Umhlanga Rocks is the landscape of my childhood holidays. The first glimpse of the red-and-white lighthouse transports me to a time of buckets, spades and gauze fishing nets on wooden poles, the smell of Coppertone in the air and playing in the rock pools until the air went milky and we would lay our itchy sunburnt shoulders down to bed – before doing it all over again.
Groundhog Day Umhlanga-style had its own particular beauty then, and now.
Returning to the timeless rock pools and the big stretch of sandy beach, I'm transported to my happy place. Throw in an overnight stay at the luxurious Oyster Box Hotel (in a sea-facing room) and I feel my inner candy store runneth over.
Things have changed since the days when my dad used to drive us in his lang slap wa (he had a thing for large second-hand American cars) to places like the Edge of the Sea hotel or the Umhlanga Rocks hotel – both long gone now.
The one hotel that is still standing is the Oyster Box, freshly buffed and in designer red-and-white stripes to match the lighthouse at the bottom of the hotel's front garden.
The Oyster Box was pretty larney back in the day, and still is, in the nicest possible way. Red Carnation Hotels (known for stylish hotels like the Twelve Apostles in Cape Town and Bushmans Kloof in the Cederberg) took it over some years back and transformed it into a stylish boutique hotel that is very St Tropez with a touch of Indian/Zulu/colonial and Art Deco influence thrown in for good measure.
From the hotel, there is a snaking bricked promenade that winds along the beachfront. Here, things are a bit different from my childhood days – families of all colours play on the beach, teenage surfers (black and white) head out into the waves and, if it's early on a Sunday morning, you might see a baptism ceremony ?taking place in the ocean – the chanting of holy men mixed with the shrieks of toddlers dipping their toes into the ocean and running from the next wave.
My favourite restaurant in the world sits along this promenade, next to the life-saver's station with the woman with the doughnut cart to one side. It's called La Spiaggia and you can sit in your cozzie, drinking ice-cold ciders and eating the best veggie pizza in town. The service is slow, but the view is mesmerising. Dessert is warm miniature doughnuts to be eaten as you meander back to the little piece of heaven that is the Oyster Box.
Although filling up on too many carbs might not be a good idea when staying at the Oyster Box, food is religion here, whether it's eggs hollandaise on the terrace or a salad at the pool. The curry buffet at the Ocean Terrace restaurant offers a wide variety of curries including a memorable Singaporean fish curry.
It's a noisy family affair, and it's clear that Durban locals love the place.
For a less robust, more sophisticated dining experience, opt for seafood in the Grill Room. (How about the pistachio-dusted crayfish, Mozambican prawns or an extravagant seafood platter?)
For drinks after dinner, try the popular Lighthouse Bar with wraparound views of the ocean – it could be a good way to salute the day before retiring for the night. The Oyster Box's sea-facing rooms frame the ocean like a portrait and soft, white, downy pillows and duvets are the perfect slumber cocoon. Leave the windows open to let in the sea breeze.
Waking up the next morning, you could opt for a trip to the spa to try out the famous Durban hammam treatment, a jog down the promenade, a stroll through Umhlanga village or perhaps a morning lazing on a candy-striped lounger and waiting for gin o'clock. Groundhog Day could be just what the doctor ordered.
Denise Slabbert was a guest of the Oyster Box Hotel
Perfect weekend getaway:
Couples wanting a luxurious getaway, or a holiday for the family. There are family rooms and kiddie activities on offer, as well as regular accommodation package offers.
Accessibility: The Oyster Box hotel is an hour’s flight from Johannesburg to King Shaka International Airport, followed by a 20-minute drive to Umhlanga. By car it’s approximately five hours.
Cost: From R3 670 for a Classic Garden-facing room and R4 020 for a Classic Sea-facing room. All accommodation includes a decadent breakfast.
Contact: Phone: 031 514 5000, email: [email protected]. Visit: oysterbox.com