At Water’s Edge: The Oyster Box in Durban, South Africa
By Amiee White Beazley
The weather wasn’t cooperating for my only day in Durban, South Africa. While planning my visit to the city on the coast of the Indian Ocean, I envisioned running along its Golden Mile, reading on the beach, and walking the streets in search of the best Bunny Chow, Durban’s best known dish. But Mother Nature had other plans. Instead of beach days and sunny skies, she presented me with a full-on tempest. The only part of Durban I’d be seeing during my short stay would be the inside of The Oyster Box hotel, an 86-room property at ocean’s edge.
It turns out, everything happens for a reason.
From first approach, I quickly realized The Oyster Box was a throwback to another time when hotels were the destination. A nod to the Kwa-Zulu Natal region’s complex colonial history, the doormen are dressed in safari suits, red sashes and pith hats. As they open the doors, you enter a time machine. Walking along a red carpet, Champagne at the ready, you enter a glorious atrium filled with art, chandeliers and tropical fabrics authentic to its 19th century roots.
Originally built as a beach cottage in 1863, the property as it is known today was developed in 1954 and remodeled from 2006 to 2009 when new owners Stanley and Bea Tollman (Founder and President of Red Carnation Hotels) purchased the property and invested $8 million to restore the property to its original glory. A reflection of the local Malay, Indian and African cultures, it is a warren of richly decorated rooms, filled with collections, food, drink and experiences that have made the property a legend in South Africa and throughout the world.
On the way to my suite, I breezed past the Palm Court atrium during tea time, filled the sounds of piano and a gorgeous, traditional tea buffet of cream and strawberry cake, chocolate éclairs, candies and savory salmon sandwiches.
Every room at The Oyster Box has views of either the ocean or garden and is uniquely decorated. My oceanfront room was an elegant mix of union blue wicker furniture and blue and white linens, and sliding glass doors allowed for unobstructed views of the stormy Indian Ocean and the iconic, red and white Uhmlanga Lighthouse. I stepped out onto my terrace (monkeys be dammed) where the storm raged beyond the break wall, the wind whipped and waves crashed below. I watched as a pod of southern right whales in the distance breach the water, over and over, like children playing in the waves. It was mesmerizing and beautiful, and something I might have missed reading a book on the beach.
When the sun went down I took dinner at the Ocean Terrace Room where they serve the hotel’s famous Curry Buffett – a selection of 11 curries cooked in Tandoori ovens. I was sure to try them all including the signature traditional Durban lamb curry paired with the hotel’s craft beer, Lighthouse Lager. According to The Oyster Box’s website, “Curry was introduced to the Colony of Natal over 150 years ago by indentured laborers who came from India, to work in the sugar cane fields. … The unique flavors of Indian cooking, which were embraced by British settlers and the Zulus, have been developed over time to make the ‘Durban Curry’, famous around the world.”
After dinner I made my way to the rooftop Lighthouse Bar, which boasts 180-degree views of the coastline, which now night, I could no longer see, but no matter. I tucked in for a cocktail in this beautiful retreat designed with dark, rich woods, and outfitted with fireplaces, couches and leather furniture accents throughout in The Oyster Box’s signature red.
Before returning to my room, I made one more stop, this time to the Clock Library, a hidden room featuring one of the most impressive clock collections I’ve ever seen. Amassed over the decades, the collection displayed fascinating examples of horology, art and engineering.
The Oyster Box has perfected the small things that make a destination hotel special. For example, mornings begin with a call from the concierge, announcing a member of the staff will soon arrive with tea or coffee, and as a solo female traveler, I appreciated how The Oyster Box goes above and beyond to accommodate this segment of its clientele. While I didn’t ask for special services, it should be noted The Oyster Box does everything it can to accommodate solo female travelers, with particular attention given to how the room is secured, providing an exclusively female staff for guests if necessary and other special services.
Before departing for the airport, the storm now off the coast, I strolled the beautiful gardens and toured the elaborate spa, which features six treatment rooms, a post-treatment tranquility lounge and an authentic eastern Hammam.
While I never did make it into Durban, I was grateful for the chance to experience many of The Oyster Box’s nooks and crannies and travel into a place and time when vising a hotel was a special experience all its own.
Visit The Oyster Box website
Amiee White Beazley is a food and travel writer based in Aspen.