Once known simply as Cwebeni (at the lagoon), Richards Bay was given its English name in 1879, when Sir Frederick Richards, a commodore in the British navy, used it as a harbour during the Anglo-Zulu War.
In those days, the bay was a huge expanse of unspoiled estuary and wetland, covering about 3 500 hectares and home to innumerable water birds, crocodiles and hippos. It is widely reported that the biggest recorded crocodile in the country’s history, at almost seven metres, was shot here in 1891 by John Dunn, the enigmatic “White Zulu Chief”.
Since those days, a large town has developed, serviced by good roads and an airport, while the harbour itself was opened in 1976. Durban might be better known, but Richards Bay is by far South Africa’s biggest port and one of the biggest in the world, and huge amounts of the country’s natural resources pass through these waters, from coal to timber and granite.
And because of this huge capacity for export, Richards Bay is also home to many large companies.
Despite all this industry, Richards Bay remains an attractive gateway to Zululand, with more than a few local attractions too. In fact, the Richards Bay Game Reserve, proclaimed in 1935, still protects a large section of the harbour with nature, wildlife and heavy industry existing virtually side by side.
The town is situated about 180 kilometres from Durban, close to the N2 highway that runs through sugar cane, timber plantations and farmland from Durban north to Mpumalanga.
Look out for
Richards Bay Game Reserve is an amazing example of a semi-urban wilderness and attracts all sorts of fascinating birds, including migrants that are not normally seen in South Africa. Take your binoculars and spend a day spotting interesting species such as crab plover, collared pratincole and lesser sand plover. The Thulazihleka Pan has a hide that can offer up other waders and sea birds, as well as warblers and more.
Another spot that birders should not miss is the Enseleni Nature Reserve, on the road to nearby Empangeni. This little forest reserve, full of riparian trees, can at times offer sightings of Pel’s fishing owl, white-eared barbet and African finfoot. There are also a few species of game, while hiking trails allow the reserve to be easily and safely explored.
Take a fishing charter from the harbour. The waters off Richards Bay offer the chance to catch some serious trophy fish, including marlin and sailfish, as well as all manner of gamefish.
Surfing is a popular pastime in Richards Bay, as well as other beach activities such as swimming, dolphin-viewing and snorkelling.