Ballito – Drive In’s, Water Slides and Pantyhose

The Dolphin Coast has a very colourful history full of interesting characters, businesses and landmark’s that have left their mark on the area and moulded it into what it is today. I often find myself reflecting on what it was like to grow up in a supposed backwater resort town without so much as a traffic light, franchise takeaway outlet, retail shopping centre, or any other ‘modern’ amenity that any self-respecting town would have in this day and age. As much as it may sound like we were completely neglected by development and that we led a somewhat boring existence, this could not be further from the truth. We certainly appreciated the simple things a lot more back then, and I remember the 80’s and 90’s not only for luminous sunglasses, Doc Martins and reversible jackets, but for the fun we had and the close community we were a part of.

A Brief Ballito History

It might interest many readers to know that the town of Ballito actually has a very quirky past, and a very interesting story behind its name. The town was established in 1954 as a private township by the Glen Anil Development Corporation which was headed up by Dr Eddie Rubenstein. They received an option from local farmer Basil Townsend for 200 acres of his land and the idea was to promote the area as a resort destination. The advertising slogan was, “Buy, Build & Play at Ballito Bay, The Caribbean of the North Coast – Natal”. I’ve heard Ballito described as a lot of things, but never quite like this. To make things even stranger, the word “Ballito” was jokingly translated as the Italian word meaning “little ball”, which of course is not correct at all. The developers may have got away with the made-up explanation for the name if they were referring to the beach ball in their original adverts, was it not for the fact that is was actually borrowed from a glossy advert for ‘Ballito Hosiery’ made by Ballito Hosiery Limited of St. Albans, England. With seemingly no rhyme or reason to the name, the town was born and the rest, as they say, is history. More on this interesting history can be found in the book, “The Birth of Ballito- Pearl of Natal North Coast”, by Jack Nash.

Are You a Real Ballito Local?

Whilst I find the older history of Ballito and the North Coast extremely interesting, I thought I would rather take you back to the not so distant past to paint a picture of what it was like to live and grow up in the area before anyone thought it was necessary to construct a national highway so far north. If you want to know if someone is truly a local you only need to ask two questions. Did you watch a movie at the Ballito Drive-In and did you used to frequent the Ballito ‘Waterworld’? This question would more than likely confuse many, but for those people with impeccable local credentials, this would quite possibly bring about a big grin and a montage-like flashback. Both of these destinations were around in my early existence and played a big part in the recreational offering that our holiday destination could boast.

The Famous Drive-In

To begin with, the Drive-In was a little less part of my childhood, but very much part of my parents’. It seems the heyday was in the 70’s and I know that it was “the place” to go for any love sick local. It used to be located in and around the vicinity of the current Ballito Bay Mall and in fact the current BP service station is actually called Drive-In Motors which is a reference to the old landmark. In my discussions about the place, I was told about an over exuberant and quite possibly, over hydrated local film goer who stood up during the screening of a particular Western and proceeded to shout ‘Yeehaa’ or something similar, and fire a number of random shots into the screen with a gun of his own. Meant in jest, this might have highlighted just how ‘Wild’ Ballito was back in the day.

Our Very Own Ballito Waterworld

The ‘Waterworld’ was situated on Ocean Drive just below Barrington. There are currently a number of complexes on the old site, but back in the 80’s it was an absolute favourite on hot summer’s days. I distinctly remember clambering up the stairs to the top of the main slide, showing my rubber band as proof of payment and careering down the blue half pipe. Admittedly this attraction was only really busy during the December holidays, but an awesome memory nonetheless.

In The Sticks!

You have to remember that back in the 80’s and 90’s we were perceived to live in the sticks. Durban was a place that we only went to once a month to do a ‘big shop’, or once a year to enjoy the annual Pantomime at the Playhouse Opera Theatre. Our shopping trips consisted of destinations such as The Workshop and The Wheel with movies at the BP Centre as it was known then. We also shopped at the Mr Price in Brickhill Road before it became the brand it is today. My memory of the store involved digging in large sales bins for clothing and shoes. I had to make my ‘winter clothes’ budget stretch, after all it would be months before I’d return to restock the cupboards with anything other than what we could buy at the Coastal Farmers store in Umhlali or Beth’s Beach Shop which used to be in Sandra Rd –  just up from Salmon Bay. For special treats we would make the lengthy journey for steaks at the original Mike’s Kitchen in Umhlanga or for milkshakes at the landmark Tropicale in Albert Park close to the Durban harbour. Closer to home, there was the odd occasion where the lights would be out and we needed to get some food and Durban was a little too far. In this instance, I recall being told to bath and get changed into my pyjamas with my siblings and we’d head off to Tongaat to buy KFC or as it was called back in the days, Kentucky Fried Chicken. A family bucket and 1l Coke later and we were headed back to the farm in our Ford station wagon. How things have changed.

Spur Mania!

So with all these exciting shops and restaurants so far away, you can imagine the excitement that any new retailer opening in the area brought to the local population. One of the most memorable grand openings was that of the Spur (now Concha and Shakers) on the ground floor next to the well-established Mariners restaurant. The queues of patrons lined up around the block and it became very difficult to differentiate between adults and children with all the over excitement! Never had Ballito been so privileged to welcome such an established and household South African brand. The Spur was followed by a Panarotti’s directly above it (now Shakers) and this took locals into fever pitch. The floodgates had seemingly opened and it wasn’t long before we were shopping at exotic stores such as CNA and Scotts, and partaking in fine dining at Debonairs and Steers. We had truly arrived on the national stage and shopping centres and other developments were now a real possibility.

I’m amazed every day at the growth and plans for the North Coast. As always, it’s fun to reminisce about the past, but we can all equally look forward to what the future holds for us all in this unique place.