Richards Bay: economic powerhouse of northern KZN
(work in progress)
Over the past few years, I have had to travel fairly often to Richards Bay on business, and its fair to say that many of the town's visitors probably come for a similar reason. Unlike many of the other towns on the northern KwaZulu Natal coast, Richards Bay is not a major tourist destination, and is instead a hub of industrial activity, largely due to the excellent harbour and the establishment of an Industrial Development Zone (with attractive tax breaks for companies prepared to invest here).
BHP Billiton have two massive aluminium smelters in Richards Bay, Tata has recently commissioned a ferrochrome smelter here and Richards Bay Minerals mines mineral sands just outside town. Phoskor has a fertilisers plant, Sappi and Mondi process their forestry products and there are a plethora of other light and heavy industries. However, the town's major focus of industrial activity is the port which has been developed in the estuary of the Umhlatuze and Mzingazi rivers, which is now the second largest port in South Africa (after Durban). The Richards Bay Coal terminal at the port is also the largest export coal terminal in the world, and watching the enormous ships coming into and out of the port is fascinating.
Because of this strong industrial base, Richards Bay is a prosperous town, with property prices and a vibrant service sector to match.
I find the centre of Richards Bay to be unattractive and somewhat soleless, but I do like staying in the quiet and leafy Meerensee area just on the outskirts of town (see my accommodation tip). This is also close to the swish Tuzi Gazi marina development , and whilst I don't particularly like the ostentatious displays of wealth that usually accompany marina culture, I do enjoy the food and ambience of the (predominantly seafood) restaurants on the waterfront.
Richards Bay can be an expensive place to stay because of the number of business tourists coming through town, but there is good value to be had if you do a little research. Even though I have visited often, I still find the spread out design of the town somewhat confusing (and therefore suggest that you pick up a copy of the excellent town map from the tourist office at the airport).
All in all, Richards Bay's tourist attractions probably don't justify a dedicated visit, but is worth a stop if you're in the area. If you are doing a road trip through lovely northern KZN, it would be a good place to catch up on shopping and stock up on provisions.