A distinctive Durban landmark and a charming part of the scenery at The Oyster Box Hotel, the Umhlanga Lighthouse is a historic monument with plenty of stories to tell. As the official Warden of the lighthouse, The Oyster Box is closely connected with this much-loved landmark, which can be seen from most parts of the hotel. Here are five fascinating facts about the Umhlanga Lighthouse, to inspire you ahead of your next trip to South Africa.
1. The Umhlanga Lighthouse was completed in an impressive 4 days and 19 hours
Commissioned in November 1954, the Umhlanga Lighthouse was completed in lightning speed and was built to replace the Bluff lighthouse (which had been on the site since 1869, but had deteriorated to an irreparable degree). Designed by the Office of the Chief Civil Engineer and constructed by the System Harbour Engineer, the tower’s 21-metre height means it can be seen for miles, with a range of light of 24 nautical miles.
2. Umhlanga means ‘Place of Reeds’ in the Zulu language
The lighthouse takes its name from the reeds that accumulate on the banks of the Ohlanga River, which is just a short distance from Umhlanga Rocks.
3. The lighthouse is fully automatic
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.
4. Umhlanga is beacon of safety in dangerous waters
The lighthouse has always had an important role to play, positioned close to some of the most treacherous seas in Southern Africa. Its purpose is to not only warn passing ships of hidden dangers, but the flashing light also offers a welcome to ships coming into safe harbour at Durban.
5. The Umhlanga Lighthouse has never had a keeper
The Oyster Box Hotel, which was built in 1869 as a beach cottage, has always been the official warden of the lighthouse. The lighthouse controls used to be inside the hotel office but were removed during The Oyster Box’s 2007 renovation. Today, the hotel is responsible for advising the Portnets Lighthouse Service if the lighthouse’s light is not working. Luckily for The Oyster Box’s staff, it is not responsible for changing the light bulb! This job is fully reserved as the responsibility of Transnet and the Port Authorities.