As Australia’s export hub, Port Hedland in Western Australia’s Pilbara region is one of the largest and busiest ports in the world.
The main cargo is iron ore, which is mined in staggering quantities within the limits of the town.
It is then transported to the port by train, so it takes a few minutes to get through.
Another big export is salt, produced in endless evaporation ponds near the town, piled up in piles that look like white mountains.
Much of Port Hedland’s activities involve sprawling industry as close as possible, but the beaches far from the harbour are rich in wildlife, intertidal zones with nesting flatback turtles and thousands of waterbirds area.
1. Port Hedland Tour
Port Hedland has several lookouts where you can observe the harbour’s sprawling business.
But to really get a feel for things, you can visit the Port Hedland Seafarers’ Centre in Port Hedland’s West End.
The mission provides daily launches for the crew of those massive iron ore carriers, sending them ashore to the center, which has a licensed bar, high-speed Wi-Fi, private chapel, currency exchange, recreation room and outdoor space .
The tour will begin with an introduction to the mission and its features, before you take the Seafarers Launch Service boat to the port, picking up the crew on the way.
A well-informed staff member will be there to provide you with reviews and answer any questions.
2. Salt Eco Tour
Salt is produced on a large scale in and around Port Hedland.
The responsible company is Dampier Salt, 68.4% owned by Rio Tinto.
On the outskirts of Port Hedland, there is a 78 square kilometer evaporation pond complex that contains an important bird area in the Port Hedland Saltworks, consisting of ponds, seawater intakes and intertidal mudflats.
It’s a magnet for wading birds, including the world’s large population of snipe and red-necked sandpipers.
From Port Hedland, you can take a 3-hour bus tour of the complex to observe birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish, while learning about the dream-age stories of Ngarla’s traditional owners.
You’ll then enjoy your morning or afternoon tea before heading back to the towering salt mounds just outside of town, where you can touch the pristine salt.
3. Fortescue Tour
In addition to boat tours of the harbour, the Port Hedland Seafarers Centre can take you behind the scenes at the Fortescue Metal Group port site.
You will witness tons of iron ore being transferred from the huge piles by huge stackers, reclaimers and conveyors.
The tour then circumnavigates the dock as the huge ships are loaded.
Almost all tours are carried out in the comfort of a coach, and an experienced guide will show you every stage of the complex loading process.
4. Nice pool park
If you’re looking to relax on the shores of Port Hedland, but want to see less of the industrial infrastructure, your best bet is the pretty pool park.
This entrance is located on the east side of Port Hedland, at the mouth of a tidal estuary, and is bordered by sand dunes and mangroves.
The difference between high and low tide in the Pilbara is huge, and sometimes the ocean flows briskly through the inlet.
At high tide, the pool has the most water, but even when the water recedes, there are still many trapped shallows to wade through.
It pays to wear some kind of shoe, as stone fish and snakes are not uncommon.
For local families, Pretty Pool Park is a scenic spot for picnics, beach adventures and the kids playing in the water on a hot day.
5. Cemetery Beach Park
One of Port Hedland’s most popular parks is less than two kilometers off the coast of the Indian Ocean.
Cemetery Beach Park is well cared for and features a fenced children’s playground, BBQ facilities, swaying palm trees, public art, shelter, toilets and plenty of grass space.
The beach is less suitable for typical seaside activities, especially since it is a nesting ground for flatback sea turtles from October to March (see below for more information). In the evening, you will see a beautiful sunset as the coast is in the northwest corner.
6. Kombana Lookout
Standing tall behind Cemetery Beach, the water tower is a Port Hedland landmark and changes colour at night.
There is a lookout near the base of the tower where you can see iron ore boats waiting to park near the sea, watch the sun go down and watch for turtles (with a good pair of binoculars). The lookout is named after the Edwardian passenger and cargo ship SS Koombana, which sank in Port Hedland in 1912, killing 150 people.
There is an information board about the disaster near the observation deck.
7. Port Hedland Court Gallery + Studio
Posted by Courthouse Gallery+Studio on Wed, Dec 11, 2019
Located in Port Hedland’s Mid-Century Justice Complex, this vibrant community gallery is a cultural hangout.
There are plenty of events here throughout the year, whether it’s curated exhibitions for local and regional artists, or event-filled arts and crafts shows.
The main gallery is located in the former court building, with bright floor-to-ceiling exhibition spaces.
The studio complements this, combining an artist/maker space, darkroom and technology lab.
For special handcrafted items, check out Store+Stockroom.
The complex hosts the arts and crafts-oriented West End Market four times a year.
