From blue sky to blue sea, Ballito on the Dolphin Coast of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), offers a ream of opportunities for holidaymakers and residents alike. #ThisIsKZN took a weekend trip to find out about this bourgeoning town.

What was traditionally known as a place where people went to retire or for summer holidaymakers to enjoy a spot of fishing and beach bliss, Ballito now “buzzes” seven days a week, 365 days of the year.

“It’s quite simple,” said a local resident. “It’s all about the lifestyle!”

BALLITO TRAILS

My first stop was HOLLA TRAILS, a few kilometres inland, off the R102 at the Sugar Rush park. As I entered the open-plan, counter kiosk, the music vibes issued an energetic buzz. Trailmaster, Ryan Wortmann, greeted me warmly and it was most apparent that he is passionate about cycling. Despite this, he was patient with my unfit state and kindly took me on an extremely edited version of a beginner and pink trail chatting all the while about the various trails on offer. “Be warned,” he says. “The black trail is definitely for very fit cyclists only and best to be accompanied with a few riders as it is a bit more off the beaten track”. All the trails are self-guided and well-marked providing a safe and secure area in nature for both runners and cyclists. Holla Trails offers annual memberships. Casual riders still need to sign in and pay an access fee of R55 at the trail head. Runners pay R20.

Boasting 340km of trails, the terrain is largely traversing sugar cane farms with kilometres of rolling single track. The black trail extends further into tougher terrain amongst rural communities. Weekends are their busiest times when anything between 500 and 1000 cyclists put their skills and fitness to the test. Thursday nights have become a weekly social with various cycle clubs and fitness fanatics chilling and exchanging snippets on the latest trends. With a team of eight (two on  shop duty and six on track development and maintenance) HOLLA TRAILS has plans to generate more variety to the tracks. Bring your own, or hire a bike but make sure you make a turn here if cycling or running is your thing.

Bike riding and running at Ballito

Trailmaster, Ryan Wortmann, shares the outdoor “buzz” of Ballito. Photos: Holla Trails

SNORKELLING

I neglected to mention the heat…the KZN Dolphin coast sure does sizzle in summer. Something to add to the calendar, is a guided snorkel with TIDAL TAO. An innovative and eco-committed company, Tidal Tao not only helps those who have never put their head under water before, but also those who are experienced scuba divers will be amazed at the diversity of species encountered in the tidal pools. Our guide, Daniella is equally passionate about the aquatic underworld and enthusiastically describes the species we should expect to see and gently teaches us that it’s all about floating quietly with minimal movement and no contact with the ocean floor (rocks and coral) below.

We meet briefly at the Salt Café and check equipment before walking down the path to a small tidal pool. She warns us of potential dangers regarding the spines of sea urchins and devil fire fish. Once she is assured all snorkelers are comfortable, we float way. I am transported away from the day. Below me is a busy world with sand shovellers, colourful chaetodons (butterfly fish), ember parrotfish, an array of damsels and wrasses, convict and brown surgeonfish. Curious striped sergeant majors trail my fins and dart away when I turn around. I view two types of sea urchins. The tide is low and a blue eyed hermit cautiously peeks out at me from a gap in a rock. Stationary invertebrates of coral lie dotted about on the rocks.

Snorkelling at night or daytime in Ballito

Discover the sea creatures, at night or in the day, in the Ballito tidal pools. Photos: Tidal Tao

Despite the heat, I am grateful for the wetsuit as it becomes quite cool floating for over an hour. This encounter is not about how far one snorkels but how deep one is prepared to look and observe the nursery ground of the sea from nudibranchs to baby reef and game fish.

TIDAL TAO offers a range of marine encounters with a top highlight being their night snorkel to check out the phosphorescence and nocturnal creatures. Our snorkel ended with a thoughtful sweet to reduce the saltiness in our mouths, culminating with a hot chocolate or juice at the Salt Café.

FOOD CHOICE

I headed off along the winding beach road to my accommodation at a friend in Sheffield Beach, struck by the iridescent blue of the ocean. After a quick shower, I cruised along the coastal route noting the kaleidoscope of restaurants from Salt Rock to Ballito. It’s Friday night and the town is “abuzz”. Locals are simply “spoilt for choice” and it’s not a case of which is their favourite restaurant but more what type of cuisine they are in the mood for. Italian, German, English, Indian, Chinese, American, seafood and so it goes on. A place that caught my eye is an alternate brand concept called COUNTER CULTURE CAFÉ. Although recommended for its superior coffee, it offers way more: a specialist outlet offering a “one stop leisure shop” from road bikes to surf boards, to craft wines, whiskeys and gins with an American-type menu. The mood is refined chilling with live rock music played periodically on a Friday night.

Counter Culture Cafe and restaurant at Ballito

A trendy newcomer to Ballito. Photos: Counter Culture and Terry Stallard

BALLITO BEACH BLISS

It’s early to bed to catch the sunrise off Sheffield  before exploring Thompsons Bay and embarking on a walk of the Ballito promenade (approximately 4 km round trip). The best place to begin is at Salmon Bay (park your car near THE GALLEY BEACH BAR AND GRILL) and head down the stairs to the promenade. It passes several rocky bays and a tidal pool and ends at Main beach. If it’s hot, take water as I only encountered a few ice cream vendors along the way. Al Pescatore, at Clarke Bay was the only seaside restaurant along the route, as the rest of the land comprises residential flats and accommodation.

