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Smoking Dragon Festival – My Experience




It’s difficult to imagine a better spot for a Festival than the Amphitheatre Backpackers, with its amazing backdrop of the Northern Drakensburg mountains and the fact that it is almost exactly half way between Johannesburg and Durban, it is an easy choice as a New Year Destination for people from across the country. Greeted by the friendly and helpful staff at the entrance and then treated to a beautiful view of the Amphitheatre, this must be one of the most unique places in the country to have a few nights of music and whole lot of fun while issuing in the New Year surrounded by like-minded people and just a general vibe of acceptance and integration. With music ranging from Traditional African music to Ska, Indy, Rock and even EDM, Smoking Dragon has something for everyone.

What went down

During the day a lot of people were found between the Fringe tent, where people enjoyed seeing artists like Nicky B and Deejay Mcypo Ngobese, and the Ripple zone, having a swim in the dam and in the shade of the Pink tent, or taking a hike through the farm along the many hiking trails and there were also lots of drinking games taking place in the sun. DJs an bands played throughout the day as people sat and ate from the food stalls, had a slushie or even just relaxed on the grass. Many festival goers also headed up to the Royal Natal National Park and took in the beauty of the Drakensburg from a more hands on angle and also to swim in the lovely cool water of the falls known as Cascades.  Evening Showers on the First and Second night provided a nice break from what was otherwise gorgeous all day sunshine whilst the third, and final, evening sky stayed clear and allowed everyone to enter the new year relatively dry! The pink tent is a fun and friendly area where all must feel welcome, a space where “the LGBTIAQ community are able to be visible and be acknowleged as a vital part of what makes Smoking Dragon so fantastic” and was powered by PROUD INITIATIVE, an organisation that celebrates diversity and uniqueness by  promoting awareness and acceptance. It had artists such as DJ Biskit, TheMusikal Frik and DJ Showtee on the decks playing for everybody around the tent during the day and everyone who wanted a swim and chill by the dam.

Todo Mundo were one of my stand out acts of the Festival with their influences ranging from Colombian to Korean. They really got the crowd going through their own energy on stage, obvious musical talent and the smiles on their faces, all coming together as a tight band who really love doing what they are doing. The singer, a Colombian chap, had such lovely words to say about our country, calling it one of the most beautiful places he has ever been, inspiring a proudly South African feeling to all who were present. The Dandies were also brilliant with such an energetic performance on stage that even seemed to get those who had had too big a night the night before, up on their feet partying. My old favourites, The Rudimentals, were bang on as always providing a wonderful show for the crowd and doing so in a way that one could see how important their music is to them and how important their fans are to their music. The headliners, the Kiffness, put on a mammoth set. Their energy on the stage difficult to rival even by the crowd, which was packed into the massive main tent, nobody wanting to miss any of the music and seemingly everyone having the jol of their life. BCUC were also amazing and Veranda Panda unsurprisingly drew the crowds to quite an extent. The Electric Jungle tent was also extremely popular as each night set in and artists like Basso and Ang were around playing music for those who weren’t quite ready for bed yet, and weren’t planning on being for some time. I stayed up on New Year’s day to see my friend Jungle Foxx play with J White for the final folks who weren’t ready for the festival to end and they got the crowd moving all the way until 5 in the morning.

My key experience

My key experience of the festival is the love that everyone involved has brought to the table from the Organisers, the bar staff, security, caterers and cleaning staff, all of whom had a smile and were willing to help with almost anything when needed. There was a special feeling of freedom and acceptance as people of all walks of life came together to enjoy their time with one and other and experience people and genres they might not get to experience in their usual hangouts. It brings together good hearted, warm people who seem to want to get everyone involved and having a good time. Another thing that really stood out was the amount of smiles that were on show walking around the venue, lots of people just having fun in a location that is free from judgement and stereotypes.

Interview with Ilsa Roberts, Organiser

I was lucky enough to catch up with Ilsa Roberts, the Organiser for the event, and get some insight into the festival itself and other projects she is involved in. She was a fine arts student who started in the backpacking industry 18 years ago and through organising tour groups for mainly foreign guests she gained great insight into the organisation of events, knowing what people’s expectations are and also how to manage staff. They are very community based and hire people from the surrounding areas, giving a basic wage and supplying incentive based commission structures. The community projects even included building a school in Lesotho. Her associate Linda has previous experience managing whole farms and has a firm grasp on organisational skills, of which Ilsa couldn’t speak highly enough about. They built almost everything at the backpackers themselves and they would organise a New Year event every year for their guests which grew and grew until Smoking Dragon became a much bigger event.

