Oysters are a health food and with modern refrigeration they can be eaten year around. But for truly fresh oysters check yourself into the Oyster Box Hotel and Spa on Lighthouse Road above the Umhlanga Rocks 15 miles east of downtown Durban, South Africa.
I am splitting a dozen of the tangy, tasty, and salty appetizers in the Oyster Box’s Oyster Bar with the hotel General Manager, Wayne Coetzer, who is a Drakensburg Mountain trout and Indian Ocean bream fisherman at heart. Oysters have about 20 grams of protein in each jammed packed selenium morsel; selenium is a mineral believed to increase longevity. I don’t think there is a place on the planet where the oysters arrive fresher than the Oyster Box Hotel.
Oysters are served at the Oyster Bar.
“We have our own divers that harvest the oysters daily,” states Wayne, as I look out to the Indian Ocean surf pounding the shoreline where I assume the oyster beds are located. But Wayne says that the Red Carnation Collection hotel has its own oyster pond out back where they grow their own beneficent delicacies.
Guests can order oysters at the OB’s restaurants or from room service around the clock. We both smile as the cocktail sauce dipped sliders disappear down our gullets. Oysters and beer go together and the Oyster Bar serves many of the finer South African beers, such as Newcastle, Windhoek (from Namibia), and other specialty brews.
The sunken wine cellar.
The 5-star hotel also carries the best of international and South African regional wines from its Diners Club Diamond award-winning wine list, so bring nine of your friends for a Chef’s Table wine tasting dinner hosted by your own personal sommelier in the wine cellar sunken below the plate glass floor of the OB’s OB. (Oyster Box’s Oyster Bar). A stairway leads down to the cellar which brims with bottles of Burgundys and Beaujolais and even a Bourbon or two.
Of course The Red Carnation hotel on the shores of the swanky upscale Umhlanga suburb is going to put a fisherman in charge of the place for that added extra South African charm that tempers the more sedate British personalities.
Wayne brings a beam (more likely bream) of managerial twinkle in his eyes to the property and I think the Huck Finn in him keeps a fishing pole in his staff locker. Later he dashes out to the curio shop next to the reception desk and presents me with a book on all the fish species of South Africa. Back at my Classic Cabana room overlooking the ocean and a grassy terrace bench I find a thick volume about South Africa fishing flies. This is the first time I have stayed in a 5-star fishing lodge!
The Oyster Box Hotel and Spa is one of three Red Carnation Hotels in South Africa, owned by the British-based Tollman family. The red striped lounging chairs in front of my garden-like Cabana overlooks the barber pole lighthouse that Fresnel signals the cargo ships anchored off shore, waiting for a wharf in Africa’s largest seaport, Durban Harbor. If they anchor at sea they avoid dockage fees until they actually unload or load their wares.
The high rises of Durban are seen in the distance but all I hear is the soothing sounds of the sea pounding the water into foam. It is a warm Sunday afternoon and the rocky beach with small oases of sand is packed with locals enjoying the weather.
The Ocean Terrace pool.
The Oyster Box has been serving guests since 1947 but has been continually upgraded and modernized over the years. In fact, I have three digital phones in my Cabana, one at my writing desk, one bedside, and one in the bath. Plus the room has a wide screen TV and free Wi-Fi access. With all that digital equipment, the hotel has 24 hour surveillance and their own pith helmeted, leather shoulder-belted, and white gloved colonial era look-a-like security staff at the bottom of the steps of the infinity pool just above the public promenade around the lighthouse.
I don’t have to dive for oysters or for a bath sponge because I have two natural exfoliaters in my deep dish tub, plus purified African botanical soaps and lotions. Now If I could only cast a line out to sea from my heavenly tub!
My Classic Cabana Suite.
All 86 rooms and suites at the Oyster Box have either a sea view or garden view. The eight Classic Garden-Facing rooms may snap you alert with a view of monkeys, but certainly of the birds flitting through the bushes; the 17 Classic Sea-Facing rooms offer private balcony views of the lighthouse; the 27 Luxury Sea-Facing rooms have double vanities, separate shower, and private balconies with ocean views; there are eight-Sea-Facing Cabanas, on the ground floor, with colonial king size four-poster beds, along a terrace overlooking the gardens and swimming pool — the Cabanas are very popular because you can walk out the sliding louver doors to the pool and the Terrace Restaurant, and the morning sun is so delightful.
Superior Garden-Facing Villa.
The five Sea-Facing Family Suites come with a master bedroom and separate single room or loft for the children, with special treats for the kids; the five Sea-Facing Luxury Suites are very spacious with a master bedroom, exquisite separate lounge, and sea views; there are two Sea-Facing Deluxe Suites that are close to the beach and Terrace Pool — these ground level suites have their own private heated plunge pool, terrace, bedroom, and separate lounge; the Oyster Box has four Superior Garden Villas that are set back from the main building, nestled in the hotel’s tropical gardens and close to the holistic healing spa and the Garden Pool — each of these Villas has its own private heated plunge pool, terrace, lounge, bar, and two separate bedrooms, and four of the eight Villas can be converted into a 2-bedroom Villa with connecting Garden Villa Lofts. The four Garden Villa Lofts are spectacular and creatively designed, and they can be converted into a 2-bedroom Villa by connecting with one of the Superior Garden Villas.
A Garden-Facing Loft.
Sea-Facing Deluxe Suite.
