young girl – and thinking, “Wow… life feels jolly darn good!”
Oyster Box …the legend continues