As a lesbian woman Ilsa has been discriminated against in life and she has taken it upon herself to provide support in the communities of the area to the LGBT people who may have been taught that their way of life is incorrect and they try teach people that there is nothing wrong with their attractions or dress sense. What strikes her most is the awful self loathing of the individuals who have been told that their lifestyle is wrong and the guilt that they are made to feel for the way they were born. She wants to gain extra funds in this endeavour so they can reach more people and be more effective in their efforts. It’s not only the LGBT community that they are targeting as she states that her biggest aim for the festival is to make it a place where people of all races, class groups, ages, Nationalities, gender and sexual preferences and music taste can come and feel that they are around people who not only accept them but embrace their lifestyle and to ultimately create a safe zone where people who discriminate against others are not welcome. She sees Music and Art as a language that connects people even bridging language barriers, she even spoke about some of the deaf guests who dance along to the vibrations from the music even if they can’t here the beat. She spoke highly of her parents who she says were very progressive, from a Political Father to a mother who ran AIDs clinics.

She speaks about how they like to mix some big band names with lesser known artists and give a stepping stone to good new music. She loves lots of music and enjoys to stop and listen to new bands when she isn’t busy running around the event trying to organise! She spoke about how her favourite part of the event is the countdown, the fact that at many festivals people do their own thing and rarely all come together at one place but the new year countdown brings everyone to the main tent and there is a beautiful moment where everyone is together and having a party. There is a wonderful thing about perfect strangers hugging and smiling as they issue in the New Year together.

All-in-all an epic festival and I look forward to the next!

Photo Cred: Chris Buckels

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With nobody travelling internationally at the moment The Oyster Box’s Executive Chef, Kevin Joseph and his culinary Team, decided to take guests to exotic places through their food instead. So the Flavour-cation concept was born. Through a variety of food experiences ‘flavour vacations’ are put together to showcase exciting new tastes… literally on our doorstep.

With the Tapas menu (Spanish word for small savoury dishes), each item, has a main ingredient and everything else on the plate contributes to the overall taste sensation. “We looked at what is popular with diners,” says Chef Joseph, “such as oysters, prawns, sharing platters etc. and then added our own taste profile and flair to each dish, to give it an Oyster Box twist. The babotie spring rolls are an example; our steamed buns are baked in-house; the Oysters harvested from our own beds and the pear chutney and hummus cooked from scratch.” The menu also offers ample choice for Vegetarians.

Tapas will be on offer in The Lighthouse and Oyster Bars until the end of November, with new and exciting dishes being added to the menu on an ongoing basis, so that our guests always have something new to look forward to.

Alongside the menu, a wide selection of wine, beer, Champagne and sparkling wine is on offer. A special mention should be made of the House Wine Selection, from our internationally-acclaimed sister winery, Bouchard Finlayson in the Hemel en Aarde Valley in Hermanus. Known for producing exceptional Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and renowned Pinot Noirs.

The TAPAS Menu is served in The Lighthouse and Oyster Bars from 12:00-19:30 daily.

Booking is essential on 031 514 5000 or by e-mail

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Plan ahead for the winter holidays in South Africa’s warmest province and celebrate the festive season early at The Oyster Box.
There’s something for everyone this July.

July 2021

– There’s no doubt that Christmas 2020 was a fairly low-key event compared to the usual festivities The Oyster Box is known for. To make up for it, their food and beverage team is promising more fun and festivity during the month of July, than we’ve seen for a while…AND it includes a Christmas celebration…Yes, in July!
They are also going ‘glam’ in true Oyster Box style, for one of the country’s most prestigious horse-racing events, The Vodacom Durban July.
So, get your hat on and don’t miss the chance to join us in this ‘sport of kings’ event on Saturday 3 July.


Treat yourself to our legendary Crayfish and Prawn Cocktail and a complimentary glass of Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel from Monday to Sunday, 12h00-19h00 in The Oyster Bar at R390.00 per person.

Celebrate the Vodacom Durban July at The Oyster Box – 3 July 2021

Let Executive Chef Kevin Joseph bring the Vodacom Durban July to you this year, with all the elegance and style you’d expect on the big day! Dress to the theme, get to know more about the jockeys and their mounts and stand a chance to win a variety of prizes during the course of the day. 

Pick the most Winners and stand a chance to win a night’s stay at The Oyster Box.  Drinks and luxury canapes on arrival in the Durban July Room from 11h00, followed by a traditional braai and accompaniments on the Lighthouse Bar Terrace from 13h00.  A bottomless gin bar will be available with a DJ keeping the punters’ spirit’s up. 

