The oldest port in the Pilbara region, Port Hedland is the second largest town in the Pilbara region. With a population of approximately 14,000, including the satellite town of South Hedland, 18 km away, it is also the site of the highest tonnage port in Australia. Port Hedland serves the iron ore mines of Mt Goldsworthy, Shay Gap and Mt Newman.
Built on an island 13 km long and 1.6 km wide, Port Hedland is connected to the mainland by four long causeways over tidal creeks. It has a natural deep anchorage harbour which, as well as being the main fuel and container receival point for the region, was seen as perfect for shipment of the iron ore being mined in the ranges located inland from the town. The ore is moved by railway lines from four major iron ore deposits to the east and south of Port Hedland area. In August 2010 the port exported 13.6 million tonnes of iron ore. Other major resource activities supported by the town include the offshore natural gas fields, salt, manganese, and livestock.
South Hedland: South Hedland was established in the early 1970s to house the workforce that increased dramatically due to the establishment of the shipping operations associated with Mt. Newman Mining Company. The town has a fluctuating population that hovers around 10,000. Most employment in the town is in the mining industry or an associated business that exists because of the areas major industry.
Cape Keraudren: A Nature Reserve, Cape Keraudren is a popular rest stop for travellers driving from the West Pilbara Coast to Broome. Here there are turtles, sea anemones and octopus to be found in its many tidal pools. White sands, aquamarine waters and fabulous fishing not to mention the mud crabs make this a very pretty and interesting spot. Its pristine whie sands, which stretch as far as the eye can see, mark the beginning of Eighty Mile Beach. Cape Keraudren is 165km north of Port Hedland.
Staircase To The Moon: Between March and October each year, when conditions are just right, visitors to the North West region of WA are treated to a natural spectacle - the Staircase to the Moon. This natural phenomenon of the Staircase to the Moon occurs only when the full moon rises over the exposed mudflats at times of extremely low tides, creating the optical illusion of a staircase reaching for the moon.
The staircase occurs three nights each month from March to October. The best viewing spots are at Roebuck Bay in Broome; Cooke Point in Port Hedland; the Lookout at Cossack; Hearson's Cove, located on the Burrup Peninsula between Karratha and Dampier; and Sunrise Beach in Onslow.
History of Port Hedland, WA
Port Hedland is known by the Indigenous Kariyarra and Nyamal people as Marapikurrinya, which either means "place of good water" (as told by a Nyamal language speaker) and makes reference to the three reliable fresh water soaks that can still be seen in and around the town, or as the town council's website says "refers to the hand like formation of the tidal creeks coming off the harbour (marra - hand, pikurri - pointing straight and nya - a place name marker)".
According to Dreamtime legend there was a huge blind water snake living in the landlocked area of water known as Jalkawarrinya. This landlocked area is now the turning basin for the ships that enter the port and as the story goes, "the coming of the big ships meant it was unable to stay".
The town's name honours Captain Peter Hedland, of the cutter, Mystery, which visited the area in 1863 on an exploratory voyage headed by Messrs Ridley and Parbury.
Originally known as Mangrove Harbour, it is at this location that Dutch navigator Gerritt de Witt was blown ashore in 1628 aboard the Vyanen. Port Hedland developed as a port after the discovery of gold at Marble Bar and Nullagine in 1888. The original port, named Condon, was near the mouth of the de Grey River. It is now an abandoned ruin.
Towards the end of the century it became apparent that the pastoral industry in the Eastern Pilbara needed a port, and in 1896 the first Port Hedland jetty was begun. With the discovery of gold in the Marble Bar area a few years later, the jetty was extended in 1908, and a railway between Marble Bar and Port Hedland was completed in 1911. From then until the late 1930s, the port was mainly used for the import of stores and producer items for the local industries, and the export of pearl shell, wool, livestock, gold, tin and small amounts of copper.
After World War II, the port continued to serve the pastoral industry, and began to export significant quantities of manganese. Goldsworthy Mining developed an iron ore mine approximately 100 kilometres east of Port Hedland in the early 1960s and built the towns of Goldsworthy and later Shay Gap as mine sites. A rail line was then built to Port Hedland where dredging was undertaken to deepen and widen the port's channel and a wharf was built opposite the township of Port Hedland on Finucane Island. Shipment of ore began on 27 May 1966 when the Harvey S. Mudd sailed from Port Hedland to Japan with 24,900 tonnes of ore.
In 1967 iron ore was discovered at Mount Whaleback and a mining venture was undertaken that included the establishment of a new town, Newman, 426 km of rail from the mine to the port and the development of processing equipment at both Newman and Port Hedland. In 1986, at a cost of $87 million, the existing channel was dredged to allow the port to increase the tonnage of those ships able to enter the port. Prior to dredging the port was only able to load vessels less than 2,000 tonnes but today it is able to accommodate ships over 250,000 tonnes.