For most travelers, Port Hedland is nothing more than a place to stop for some fuel and maybe top up the groceries on their way to or from more well-known towns like Broome and Exmouth. The summer temperatures are hot, but the winters are mild. Whatever time of year you visit there are things do and places to see that make it worthwhile detouring from the highway and staying for at least a day.
If you’re happy to pay for the experience, the number one thing to do as a tourist is to take a ride with the seafarer’s launch around the port facility. Port Hedland is home to Australia’s largest export port, with the large cape size ships coming alongside, loading with cargo (mostly iron ore) and then leaving (mostly to China) usually within a thirty-hour window. The sheer size is not something you can understand until you get a little bit closer, and by taking the seafarer’s launch not only are you supporting a group that works to make seafarer’s lives more bearable, you might have a chance to meet some actual seafarers. They are generally happy to talk and you may just get some tips for your next Greek or Philippines holiday.
If you’re a poor backpacker and saving those precious dollars for things like fuel and food, then you should still get down to Marapikurrinya or the Spoil Bank. At both of these places, you can witness the giant ships coming and going. Aim for high tide. Due to the difference between the tides (sometimes up to seven meters) the water can be too shallow at low tide for any movement to occur.
What do you like best about Port Hedland?
Like most small regional towns, the best thing about Port Hedland is the people, and also the lack of them. The people you do meet are friendly, generally happy to help you out if you are stuck or lost and, as many are part-time locals (working a FIFO [Fly In Fly Out] roster that means they might be here for four weeks and away for four weeks), often those you meet are happy to chat and share their knowledge about the town and surrounding areas.
Having a small population though means it’s quiet at most places. You won’t have to share the beach with too many people, there’s very little traffic, and there aren’t any lines at the supermarket (unless you’re here just before a cyclone hits and people are panic buying).
Best Walk in Port Hedland
The Port Hedland Visitors center can provide maps for a couple of walks around town. By far the best is the Cultural and Heritage self-guided walk. The map and helpful plaques along the way give you information and insight into what this town was like as it was finding its feet and growing. It really was a final frontier in its early days and many a man with nowhere else to go made Port Hedland his home. Some of the old buildings remain, the old medical staff quarters are part of a cafe. It makes for a beautiful spot to sit and watch the ships roll in while you’re having a fairly decent cup of coffee.
Best Restaurants in Port Hedland
For a small town, we are still lucky enough to have some good restaurants around the place. Yummy Noodle is the number one suggestion for affordable yet delicious take away food. They prepare it quickly and have a combination of cultural flavors available including Thai, Chinese, Malay, and Italian (though I don’t recommend the Carbonara). There are a few options for sit down meals. If you’ve got kids with you there’s no going past the Walkabout, which has an indoor (air-conditioned) playground, a good Aussie pub feel to it, and a very good menu. The Yacht Club is also popular with the locals. Out on the waterfront, you can watch the ships come and go. It can get a little too popular with the locals though, and sometimes you can wait two hours for food so it’s recommended to get there early.
Best Music/Festival in Port Hedland
It surprises people to know that a town the size of Port Hedland supports much in the way of music or festivals. The annual country fair, the Spinifex Festival, is held at the end of July every year. There are local markets, rides, fireworks and usually some sort of musical performance of a night. However, the premier music festival is the North West Fest, which runs over two nights in August. In the past bands such as Birds of Tokyo, Amy Shark, the Potbelleez, and the Dandy Warhols have been on the line-up.
Best Nightlife in Port Hedland
Port Hedland is a small mining town, and it is probably reflected most in its nightlife (or lack thereof). The Walkabout hosts a nightclub on Friday and Saturday Nights while the Pier (formally known as the world’s toughest pub) offers a traditional mining town pub night with the occasional DJ, TAB and occasional Karaoke night. For those whose idea of nightlife is a little more refined, the Esplanade Hotel across the road offers a weekly trivia night.
Best Day Trip Out of Port Hedland
Port Hedland is a long way from anywhere, the nearest town is a two-and-a-half-hour drive. If you can afford a two day out of town trip, then Karijini is the only place to go. Here you will be greeted by deep gorges and waterholes in the middle of one of the driest hottest places on earth. But if you can only afford a day trip then taking the car out to Marble Bar is a wonderful option.
Marble Bar is an old gold mining town. The Comet Gold Mine is now a wonderful little tourist place and shop, and if you’ve got the time, Gerald will happily give you a lot of history and information. You can also take a trip out to the Marble Bar. Unfortunately, the people who named it were not geologists, and while it may look a little like marble; it is actually jasper. There’s a place where you can collect some jasper of your own to take home with if you are willing to go for a little drive and a hike.
One last thing to note, Marble Bar does hold the record for the hottest town in the world because from 31 October 1923 to 7 April 1924 each day was 100F (37.8 C) or above. That’s 160 days in a row for those not so great at math.
Something that not many travelers would know about Port Hedland
While the beaches around Port Hedland may not be the most swimmable in Australia, they are one of the nesting sites for flatback turtles (natator depressus). If you visit at the right time of year (nesting October to January, hatching December to March) you can get in touch with the local Care for Hedland team who can provide information on specific locations. You could even take part in the turtle monitoring if you’re interested, which is a great way to get some photos of baby turtles