The hotel has one stunning Presidential Suite (seen in the opening photo), which is split over two levels with a private lift — the ground floor has an exclusive living room, dining room for up to eight guests, a fully-equipped kitchen and bar, separate study, and private heated infinity swimming pool, all with ocean views. On the first floor of the Presidential Suite is the Grand Master Bedroom, with his and hers walk-in closets and marble bathrooms, plus 24 hour butler service delivering you a couple of dozen shucked oysters, no doubt. But wait, the one Presidential Classic Room can be connected to the Presidential Suite, with its own private entrance in case you want to sneak out for some bream fishing at day break.
Classic Sea-Facing Room.
No one presents High Tea better than the British, or a British owned hotel. The Oyster Box unfolds more than tea and crumpets between 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. daily — you have to have a reservation, usually 24 hours in advance. The popular tropical Palm Court soiree runs about 145 rands, but what a literal treat for the fashionably dressed locals and guests. The Palm Court is inspired by the original colonial architecture of the hotel’s former courtyard; the magnificent chandeliers were imported from the Savoy Hotel in London; the black and white terrazzo floor tiles display a sharp contrast beneath comfortable seating. The traditional High Tea Buffet offers home-baked cream scones, dainty cakes and biscuits, finger sandwiches, pastries and savouries, homemade ice creams, and to top it all off, a pianist in residence.
High Tea at the OB.
The Portuguese first settled in the Durban area on Christmas day and named the region Natal, which means Christmas in their language. Durban today is the home of the largest population of Indian heritage citizens outside of India, and their influence is seen in the cuisine at the Oyster Box.
The hotel has two Tanboori ovens and the chefs on Sundays serve up on the Terrace Restaurant an Indian curry buffet of fish, pork, beef, chicken, and lamb for about $195 rands. I ordered a prawn cocktail and the traditional fish and chips, with the potato wedges heaped in a silver bucket with English mustard. On other afternoons I ordered the delicious wood fired pizza from the pizza oven located on the Terrace Restaurant’s deck. You can even get an oyster pizza. Vassie, my waiter, had a smile brighter than the lighthouse, and all the staff was courteous and fast acting.
British Fish & Chips.
The Grill Room adjoining the smaller more intimate Colony Restaurant, and serves signature dishes such as Crayfish and Prawn cocktails, Black Forest Duck, and fresh seafood paired with wines; the famous Saturday Dinner and Dance with a live band is very popular at the Grill Room.
Wood-fired pizzas on the Ocean Terrace.
The Lighthouse Bar has a terrace overlooking the lighthouse and is decked with dark wooden panels with details in leather, crimson, and gold. Live music plays while guests enjoy snacks, exotic chilled cocktails, and comfort food. The Chukka Bar is an authentic Old World bar serving snacks, whiskeys, beers, and cigars. The hotel’s 24-seat cinema, screens classic and contemporary films with complimentary treats; DVDs can also be checked out from the reception desk. The OB is a family hotel and the kids will love the Holiday Club for children 4-12 years of age.
The Ocean Terrace Restaurant.
The OB has many reception venues for business or private events, including the Pearl Room, draped in white and elegant mirrored walls, hand blown Venetian chandeliers, and views of the lighthouse, for up to 120 guests. The Shell Room can be configured into multiple spaces. The Durban July Room (named after the Durban July horseracing season) is colonial themed with the walls covered in paintings and historic hotel photos. The Union Castle Room is filled with mementos of the cruise liner Union Castle, ideal for boardroom style meetings for 20 guests. The Colony Room can be closed off for private conferences for up to 30 guests.
The Union Castle Room.
The Oyster Box Spa is located in the gardens and offers six modern treatment rooms, two hydrotherapy baths, a mist shower, grooming lounge, Nuvola Dry Flotation and Color Therapy Bed, cold and warm water plunge pool, private fitness center, infinity pool with garden views, dual treatments for couples, a tranquility lounge with complimentary health snacks, and the popular authentic Oriental Hammam. The signature treatment is the Ionithermie, the figure corrective and firming treatment for inch loss and detoxification. The spa utilizes products such as Elmis, Dermalogica, Africology, and B/Africa.
Nuvola Dry Flotation & Color Therapy Bed.
The Victorian Garden Gazebo is lit by lanterns, candles, and scented with roses, a perfect wedding spot.
The hotel has business and secretarial service and the concierge efficiently set up a plane reservation for me for a flight from the new King Shaka International Airport about 15 miles away. The OB offers guests a complimentary shuttle to the Gateway Mall a mile up the hill.
The staff can also set up deep sea fishing, diving, tours to game lodges and the historic Victorian-era battlefields. The Oyster Box even has a Beach and Bush package in conjunction with the Amakhosi Safari Lodge in the hinterlands of Kwa-Zulu Natal province.
The Oyster Box has won many service and hospitality awards, and has a green accommodation certification which guests will notice when they remove their key card which also serves as a master switch for the lights when leaving the room. One aspect I noticed throughout the beautiful resort was the enormous amount of original African artwork displayed and for sale.
If visiting Durban slide into the OB at the OB for the OB sliders, that’s the Oyster Bar at the Oyster Box for the Oyster Benefits — I guarantee luxury on the half shell.
Check into The Oyster Box Hotel and Spa for luxury.
I must mention the exceptional services from African Travel Inc. at www.africantravelinc.com who put together an amazing press trip for Jetsetters Magazine throughout South Africa. Their 35 years of expertise should be tapped into for your own adventures, including the Oyster Box Hotel, or contact your travel agent that works closely with the tour operator.
— Feature by Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine; photos by the author and courtesy of The Oyster Box Hotel and Spa.