I had seen so many pictures and heard so many stories about the iconic Oyster Box Hotel in Durban I obviously really wanted to stay there. The view of the lighthouse and Umhlanga beachfront over the pool deck is enough to get anyone’s eyes a little misty with travel desire. From the moment I stepped onto the checkered tiles I felt that this place was so much more than the pretty postcard pictures and I’m going to tell you why.
I went to Hotel school from 1988 – 1991 studying a diploma in hotel management. In our third year, we had to do a full one-year in house training in two hotels and had to work in all the departments. From reception to housekeeping, to concierge and then half of that was just in the kitchen. It wasn’t really the easiest time of my life especially since the first two years doing the theory of my course was basically one giant party. We were now in the real world and working in hotels is not for sissies. The hours were grueling, mainly on your feet and with a fair amount of heavy lifting involved. I also loved most of it. I thrived in the camaraderie of the staff, but most of all I loved that special thing called the service industry. Maybe it’s kind of a bug that bites, and probably why I loved being a waitress, but helping people have an amazing hospitality experience was definitely something I enjoyed doing. I also know how hard it is to get all the cogs in the wheel to turn well and never have I seen it all come together in a big fully booked hotel so perfectly than at the Oyster Box.
It feels like you are in Hotel Utopia and a toned down Wes Anderson movie set. You almost expect a monkey to jump down and steal your banana, and then one actually does. They even have a famous resident cat called Scabenga who could easily be South Africa’s contender for Grumpy Cat, and he strolls around like Da Boss with everyone worshipping the ground he pads over. He has his own Facebook fan page and I was honoured to capture his portrait.
The hotel is decorated beautifully over the top with artefacts gathered by the owner from travels around the world. It has a grand marble staircase in the entrance hall and palm trees in the inner courtyard which immediately makes you feel like you stepped back in time. The full moon beamed in over the patio in the evening and I could instantly visualize people dancing the waltz under the stars in that exact space many years ago. Romantic is only part of the story.
The part that I loved the most about this hotel and the part that makes it so special is that despite it being a posh five-star spot and the most iconic hotel in Durban, it feels warm and inviting to anyone who visits and the place was always busy in the middle of the July school holidays. Anyone is welcome, whether to have a cup of tea or sip a cocktail and you can pretty much enjoy the amazing view from all the public areas. Most of the rooms face the Ocean so you are going to sleep with the crashing waves in front of you.
Taking a break from a freezing cold Cape Town to travel to Durban in July is really a good idea. Note to self this needs to be repeated every year. The temperature hovers around the mid 20ies and swimming is de rigueur. I was also super lucky that they offered me a private villa suite off the back garden and more private second pool area so I got to feel like Charlize Theron for a night (she apparently stayed in in one of these rooms on her last trip to Durban with Sean). With my own private plunge pool and ice machine, 2 bathrooms and separate closet room. It was an utterly magnificent treat.
A personalized welcome and loads of treats during your stay make you feel extra special and the staff could not be friendlier. It’s no wonder I felt a little sad about leaving the minute I checked in.
In terms of food, three of their spectacular buffets crossed my path. High Tea was lavish and served in the Palm Court; you will want to take your time over this. The breakfast is everything you can imagine and more. Fresh Oysters and bubbly, smoked salmon and Parma ham, cinnamon buns and every kind of egg cooked to order. Another occasion where you will want to settle in for the long haul and choose a table on the patio for the sea views. The famous curry buffet is vast and you will be spoiled for choice with the range of curries and all imaginable accouterments. I gave it my best shot but was sadly defeated. Tucking into too many samosas’ to start was a rookie error for this level of eating professionalism, but they were just too irresistible.
My advice is to stay for more than one night because otherwise, you will catch the sad feels about checking out like I did. I mean you still will be but it won’t be as bad if you have more than one night under your belt. I bumped into a family I’m friendly with from Cape Town and they were the most sensible, taking up residency for just over two weeks.
I cannot wait to visit again.
*I stayed at the Oyster Box as their guest (lucky me)
PS – I was so inspired by the notion of the sun rising over the Indian Ocean in front of the hotel, I even got up pre dawn to capture the moment.
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