THE OYSTER BOX. Image: Supplied

Passion for lighthouses a drawcard for tourists

If you’ve ever been called a Pharophile’ before, there’s no need to feel bad about it. In fact, you join thousands of other pharophiles all over the world, whose biggest weakness is a passion for and fascination with lighthouses.


THE OYSTER BOX. Image: Supplied

So what is it about these wonderful structures that people find so fascinating? 

From earliest times these coastal beacons were the most important landmarks for those who travelled by ship. Dark skies, wet sails, stormy waters and not a single light to guide you to shore, are the circumstances sailors were faced with when first exploring the vast oceans surrounding South Africa in the 1400’s. A long history of shipwrecks, and the numerous lighthouses dotting our treacherous coastline, 45 in all, are a constant reminder of this. Being a romantic at heart, I’m swept away by the stories that surround them and their beautiful and solitary locations. Though modern technology has all but done away with their olden-day charm, lighthouses still play an important part in helping ships with safe passage.

The Green Point Lighthouse in Mouille Point

While the Green Point Lighthouse in Cape Town was the first structure to be lit in South Africa in 1824, the iconic uMhlanga Lighthouse, standing stoic sentry in front of The Oyster Box Hotel, is arguably the country’s most recognisable and certainly its most photographed.  Visible from almost every vantage point in the hotel and a dominant feature of every guest’s holiday memories, it was built in 1954, to replace the deteriorating Bluff Lighthouse.  The 21metre tower was built with lightning speed – taking only four days and 19 hours, with 95 steps taking you to the top. 

Besides acting as a beacon to ships on one of the most dangerous stretches of coast on the continent, it welcomes them too, into the safety of the Durban harbour, the largest natural harbour entrance in the southern hemisphere. The lighthouse has a fixed red light that enables ships waiting to anchor in the outer anchorage, to track its position. If the red light can be seen from the ship, it often means that the anchors have dragged, and that the ship is too close to shore.

The uMhlanga lighthouse

Hard to believe, but the uMhlanga lighthouse has never had an official ‘keeper’. The Oyster Box Hotel, built on the site of the original beach cottage (1869), has always been the official custodian/ warden of the lighthouse, as the lighthouse controls, were housed in the office of the general manager. These were removed during the hotel’s 2007 renovations, leaving the hotel with the sole responsibility of advising Portnet’s Lighthouse Service if the light is not working. Just as well the hotel staff are not responsible for changing the light bulb! This job falls to Transnet and the Port Authorities.

Experience the historic uMhlanga Lighthouse from The Oyster Box for yourself, over a meal or for a stay.

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