Wayne Coetzer, The Hot Hotelier
Wayne Coetzer has long occupied a space in our minds that counts him among the world's great hoteliers. Possessed of a street wisdom that entitles him to get up several hours after the rest of us and still win the race, Coetzer's peoples' skills have been honed in the front row of hospitality's 'hurly-burly'. His understanding of the mechanics of his trade borders on the Biblical, he has an intuitive knack of knowing his customers, and polishes it with an impish sense of humour which he maintains whatever the job throws at him. His former alma mater, a high school in the little-known hamlet of Howick, obviously forged its mark on this one-time head boy, as much as it did on several other notable graduates of his generation.
His sense of the likes and dislikes of his guests, extends to an intimate grasp of what gets them out of (or into) bed: the buttons he presses are generally connected to their personal fads, and you'd not be surprised on arrival at your suite to find a gift on your pillow connecting you to your chosen obsession. Eighteen years ago, together with the Rattray family of Fugitives' Drift, Cheryl and I founded the Land of Legends, a brotherhood of the province's leading hospitality and heritage establishments, of which the Tollman's (and hence Coetzer's) Oyster Box is obviously one. Checking into the Buthelezi suite one day, as something of a marketing ploy, the Duty Manager, Trevor Burgess advised us that the Monaco 'Royals' were the previous occupants. He was quickly reminded that the next time they visited, he should mention that the Gosses had just checked out!
On our next visit, on our pillow was a glittering plastic tiara draped with a trail of tulle inscribed on the spot where you might've expected to find a great ruby or something akin to the Cullinan, 'For our royals'! On another occasion, when the Oyster Box was hosting a gathering of the 'Legends', the lady representing Phinda Game Reserve had somehow let slip her despair at the loss of some of the guineafowl which frequented her bushveld garden. Her entrance to the boudoir allocated for her comfort, was greeted by the sight of a cardboard box resembling those which normally bear bunches of gladioli at the local florist. No flowers from Coetzer though; somehow he'd got wind of her story, and herein was a bevy of chirping guineafowl chicks, from whence they came, no-one knows.
This man should be teaching hospitality to the world, rather than practicing it; the truth though, is that he's a genius, and when a genius attempts an explanation of what makes him so, he probably isn't one. Besides, it's the chase that keeps Wayne Coetzer engaged, and he's at his absolute best when the challenge is at its apex. Small wonder the world's royals and Hollywood's glitterati unfailingly choose The Oyster Box when they venture into our neighbourhood; nobody can pay him his worth.
Just recently, he visited Hartford House again, and he's twice been on record since then with his views on the place; it seems the trout must've been on the bite; it's questionable whether it had much to do with 'romance'! The latest is an article which appeared in The Witness last week, which for all of his observations, is worth another read.
Q&A with Wayne Coetzer
The Oyster Box Hotel / General Manager
Wayne Coetzer, general manager of The Oyster Box hotel in Umhlanga, is a former head boy of Howick High School and a one-time pupil at Merchiston in Pietermaritzburg. He completed a personnel-management diploma before joining Champagne Castle Hotel for an in-house hotel traineeship. Coetzer has been with The Oyster Box for 13 years and was one of 30 employees retained from the old hotel to oversee the opening of the new property in 2010. His passion for the ethos on which the original Oyster Box was based, continues to fuel his energy for providing outstanding service, as well as his relationships with staff and guests alike.
I love driving down the hill from Gateway and seeing the sweeping views over the harbour and the Indian Ocean. The Flamboyant trees flowering around December are incredible. Being able to get into the car and a few hours later be at Amakhosi Game Lodge or Phinda sipping G and Ts and watching elephants is also special.
You can’t beat Hartford House in Mooi River for a romantic getaway.
I absolutely love fishing and so do my two boys.
Favourite drink is Hendricks Gin and tonic. Best meal is a 500g T-bone from Merrivale Butchery, rare with garlic butter and hand-cut chips, served with a cold bottle of Bouchard Finlayson Hannibal. The Ocean Terrace does a great one and so does Rawdons in the Midlands, if you don’t want to do your own.
In South Africa: Umngazi River Bungalows is hard to beat with two boys. Easy access from Virginia Airport, delicious food, great fishing. Further afield: the English countryside in summer is wonderful. If you can get down to Dorset (Thomas Hardy country), stay at the Acorn Inn, just fabulous. The fields are green and the sheep fluffy and white. Dreamy.
KwaZulu-Natal has an incredibly diverse landscape — head north to Sheffield beach (with a licence) to pick mussels and oysters — the freshest you will ever eat. The pizzas from the Container on the Beach in Zinkwazi are great. Head further north to take a sundowner cruise up the St Lucia Estuary on the Born Free Boat — unbelievable — with hippo and croc sightings, great for children and adults. Zulu Waters Game Reserve in the Midlands has fantastic accommodation in a great setting. The Hare Krishna Temple of Understanding — beautiful detailed architecture and delicious vegetarian food in the restaurant downstairs. Waterberrie in Ballito — lovely setting in indigenous bush and great coffees. Try Solly Manjras in Durban for a delicious biryani cooked on an open fire. The drive past Hartford House to Giants Castle must be one of the most scenic drives in this country. Stay at Fugitives' Drift and do the walk from Isandlwana back to the lodge — you can “feel” the history. For an extra special touch get raconteur and historian Rob Caskie to guide you.
It’s a difficult balance, but I’m lucky to have a very understanding and supportive wife. I make time for my family whenever possible.
Mentoring, nurturing and watching staff grow. Welcoming back guests for their 10th, 20th stays and saying goodbye to delighted guests.
Having a large workforce can be “taxing” sometimes.
The Oyster Box of course! If you haven’t visited you must, even if it’s just to enjoy warm scones and a cup of tea in the Oyster Bar or a sundowner on the terrace or in one of our bars. It has an amazing intrinsic character, and you have to meet Skabenga — the resident cat/manager.
Pack my baggies and go fishing ... for a very long time!
Arts Editor / The Witness