8. Cook Lookout
Huge tidal ranges cause natural phenomena that cannot be seen outside this corner of Western Australia.
When a full moon (or close to full moon) rises over a bare tidal flat, the lunar stairway appears.
The moon is reflected on the shimmering water, forming a continuous band of light that looks like a staircase.
This spectacle only happens in Port Hedland from March to October, and the best place to see it is from the Point Cook Lookout, which faces east.
Staircase to the Moon Once a month, for three consecutive nights, a calendar is available at the Port Hedland Visitor Center.
9. Marapikurrinya Park
Located on the water’s edge in Port Hedland’s historic West End, Marapikurrinya Park lets you feel the comings and goings of the port.
You’ll get a front row view across the strait to Finukan Island, seeing huge iron ore ships being loaded and escorted in and out of port by tugboats.
The park faces west, so sunset views are especially striking.
On the second or third Friday of every month, this is also where the Port Hedland Sunset Food Market takes place.
There’s usually live music, dance performances, kids’ activities and a range of food trucks, everything from pizza to kebabs, Thai, Malaysian, BBQ, pizza, gourmet coffee or shaved ice.
10. Dakiti House Museum
Seventy years before the birth of the mining industry that dominated life in Port Hedland, the town was a remote harbour outpost, living off the water trade.
One of the major players of that era was Dalgety and Company, a transcontinental farming and shipping group.
Dating back to 1901, the Port Hedland branch company manager’s residence has been preserved and features an interactive museum explaining the town’s story.
At the heart of this is the influence of European settlements on the Cariara Aboriginal people of the Pilbara.
With a wealth of artifacts and documents to peruse, the exhibition delves into topics such as Port Hedland in World War II, camel racing and the SS Koombana.
11. Red Shore Bridge Observation Deck
No need to sign up for a tour, this location on the south side of town is the best place to measure the scale of Port Hedland’s awe-inspiring industry.
The lookout is located in the northwest corner of those huge evaporation ponds, with a clear view of the piles of white salt.
But you’ll also be next to the rail tracks and need to see the length of the iron trains serving Port Hedland to believe it.
One of the cars could take five minutes or more to pass! The lookout is located on a winding path and features a series of information panels on the ecosystem and natural history of the coast and surrounding area.
12. Watch sea turtles
Known for nesting only on Australian beaches, flatback sea turtles are summer visitors to Port Hedland’s sandy shoreline.
The species comes ashore between October and March, and from December to March, its young hatch and scramble to the sea.
Although not endangered in Australia, the flatback sea turtle is threatened locally and its conservation is managed by ‘Care for Hedland’. You can contact the organization for a guided night tour to learn more about turtles and their behavior.
13. Cape Keraudren Coastal Reserve
Leave town and head east along the Great Northern Highway to this secluded reserve in the Indian Ocean.
Cape Keraudren is at the western end of Eighty Mile Beach, Australia’s official longest uninterrupted beach at 220km.
As you travel northeast, the vast stretch of sand at Eighty Mile Beach opens up, but in the Kelaudron Coast Reserve, the sand is narrower, with tidal creeks, rocky outcrops, seagrass meadows and mangrove patches.
It is a haven for an abundance of wildlife on land and in the water, especially wading birds such as spotted oysters, beach sandpipers, striped herons, eastern reef egrets and migratory waders, from pocky to whimbrel.
You can enter the reserve for a small fee and have access to campsites, toilets and other low-key amenities.
If you do spend the night, you will be blown away by the magnificent sunset followed by one of the brightest night skies you will ever see.
14. Port Hedland Avenue
Now, Port Hedland may be remote, but that doesn’t stop it from having a mall a few streets down from Cemetery Beach Park, across from the Town Oval.
In fact, most of the shops in town and many places to eat can be found here.
The big anchor is a Woolworths supermarket, as well as two Harvey Norman branches (electrical and computing), a BWS and the town’s community library.
In terms of food, you have a bunch of cafes, a bakery, a Chicken Treat (WA BBQ chicken chain) branch and a noodle stand.
15. Port Hedland Visitor Centre
Since guided tours are the best way to experience Port Hedland and its industrial activities, the town’s visitor center is a convenient facility for reservations and additional information.
If you want to go alone, the staff will tell you about arrivals and departures from the port and tell you when to see iron ore ships moored or passing by.
The center also has a handy live map of the harbour, as well as mineral samples, giving you an up-close look at the lifeblood of Port Hedland.
Tales of Hedland, an inspiring talk show for local residents, is held weekly, while the regular Wedge Street sidewalk market features stalls selling plants, jewellery, books and crafts.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Port Hedland, Australia
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