Richards Bay is situated in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa on a 30 square kilometer lagoon of the Mhlatuze River, almost halfway between Durban and Kosi Bay. It has one of the country’s largest harbours which is also the deepest natural harbour in the southern hemisphere. Richards Bay is one of South Africa’s fastest-developing cities.
Richards Bay began when Sir Frederick Richards, the Commodore of the Cape, set up a makeshift harbour in the area during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. It was proclaimed as a town in 1969, and in 1976 the Richards Bay harbour was converted into a deep water harbour. The residential area of Richards Bay developed north of the harbour, with Meerensee as its first suburb.
With a planned capacity of 91 million tons per year in the first half of 2009, the Richards Bay Coal Terminal was once the largest coal export facility in the world. Richards Bay has two aluminium smelters, Hillside Aluminium and Bayside Aluminium. A fertilizer plant has been erected in the harbor and iron ore, rutile and zircon are mined from the sand dunes close to the lagoon. Local exports include coal, aluminium, titanium, granite, paper pulp and wood chips.
The climate of Richards Bay is subtropical but very closely resembles a tropical climate with only two months of the year experiencing an average temperature of below 18 °C. The area has warm wet summers and mild, moist dry winters, which are frost free. The terrain is generally very flat, rising only slightly towards the west. All the suburbs of Richards Bay are no more than a few metres above sea level. The area is abundant in coastal dune forest.
Apart from the mining industry, tourism is a major part of the economy of Richards Bay. The city is seen as a gateway to Zululand, an area popular for its large game parks and diverse wildlife. The Zululand Birding Route includes the Richards Bay Harbour and Game Reserve. Richards Bay is a popular kite surfing destination thanks to the consistent winds blowing from the North East. It is home to some of the most spectacular wetland scenery and unspoiled beaches on the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal. Richards Bay has excellent recreational facilities such as art galleries, fishing, bird watching, surfing, swimming and canoeing.