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Hotel review: The Oyster Box Hotel

There really is nothing in Durban that can touch The Oyster Box Hotel. With its spectacular location on the Umhlanga promenade setting the tone, this five-star hotel effortlessly combines a luxury experience with a welcoming, family friendly atmosphere. 


In 1952, brother and sister Ken O’Connor and Kay Hill bought the Oyster Lodge, a cottage made of Burmese teak, iron and reinforced concrete, set in large and overgrown grounds and originally used as a navigational beacon for ships. Ken and Kay established a tea garden, which grew into a restaurant and later, by 1954, into The Oyster Box Hotel. Kay stipulated in her will that should the hotel be sold, it go only to a family. 

Fast-forward to 2006, when Red Carnation Hotel Collection owners Stanley and Bea Tollman bought the now rundown property and spent the next two years and a few hundred million to restore it. Much of the feel and flair from the hotel’s zenith in the 1950s has been retained, including inlaid hand-painted tiles and friezes, collected by Kay on her regular travels to Spain and Portugal. 

Location, location, location

The hotel is a 20-minute drive from Durban, around 15 minutes from the airport and within day-trip distance of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. It’s quite literally on the beach; certain guests have been known to lodge complaints about the ocean being “too loud”. Sea-facing rooms take in the generous sweep of Durban’s bay to the south, while the garden-facing rooms overlook a lush, tropical garden complemented by courtyards and fountains. Breakfast on the Ocean Terrace overlooking the infinity pool and the Umhlanga beachfront is, simply, epic. 

Creature comforts

Our Classic Sea-Facing room felt on the small size (27 square metres) but the private balcony with wide open sea views made up for this. The shower-in-bath arrangement, however, might not be ideal for the less mobile. Upgrade to a luxury room and you get a spacious separate shower. Red Carnation’s signature cosmetic range B | AFRICA is used for spa treatments, and hotel guests get a taste in the form of shampoo, soaps, conditioner and bath salts made from renewable indigenous plants. The light summer bathrobes are 100% stealable. 

Food, glorious food…

The Oyster Box’s Curry Buffet is legendary in Durban, for good reason. Try the chickpeas with butternut and feta; it’s the best I’ve ever tasted. Or sit seaside at the Ocean Terrace patio for Bistro style dining, including pizza made in a woodfired oven. The hotel’s Grill Room offers a fine dining experience, with gueridon service and a semi-formal dress code plus a dinner and dance on Saturdays. 

Champagne and oysters from the hotel’s own oyster beds are a highlight of the breakfast buffet, while the High Tea literally sees tables (and guests) groaning under the weight of delectable pastries and baked goods. Chandeliers from the Savoy Hotel in London complete the colonial theme. High Tea is so popular that if you’re not staying at the hotel, you will need to book months in advance. Don’t leave before trying the signature cocktail, the Umhlanga Schling, up at the Lighthouse Bar. 

I am already planning my next assault on the curry buffet! 

Special charm/quirks

Skabenga (which translates to hooligan or vagabond in Zulu) the cat is the hotel’s unofficial mascot. He’s ruled the roost for the past 10 years since he developed a taste for the finer things in life, like seafood lunches. He’s got a Facebook page with more followers than the hotel and his birthday parties, which feature Skabenga-themed everything, are always sold out affairs. 

Pet friendly is actually a policy at the hotel. The Tollmans travel everywhere with their dogs and saw a need to implement a pet friendly policy at all of their establishments. The Oyster Box’s garden villas are geared to house you and your furry friends, plus there are special menus, linen and sleeping baskets provided. It’s not all about manicured miniature poodles either; from pythons to hamsters, they’ve seen it all. 

The wow factor

I could wax lyrical about the hotel’s extensive contemporary South African art collection, the sumptuous décor and the staff’s minute attention to detail but what really struck me was the laid back, family friendly environment. It’s a rare find in a luxury hotel and it’s more than just the holiday club, the kiddies’ menu and the customised kids’ turndowns. Without compromising on sophistication, the hotel has captured the essence of a fun family seaside holiday. 

This one’s for…

Families (plus pets), couples and, of course, celebs. The Oyster Box is Durban’s hotel of choice for local and foreign A-listers, including Khloé Kardashian, Idris Elba, Charlize Theron and Sean Penn. Charlene Wittstock, now Princess of Monaco, and her husband, Prince Albert II, are also regulars. 

. . .

Go there with Sure Travel

There's never been a better time to travel local — book your stay at The Oyster Box to experience 5-star luxury in Umhlanga. We've got self-drive and fly-in packages for less. Contact your nearest Sure Travel agent or visit www.suretravel.co.za for a quote. 

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