Seascapes and walk on the Ballito Promenade from Galley restaurant

Seascapes on the Ballito Promenade. Photos: Terry Stallard

LUNCHTIME LOUNGE

Heading back towards Umhlali, SAGE CAFÉ AND DELI is an open plan, outdoor setting on verandas and under shady trees. In keeping with the Ballito lifestyle, the menu is exotically creative and the coffee sublime. An additional treat well worth it, is to combine your lunch with an express mani or pedi. Make sure to book ahead as this place rocks on the weekend! The owner, Janine Hill, is a resourceful entrepreneur and is constantly seeking ways to meet the communities needs from office/birthday parties, to hen’s high teas and baby showers. Her culinary creations are visually pleasing and she often runs cooking courses and meal and wine pairing evenings. Check their active social media platform for latest specials and events: Sage Facebook

Sage Cafe and Deli restaurant spa treatment and cooking classes in Ballito

Good food and good company is what Ballito is all about. Photo: Sage Cafe and Deli

A “CRAFTY” TOUR

To think that’s not enough? Ballito offers so much more. Heading slightly inland near Shaka’s Head, on the R102, is THE GREAT RAILROAD BREWING COMPANY. Crafters Gary and Ursula Wilby offer pre-booked, guided tours of their compact brewery, set inside a small industrial park. I am greeted cordially whilst we wait for the other guests to arrive. Gary enthusiastically introduces us to the company, and talks us through the delicate beer making process. Temperature control and basic ingredients are key factors. From heat exchangers to sealed vats, to CO², pipes and technical monitoring systems, it is clear that to achieve palatable brew one must adhere to certain strict principles. The Great Railroad Brewing Company produces eight craft beers with names like Czech Dark Pilsner, German Marzen lager, Bohemian Pilsner etc. Their Ballito Belgian Ale is becoming popular with the locals.

Great Railroad Brewing Company produces craft beer in Ballito

Gary and Ursula Wilby are “making waves” with their tasty craft beer in Ballito. Photos: Terry Stallard

Curiosity kills the cat and we cannot wait to finally get our chance to taste six of the varieties. I am pleasantly surprised as the wholesome flavours enter my palate with unique distinction from commercial brands. We select our top three styles and are supplied a complimentary gift box. Not only are the Wilby’s creating quality craft beer but they also supply several restaurants in the area. Mobile keg units are available for hire which are ideal for weddings/office parties and any major event. Check out their website for details.

SUNSET BEACH PARTY

It’s Saturday night and the sun is setting. Where do all the young people go?

Nestled on a beach near Westbrook (10-15 mins drive south from Ballito) renown restaurant and pub BEACH BUMS is “buzzing”! I battle to find parking and those more astute, organise an Uber. The Mozambique-styled décor immediately sets the tone for a relaxed beach party atmosphere.

Entrance to Beach Bums Pub and Restaurant near Ballito

A relaxed beach style entrance sets the mood to chill at Beach Bums. Photo: Terry Stallard

With tables inside, wooden benches on the beach  and unique car tyre loungers scattered around, the cosmopolitan crowd spills over everywhere. Laughter pervades. It’s DJ night and the volume is up. My host, Creason, explains that every Saturday, it’s the young people’s chance to dance and have fun. On Sunday’s the mood is more mellow with soft, live rock music. During the day, families arrive and let children play in the sand. (Note: Swimming is prohibited as Casuarina beach is not a designated swimming area). Why do families frequent this festive pub atmosphere? Quite simply, “for tasty food” and the relaxed “forever chilled” lifestyle.

Beach Bums Restaurant and Pub and seafood near Ballito

Fresh and delicious pub and seafood adds to the “forever chilled” atmosphere of Beach Bums. Photo: Terry Stallard

I sample a platter of some the favourites from prawns, to ribs to chicken accompanied with their signatory jam jar, mojito cocktail. The meat is succulent and fresh and the prawns boast a subtle chilli that compliments the flavour. Spice is the order of the day. Security is well placed to ensure that everyone can enjoy a good time without going “overboard”. The three brands of craft beer served at BEACH BUMS, with their own custom labels – Forever Chilled, are very popular and are supplied by The Great Railroad Brewing Company.

All too soon, and my time in Ballito has come to an end.

Weekend at Ballito sunrise over Sheffield Beach

A poignant memory of a sunrise at Sheffield Beach. Photo: Terry Stallard

I have hardly scratched the surface. It just means that one needs to schedule further weekends to explore the family outings, golf courses, microlight flips and country club facilities.

Accommodation Direct supplies a full range of places to stay, in and around Ballito, with a choice of 82 establishments.

Book your trip on the Accommodation Direct website but make sure it’s for a good few days or several weekends to enjoy the “buzz” of Ballito.

Post by Terry Stallard.

Recent Tweets