From Monday to Sunday 5-31 July, The Oyster Box Christmas in July Ski Lodge is back in the Lighthouse Bar, from 12h00-19h00 daily. With Live music on a Saturday and Sunday at lunchtime with Rob Warren performing Christmas and contemporary rock , the nostalgic atmosphere of a mountain ski-lodge is brought to you Durban-style. Choose between one of our three gourmet Christmas Subs (Gammon, Turkey or Roast Beef), served with a Ciroc Christmas cocktail at R250 per person. 

On Wednesday 7 July, the Rebels of Black Elephant Vintners & Co, pair 13 of their wines with a musical soundtrack of their lives. Strong supporting line-up provided by Executive Chef Kevin Joseph and his Kitchen Team, from 18h00-21h00 in the Oyster Bar.  Cost is R590.00 per person.

One of Durban’s most respected Cocktail Mixologists, Haroon Haffajee brings his innovative magic to the Wonderful World of Whisky at The Oyster Box on Wednesday 14 July 2021.  Drinks in the Oyster Bar on arrival at 18h00, with dinner in The Grill Room from 18h30.  The four-course sensory experience will feature whiskies from the Diageo World Class portfolio, paired with Haroon’s inimitable style, at R690.00 per person.

Finally…a chance to celebrate the Festive Season that wasn’t!! Join us for a traditional Christmas in July lunch on Sunday 25 July 2021 on the Ocean Terrace from 12h00-15h00.  With live music by Leon, a visit from Santa and entertainment for kiddies, you’re in for a fun time. Adults are R690.00 per person and R350.00 for Kids under 12 years.

The monthly Wine Wednesday food and wine evenings are back, with different South African wine estates hosting the monthly dinner, in conjunction with Executive Chef, Kevin Joseph and his Kitchen Brigade. The evening kicks-off at 18h00 in The Oyster Bar with canapes (first course) and a welcome drink at individual tables.  Guests move to The Grill Room at 18h30 for dinner, with an explanation from the Chef about the Menu and comments from the Farm representative on the various pairings, throughout the evening. Wines from the featured estate will be available to order on the evening.

July’s event on Wednesday 28 July features French-style wines from Morgenster Estate and a French-inspired menu courtesy of The Oyster Box. Family-owned and family-run, Morgenster has a long history dating back 300 years. Situated near the foothills of the Helderberg Mountain in Somerset West, the property produces award-winning Bordeaux-styled wines, Italian cultivars and extra virgin olive oil.



* High Tea in The Palm Court – Inspired by the hotel’s original architecture and with chandeliers purchased from the Savoy Hotel in London, High Tea at The Oyster Box is a lengthy, leisurely affair.  Live piano music provides the perfect backdrop to tea. High Tea is served daily at the following times: Mondays – Fridays from 14h30 – 17h00. Saturdays and Sundays, 12h00-14h00 & 15h00-17h00. Cost is R390.00 per person. 

* Legendary Breakfast in the Ocean Terrace – With al fresco tables offering panoramic Indian Ocean sea views and regular sightings of passing whales and dolphins, the generous breakfast buffet which includes fresh Oysters and Sparkling Wine, is the perfect way to start your day. Breakfast is served from 07h00-10h30 daily at R450.00 per person.

*The Curry Buffet in the Ocean Terrace – Continues to attract fans from far and wide.  Set in the Mediterranean-inspired Ocean Terrace, with gorgeous views across the Indian Ocean, the impressive curry selection, of at least 11 curries daily, includes meat, fish and vegetarian options. Using delicate blends of spices and fresh herbs…each curry is a masterpiece in itself.  The Curry Buffet is open for lunch and dinner from 12h00-20h30 at R390.00 per person.

Versatile muso Leon, provides Live Music from Thursday to Saturday evening and on a Sunday at lunchtime. 

Due to current covid protocols, reservations are essential.  Dinner bookings are available from 17h00-19h30 and Lunch bookings from 12h00-15h00.


For enquiries and to book for one of the events, contact Restaurants on (031) 514 5000 or by e-mail on


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Cake & Prosecco Class at Old Town Italy




Join Old Town Italy on the first Saturday of every month for a fun Cake-Decorating class, hosted by renowned bakers at our adored Old Town Italy stores 🎂

Start your morning at 10am, where you will learn a series of cake decorating techniques while sipping on refreshing Prosecco 🥂
This class includes your own cake to decorate and take home, Prosecco and a selection of Old Town High Tea treats.

See upcoming dates below:

5 June – Marble Buttercream
3 July
7 August
4 September
2 October
6 November
4 December

Price: R650 per person
Limited tickets available at each store

Enquire in store or contact us directly to book & find out more info: | 031 566 5008
Book here

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