One night at The Oyster Box Hotel
Don’t mind if we do…
Here at ATC, we love exploring new lodges, camps, and hotels across Africa. But we also revisit old favorites to ensure the experience is still as good as we remember it.
We’ve learned over the years that not all places are as great as Instagram makes them out to be, and that’s why we only recommend properties if we’ve personally stayed there ourselves.
Most recently, we were invited to enjoy a first-hand experience of The Oyster Box in Durban, South Africa. A member of the prestigious Red Carnation Hotel Collection, it is often lauded as Africa’s top hotel, having built up a reputation for attracting international dignitaries, well-known personalities, and those seeking a dose of the high life.
Since we’re neither of those but occasionally do appreciate a dose of the high life, here’s what we found from our personal experience:
The Oyster Box backstory
The Oyster Box Hotel is located in the heart of Umhlanga, a former dorpie (‘small town’), which pretty much rivals the city of Durban, just down the coast. Packed with top-tier restaurants, affluent beachside homes, and office parks, Umhlanga is a real ‘vibe’, and long-standing hotels like The Oyster Box only accentuate it.
As one of the original properties in the area, this legendary hotel got first choice with its location right on the beachfront! With a prime view over the Indian Ocean and that iconic red and white lighthouse (they officially maintain), it’s already impressive without yet stepping inside.
What we love most about it is its origin story which began in 1863 when it was once a humble cottage consisting of concrete, teak, and corrugated iron. The Oyster Lodge, as it was once called, was eventually purchased by Ken and Kay O’Connor (brother and sister), who turned it into a tea garden, a restaurant, and then finally a hotel in 1954.
In 2006, the hotel was temporarily owned by Wayne Reed until it was bought out by Stanley and Bea Tollman of Red Carnation Hotels, who still own it today. Side note: It’s where they had their first date!
Upon check-in, the first features to catch your eye at The Oyster Box are the signature red-and-white textiles and smile-with-your-eyes greetings from the porters and concierge team. With drinks offered on arrival and a speedy check-in system, it’s off to your suite, where you’ll pass through The Palm Court, where you’re likely to spy visitors engaging in what The Oyster Box is extremely well-known for – its sophisticated afternoon high tea.
As you approach the winding staircase and elevator, don’t forget to look up at those swirling bamboo fans and crystal chandeliers which once adorned the ceilings of the Savoy Hotel.
This way to your room
We checked into a sea-facing room with ocean views as far as the eye could see. It had a functional setup, with all the mod cons you could need and relaxed decor. The welcome fruit was the most unexpected delight. It’s a thoughtful choice, especially for travelers arriving from an overindulgent safari.
But back to the rooms – if you’d prefer something a little more intimate, there are various garden-facing options and the ultra-exclusive presidential suite if you’ve got the coin. Overall, there are 86 units to choose from, including family-friendly. The balconies were made for morning coffees and afternoon sundowners, while the bathrooms are spacious, with his-and-hers sinks, plush towels, robes, rain showers, and deep tubs where you’ll want to soak for hours.
Have a look around
Have a mosey around when you’ve put your bags down and freshened up. The fresh orchids and eclectic artwork dotted throughout the hotel are guaranteed to make you do a double take, especially those enchanting isiZulu village scenes and dedicated monkey portraits.
The signed pictures of famous guests were interesting – it’s more than just the Royals or the Kardashians who have stayed here. A top highlight was the Clock Library, brimming with antique clocks and first-edition books taking you back in time.
Have the kids in tow? There’s a cinema on-site with child-friendly options rolling out before bedtime. There’s also a lovely spa at The Oyster Box, with certain amenities included in the rate, such as a heated plunge pool, Turkish bath, and ‘quiet room’ – if we can call it that, where you’re invited to curl up in your robe with a hot cuppa in between treatments.
There are two heated pools to choose from. One out front in the heart of all the action, and one tucked away in the garden if you’d prefer a more private wallow. The candy-striped sun loungers are thoughtfully spaced apart, with swimming towels provided and a butler table packed with pool games, magazines, and menus, should you like to grab your drink of choice or a casual bite to eat. Both pools have designated lifeguards if you’ve had too much of either.
Sadly, no sign of Skabenga during our stay, The Oyster Box’s famous cat and a local social media star in his own right.
Wining and dining
Firstly, the cocktails at The Oyster Box are delicious, and you can enjoy them from a choice of three bars: The Chukka Bar (a proper ‘old man’s pub’), the rooftop businessmen’s bar Lighthouse Bar, and the elegant downstairs Oyster Bar.
Due to the rain, we spend most of our time at the Oyster Bar, which boasts a glass floor section overlooking the private wine cellar (great for romantic dinners or proposals). We decided on a casual dinner at the Ocean Terrace, known for its curry buffet (we wish we had ordered). But there’s always the option to suit up and head to The Grill Room for some razzle-dazzle.
Of all the meals, breakfast was a standout. The bountiful spread offers something for everyone, including a cart of fresh oysters and bubbly! We opted for in-room service to make the most of our view, but if we’re honest, we also wanted to feel fancy lounging in our robes while snacking on buttery croissants. We ordered what we wanted the night before, with the cart arriving exactly on time.
Overall, The Oyster Box Hotel is opulent and exciting but without being stuffy and pretentious. It’s the kind of place where you can dress up if you want to but still wander around in your flip-flops with wet hair after a dip in the pool. We also appreciate that it’s not afraid to turn up the quirk while still maintaining professional and accountable service.
We got the feeling that their team is well cared for, and that’s why it’s such a pleasure for them to take care of you. The OB, as we now call it, makes a stellar choice pre or post-safari. If you’ve done Cape Town to death and want to be near the ocean that is warm enough to swim in, then the Oyster Box (and the area it’s located in) is guaranteed to win you over.
Even though the city experienced some intense downpours the day we checked in, the weather only elevated the experience, proving that The Oyster Box maintains its magic come rain or shine.
If you’re looking for something particular on your South African safari, contact our team. We’d love to pair you up with the best hotels, safari lodges, and camps across Africa: 303-473-0950 / email@example.com