Travelling Australia - Journal 2006
11-15 June 2006 - South Hedland (Part 2 of 2)

Location map The weather for the second part of our stay in South Hedland remained dry, with bright sun and blue sky during the day and temperatures of 24-26 degrees. Mornings were plagued by strong, gusty winds beginning at about 8:30 each morning then fading away after lunch. Gusts were very strong early in the week. The annex and awning had been put up when we arrived but the canvas often billowed badly in the wind and one of the aluminium poles supporting the awning was bent by the canvas billowing against it in the wind. I had put guy ropes on the television aerial to stop it waving alarmingly in the wind; these worked well and the aerial no longer moved, even in the strongest gusts. Not every caravan has guy ropes on its television aerial. By our last day at South Hedland the morning wind was not nearly as strong as it had been and the weather was pleasant. Nights were quite cold, minimum temperatures of 7 or 8 degrees were common. The nights were black until the full moon came up.
Iron-ore train Iron-ore train arriving at Port Hedland from the inland mine.
Loading iron-ore Loading iron-ore at Port Hedland.
Port Hedland was established as a port to service a pastoral area then was selected in the 1960s as an iron-ore export port with a railway line laid hundreds of kilometres (426 km) inland and the port developed to handle increasingly large bulk carriers. Several ports along the WA coast perform the same function for different corporations. The very dry climate has also encouraged construction of salt works where sea-water is evaporated to form salt, used mainly for industrial purposes and exported by the shipload through the same port. At present Port Hedland holds the record for the highest annual tonnage through an Australian port; in 2005-2006 freight totalling 108.5 million tonnes was carried in 895 ships; this includes 103.3 million tonnes of iron-ore and 3.6 million tonnes of salt. Incoming freight was insignificant, in 10 months to the end of April there was 0.5 million tonnes of petroleum products unloaded in the port.

The drive from South Hedland to Port Hedland is quite interesting. The road goes over a bridge over the railway track from Newman; the visitor centre publishes train arrival times so tourists can gather on the viewing platform on the bridge and watch the trains. The average ore train is 2.5 kilometres long, contains 208 ore trucks and 4 diesel locomotives; they make an impressive sight. Each truck holds 110-115 tonnes of ore. The highest quality iron ore is black or blue-black in colour and the term "Black Rock" in Port Hedland refers to iron ore. From the bridge viewing platform the salt works is also easily visible. Salt from the evaporation ponds is washed then stockpiled on one or more piles 20-30 metres high which are kept in shape by bulldozers working on top of the pile. Road trains carry the salt to the port ready for loading on ships when required. There are always two or three road trains shuttling between the port and the salt works.
Solar salt drying Piles of solar salt drying at Port Hedland.
Although we are still strictly in the Pilbara some plants mainly found in the Kimberley grow in profusion around South Hedland particularly some wattles which thrive in the red sand and are covered in so many long flowering bodies that the whole three-metre high bush looks yellow.

The FuelWatch service remains very useful allowing me to plan fuel stops for the next stage towards Broome 611 kilometres away with two long stops in between and a total of four places to get fuel.