Port Hedland is an industrial port in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, with a population of 15,471 (2020). It exports iron ore from the mines inland, with huge freight trains bringing the ore to the docks. It has accommodation and you might stop over on the way to Broome, or in the secondary town of South Hedland 13 km south. You're unlikely to linger unless you're in the mining or shipping business.
In the dreaming, a huge blind snake dwelt in a freshwater lagoon, but carved a sinuous channel through to the sea. The Kariyarra and Nyamal people call this place Marapikurrinya, which may refer to its hand-like pattern of freshwater creeks, or to the peninsula on which the town now stands, literally a headland. European settlement of the Pilbara was held back by the lack of good harbours along this coast but they persevered, and in 1896 the town was established and laid out on a grid. At some point the snake took umbrage at the disturbance and departed, to who knows where.
There was a gold rush in the 1890s at Marble Bar, but Port Hedland remained small until the 1960s, when vast deposits of iron ore were found inland. The company city of Newman was founded, an astonishing network of private railways replicated the windings of the blind snake, converging on Port Hedland which burgeoned into a major industrial port. And so it remains. The industry is south side of the town peninsula, on Finucane Island across the channel, and all around the estuary. Dust blows everywhere; the mines are far inland but with half a billion tonnes exported through town annually, some of it is destined to get under your contact lenses. The ore is shipped out to make steel, and there are also large salt pans, and other minerals such as lithium, so Port Hedland plays an important part in Australia's economy. BHP is the company running the mines and the port, while their spin-off BlueScope makes the steel.
May to August is the best time to visit: it's not exactly cool, but it's less torrid. October to March is very hot, the town slumbers, and from December it's the cyclone season. In 2021 Pilbara quailed before the approach of Cyclone Seroja, but a fluke collision with another cyclone diverted the storm south, and the Gascoyne coast was wrecked instead.
Get in Edit
Port Hedland has several flights a day from Perth by Qantas, Virgin and Alliance. They take two hours non-stop and you might pay $600 return. Local flights by Aviair are from Karratha, Newman and Broome. Occasional holiday flights visit Bali.
1 Port Hedland Airport (PHE IATA) is 11 km southeast of Port Hedland and 11 km northeast of South Hedland. The cafe and bar is only open around flights; smoking is permitted on the terminal forecourt. The airport has car rental from Thrifty, Enterprise and Poshly. A taxi to either town takes ten mins and might cost $40.
Integrity Coaches run 3 nights a week from Perth, taking 29 hours along the coast via Dongara, Geraldton, Carnarvon, Exmouth and Karratha. One bus a week runs inland on the Great Northern Highway via Mount Magnet and Newman, taking 22 hours. The bus stop is at Port Hedland Visitor Centre, and the adult fare in 2022 is $600 return. These buses continue east from Port Hedland to Broome, another 7 hours.
Don't come by rail unless you're a train driver or a lump of iron ore. Company railways haul the ore 426 km from Newman to the port, and the trains are almost 3 km long. Could it hurt to tack a coach or two on the end? The sea port is likewise busy with ore freighters but has no ferry or cruise ships.
Get around Edit
Bus 870 runs M-F hourly from Wedge St by the Visitor Centre to South Hedland, taking 40 min. It doesn't serve the airport.
You really need your own vehicle hereabouts, not least for the air-con.
- 1 Dalgety House Museum, Lot 462 Anderson St (corner of Wedge St, by visitor centre), ☏ . May-Oct M-F 10AM–2PM, Sa Su 11AM–1PM. This exhibits the development of the region from scrub to livestock ranges to large-scale mining. A workers' cottage was relocated here and houses an exhibition on SS Koombana, a small passenger and cargo ship which disappeared in a cyclone of 1912, with the loss of all 150 aboard. The wreck has not been found. Adult $3, child $1.50.
- Courthouse Gallery (aka The Junction) exhibits work by local artists, which is for sale. It's on Edgar St by the Visitor Centre. Hours roughly Tu-Sa 9AM-4PM but may vary, free admission.
- Marapikurrinya Park at the north end of Wedge Street gives a close-up view of the freighters.
- Street art is dotted here and there. Most is around Wedge St and the Visitor Centre, check with them for outlying examples worth seeking out, such as the big water tanks east on Wilson St.
- 2 Spoil Bank is the lyrical name of the sand spit north side of downtown, made of harbour dredgings. Its beaches are safe for swimming. The shore stretching east is Cemetery Beach, which shades into Koombana.
- Sea turtles: several species are common, but the town's signature beast is the Flatback, Natator depressus. It's 80-90 cm long with an olive-green to grey carapace which is less domed than other species and upturned at the edges. It nests Nov-Jan and the hatchlings emerge Dec-March, with Cemetery Beach a major rookery. These areas may be cordoned off in season and in any case you must stay clear of nests: volunteers patrol each morning and log the turtle tracks and nests. Hatchlings head out to sea but don't go far, dwelling in the 60 m depth zone. Males never return to land, while the females return to lay clutches every 2 or 3 years.
- Koombana is the main beach north side of town. Multiple access points, for instance by the Hedland Hotel (see Sleep) where there's a viewpoint over beach and town. There's also a small park here and the Gratwick Aquatic and Fitness Centre.
- Rock of Ages is the rugged shore east of Koombana. Don't swim here.
