Coast KZN

29 Mar 2017

The Dolphin Coast – going back in time

Allan Troskie (North Coast Courier) Picture: The tarring of Ballito Drive.


My, how you’ve grown, Ballito!

Ask any long-time resident of Ballito or Salt Rock and they will tell you: “This all used to be sugar cane, you know…”

The growth of the Dolphin Coast over the years has been nothing short of astounding, with homes, streets, malls and golf estates springing up almost faster than one can believe. The new Ballito Junction regional mall opening last week will only continue the trend of growth.

Bearing all this in mind, it is interesting to talk to a few locals who have known the Dolphin Coast through the ages.

Before: An aerial shot of Ballito in the fifties

After: Ballito as it looks today


The Courier sat down with Peter Thomas, whose construction company had a hand in many of Ballito’s buildings, Cas Steyn, who was a beloved teacher at Umhlali Primary for many years, and Leon Botha, who grew up in Ballito and has more than a few fascinating stories about the early days.

“It is absolutely mind boggling how much Ballito has grown just in my lifetime,” said Botha, whose father bought a plot in Stella Road in 1963 for just R1 400.
Botha grew up in Ballito, going to school in Maidstone while his dad was the postmaster in Tongaat, before becoming the Ballito postmaster in 1969.

Like many long-time locals, he has fond memories of the days when Ballito and Chaka’s Rock were linked by a sand road and when one followed a little dirt footpath to make your way down to Willard Beach.

In ’68 and ’69, Botha worked at the old drive-in movie theatre, earning the princely sum of R1 a night. In 1971 he joined his family working in the telephone exchange – where calls were manually routed through the switchboard.

“My mom, June, was the supervisor of the exchange. In those days there were time delays as there were only so many lines available, so people would have to book their phone calls beforehand.”

Upon hearing that The Courier had also met with Peter Thomas, Ballito’s ‘brick and mortar man,’ Botha immediately recalled a harrowing event in the Sixties where the Thomas brothers came to the rescue.

“Three friends and I were enjoying a day at the beach. While we were swimming, one of my friends began struggling with the rip current and we weren’t strong enough to get him out.

Botha says he raced out of the water and started running to the Ballito town board office, the only place that had life-saving equipment.


Leon Botha’s father Piet, in their yard in the early Sixties with what would become Ashley Drive in the background.


“I ran into Peter and Phillip Thomas, who obviously noticed my panic, charged down to the beach with me and swam out before pulling my mate back to shore,” Botha recalled.

“The Thomas brothers really saved the day!”
Peter Thomas, whose construction company had a major hand in shaping Ballito, provided The Courier with many photos of the old days.

Thomas Construction erected the iconic La Ballito for R70 000 at a time when construction workers were only paid eight cents an hour.

By the mid-Sixties, Thomas could afford to move his business to offices where the old municipal building behind the BP now stands. Over the years, Thomas Construction had a hand in building La Ballito, Sand Piper Bay, The Boulders, Cowrie Cove, The Grange, La Mystique, Le Mouettes, Casablanca and Bermuda, to name but a few.

Thomas Construction in the mid-Sixties. The building in its place now is the old municipal building behind the BP and KFC. The road alongside the building is now Leonora Drive and, in the distance, the Lifestyle Centre, Ballito Bay Mall and Junction Mall are all glaringly missing.


And of course, who can forget the character that is Cas Steyn? Many a local fondly remembers being taught woodwork by Steyn at Umhlali Prep and his many long, meandering – but always fascinating – stories.

Given half the chance, Steyn – who has moved to Hermanus – would regale listeners with stories about pigs and chickens wandering through classrooms and jogging through the thick coastal forest that has since been replaced by Santorini on the way to Willard Beach where one could relax under the massive trees that were once there.

Stories of the early days of Ballito and Salt Rock abound and it is often eye-opening to think of the dirt road that was the only way between the two towns or the few little residential houses that lined a quiet beach where the promenade runs today.

What was Pat Weber’s house in the sixties – now the site of La Mustique.


If you have an interesting story from the past – and particularly if you have old photos illustrating what the Dolphin Coast used to look like – send an email to