Feb 24, 2014 to Feb 25, 2014
24.02.2014 - 25.02.2014 35 °C
Port Hedland is barely a dot on even a local map but it has a natural deep anchorage harbour and is the closest port to Australia’s giant iron ore mines which are about 200 km inland from Pt. Hedland. These two features have resulted in Pt. Hedland being the highest tonnage port in Australia as there is a non-stop line of huge ore carrier ships moving in and out of the port. The entire port is just a series of giant automated ore loading facilities. Of the eleven ships in port when we tied up nine were ore carriers. We were the only cruise ship and there was a small self-loading freighter behind us. . The nine ore carriers in the inner harbour area were all being loaded with giant movable conveyors. The inner harbour was a busy place with multiple tugs always moving an ore carrier into place or guiding one out. The local Pilot boats were constantly going back and forth and in the larger outer harbour area we counted 30+ ore carriers at anchor waiting to be guided into the inner harbour and loaded with ore. These are not the small ore carriers that we see on the Great Lakes but giant ocean going carriers that they load so full you would think that even a small wave would wash right up and over their decks.
Tugs moving bulk carrier
This entire area is built around the shipping of iron ore. The mine site is actually some 200 km inland and the ore is brought in by massive purpose built trains that are 2 to 3 km long. Each train consists of roughly 200 rail cars which travel on dedicated rail lines. They are powered by 2 to 4 locomotives which are located in the centre of each train. Once they arrive in Pt. Headland the trains move through giant unloading sheds where the entire car is tipped dumping its load onto giant conveyors which transfer the ore onto other conveyors which in turn dump the ore into the holds of the ships. Once the ship is loaded it is quickly moved out and is on its way to China, India, Indonesia and other industrial countries.
Multiple automated iron ore loading facilities
We also noted that there was some salt being stockpiled. In the past there was a fair sized industry here flooding areas with sea water, allowing it to evaporate and collecting the resulting salt. Although still present it appears that this is now a very small part of the local economy.
Salt in front of iron ore loading facilities
By the time we were able to get off the ship just before 11:00 it was already blisteringly hot at 31C or 91F. Since we were docked in a very active industrial port area security was fairly tight and we were not permitted to walk around the pier as we have done in other ports where the pier is built for passenger traffic. The cruise line had arranged large air conditioned busses to take us into the town of Port Hedland – population 14,000. Although it was not a great distance, the temperatures were not something you wanted to experience for too long.
Busses waiting for ship’s passengers
Sue and Roy on the Bus
We disembarked in town and walked around to try to find some Wi Fi to check in with family and friends at home. The 2 suggested places – the town Visitors’ Centre and the Seafarers’ Centre were both hopeless and crowded with dozens of people all trying to log into a woefully inadequate wireless hotspot. We have found this to be fairly typical in the smaller centers. So we continued to explore the village. Very shortly we found a beautiful old building – the Esplanade Hotel which had a large, cool, empty lobby and a friendly receptionist who gladly gave us the passwords to excellent, free, Wi Fi. What a find! So we not only checked email and uploaded our previous blog and pictures but we did all sorts of things like check our home thermostat (it tells us the inside house temperature), check Facebook and read the Toronto news to discover that John Tory has announced that he will be running for Mayor. We were also able to check our home security cameras to see what is happening at home. By the looks of all the snow we think we need to stay here for a few more weeks.
Joan, Sue and Cal in the Lobby of the Esplanade Hotel
Dave checking his e-mail
After our session on the internet we did a bit more exploring of the village and finally headed back to the busses which would ferry us back to the ship. By now it was early afternoon and the temperature had risen to 100F (39C). While exploring the village we noticed some unusual overhead structures and quickly discovered that they were intended as sun shades. This area is clearly geared to almost constant very hot and sunny weather year round.
Shade structure built over the sidewalk on the sunny side of the main street
Solstice at dock from Port Hedley
We noted a tallish structure which is visible from most places in town. It is the Leslie and Airey Rear Navigational Aids Tower, commonly (and humourously) called the “Tower of Dreams”. Because the port is so busy all of the ship traffic is handled very similar to an airport control tower.
Leslie and Airey Real Navigational Aids Tower
We returned to our ship to cool off. We saw these very proud fishermen from our upper deck
Catch of the day
As we gathered for a pre-dinner drink in the Ocean View Bar
Terry, Dave, Jan, Joan, Cal, Sue and Roy
We saw ore carriers at anchor in the outer harbour waiting their turn to be escorted in to a berth and be loaded.