- 3 Cooke Point is a good place to watch the ships queuing to come into port. But the big attraction is the staircase to the moon, a natural effect seen on the Pilbara coast March-Oct on the full moon spring tides. Water caught between the ripples on the sand flats exposed at low tide creates the image of a golden staircase towards the rising moon. Viewing times are published locally, eg by the Visitor Centre. They may forget to mention that you also can see the moon in broad daylight, by swivelling your binoculars south to the beach beyond the creek, where clothing is optional.
- 4 Six Mile Creek is the most easterly beach access, then the highway swings inland. It's a popular edge-of-town spot for strolling and fishing.
- 5 Redbank Bridge is a lookout on the road into town where you can view the salt-extraction lagoons and the massive freight trains trundling to the port.
- 6 Spinifex Hill Studios is just about the only cultural attraction in South Hedland, an art gallery on Hedditch Rd by the stadium. It's open M-F 9AM-5PM.
- 7 Fish Rock is a striking rock formation 50 km east of town, on the highway to Broome at the turn-off for Hwy 138 to Marble Bar. It resembles a gaping mouth and is also called Turtle Rock or more correctly Mikurrunya Hills. In the dreaming, the rock is Mikurri's estranged wife.
- Tours organised by the visitor centre's walk around town, and go out in boats round the harbour. They remain suspended in 2022.
- Golf: PH Golf Club is west side of South Hedland.
- Go to the races: PH Turf Club has thoroughbred flat-racing May-Aug. Enter from McGregor St near Hedland Hotel.
- Swimming pools are at Gratwick Centre on McGregor St in Port Hedland and the Aquatic Centre on Leake St in South Hedland.
- Matt Dann Theatre and Cinema is on Hamilton Rd in South Hedland, north side of Wanangkura Stadium.
- Boulevard Shopping Centre is the main strip in Port Hedland, corner of Anderson and McGregor St. Woolworths is open M-F 7AM-9PM, Sa Su 7AM-8PM.
- Fuel: don't leave town on less than half a tank. Ampol Roadhouse by the airport is open daily 5AM-10PM. They don't have rooms, but you can shower.
- 1 Silver Star Cafe, 12A Edgar St (next to visitor centre), ☏ . Daily 6AM–3PM. A town landmark: the cafe is in an old railway carriage. But it's not a tourist-trap, it earns good scores for its coffee and bites, service and value for money.
- Bernie's is by Silver Star on Port Plaza and open M-F 9AM-3PM.
- Hedland Harbour Cafe is on Wedge St by the Visitor Centre and open M-Sa 6AM-2:30PM.
- 2 Dome Cafe, 22 Richardson St (3 short blocks east of the visitor centre), ☏ . Daily 6AM–2PM. Large chain cafe overlooking the boat ramp, mixed reviews for quality.
- Heddy's Bar and Bistro is part of Hedland Hotel, open M-F 5:30PM-9PM, Sa Su 11:30AM-9PM.
- Boulevard Shopping Centre has a handful of fast food places, such as Chicken Treat, Ayesha's Cafe, Yummy Noodle and The Bakehouse.
- South Hedland has a dozen places in the shopping centre a block south of the stadium. There's a couple more opposite Club Hamilton and a few more along North Circular Rd.
No stand-alone bar in Port Hedland so head for the hotels or restaurants. Liquor Barons store is at 23 Anderson St downtown, open M-Sa noon-7PM. There's another liquor store in Boulevard Shopping Centre.
Accommodation in town is expensive for mid- to basic quality, but you may just have to pay. Distances in the Pilbara are great and the other towns are no better.
- 1 Pier Hotel, 25 The Esplanade, Port Hedland (opposite Visitor Centre), ☏ . Long-established central hotel, some facilities tired but overall decent.
- Esplanade Hotel is closed for refurbishment in 2022. The restaurant and bar remain open.
- 2 Hedland Hotel (formerly Ibis), McGregor St, Port Hedland, ☏ . Smart slick beachfront hotel. B&B double $300.
- 3 Hospitality Inn, Webster St, Port Hedland (200 m west of Hedland Hotel), ☏ . Good clean chain motel, most visitors are here for the restaurant. B&B double $300.
- 4 Discovery Park, Athol St, Port Hedland (corner of Taylor St near Point viewing platform), ☏ . Chain caravan site with powered and unpowered pitches plus motel cabins. Cleanliness erratic.
- 5 Blackrock Tourist Park, 2115 North Circular Rd, South Hedland, ☏ . Open all year, this has powered and unpowered pitches and motel cabins.
- 6 Club Hamilton Motel, 77 Hamilton Rd, South Hedland (north side of Wanangkura Stadium), ☏ . Basic but clean motel, a short walk to SH town.
- 7 Walkabout Motel, 945 Great Northern Highway (opposite airport), ☏ . It's more like a pub with rooms, serving 11AM till late.
- Landing Resort opposite the airport is a very basic motel. Some visitors found themselves in the trailer park.
- BHP Port Haven Village 1 km east of the airport is usually booked out to mine workers.
As of Feb 2022, Port Hedland has 4G from Telstra but no signal from Optus or Vodafone. 5G has not reached this area.
The library in Boulevard Shopping Centre has internet access. It's open M-F 10AM-5PM.
Go next Edit
- East the next major town is Broome, which was a pearl-fishing centre and is now a beach resort.
- West the next is Karratha, a mining town.
- Exmouth is the way to Cape Range National Park and to Coral Bay.
- Hwy 138 loops south from Fish Rock via scenic Doolena Gorge and baking-hot Marble Bar to Newman, where it rejoins the Great Northern Highway.