Port Hedland was established in 1896 on Kariyarra country on the Pilbara coast, 1765km north west of Perth, 242km from Karratha and 612km from Broome. Today there are two main residential and business centres, Port Hedland (located on the coast) and South Hedland (13 km inland). The population of Port Hedland today is over 20,000 people who live in the main residential areas, as well as Wedgefield, and surrounding pastoral stations and Indigenous communities.
Port Hedland has rich cultural history and identity. The traditional owners of the Port Hedland area, the Kariyarra people, call Port Hedland ‘Marapikurrinya’. Mara means hand and pikurri means pointing straight and nya is a location marker. The name refers to the hand shaped formation of the natural tidal creeks moving in from the coast. These land and water formations were created during the dreaming when a creation spirit arose from the landlocked area of water, known as the Jalkawarrinya (today’s turning basin for ships moving through Hedland’s Port).
There are more that 31 Aboriginal language groups in the Pilbara region, and Kariyarra country is immediately neighboured by Ngarluma, Yindjibarni and Nyamal countries, as well as the culturally and historically significant Dampier Archipelago, the Burrup Peninsula and the Hamersley Ranges. The Burrup Peninsula alone is home to over forty thousand petroglyphs (rock engravings).
Today Pilbara Aboriginal cultural and language groups are still strongly connected with their land and cultural beliefs and practices. Traditional law practices and custodianship obligations are still essential part of Aboriginal cultural identity.
Port Hedland was first sighted by Europeans in 1628, when Dutch explorer Gerrit Frederikson De Witt ran his ship Vyanan aground on the sandbars in the tidal inlet.
In 1863, Captain Peter Hedland this time ran his ship, the Mystery, aground as he searched for a suitable location for a port for the Pilbara’s expanding pastoral industry. Shortly after naming this area ‘Mangrove Harbour’ the site became a pastoral and pearling lugger frontier town. Supporting the inland goldmining, Port Hedland was gazetted and named a town in 1896.
In the mid twentieth century it was discovered that the Pilbara highlands were rich in iron ore and in 1960 the Commonwealth lifted its restrictions on the trading of iron ore due to international demand for the resource. Port Hedland was expanded with major infrastructural developments to cater for this new industrial imperative, including the establishment of South Hedland.
Port Hedland today operates one of the world’s largest tonnage ports, handling over 100 million tonnes of product worth over $3 billion a year. The main industries, which define Port Hedland’s physical and economic landscape, are iron ore processing and export, salt production and exporting manganese, other minerals and livestock, tracing new and old trading routes through the seas.
The weather and climate in the Pilbara varies greatly across two distinct seasons (with temperatures ranging from 5 to 40 degrees Celsius) each offering vastly different experiences of the region. The Summer (wet) season is generally from November to April. This is generally a quieter time in the region, days are hot and nights are balmy. During this season you can expect spectacular lightning shows, spectacular sunsets, thundering waterfalls and plenty of wildlife. During the wet season you may experience road closures and some localised flooding as well as cyclones in the region. Some activities, tours and locations may not be open in this period, so it is best to plan in advance to avoid any disappointment.
The Winter (dry) season is from May to November. This is the most popular time to visit the Pilbara. The daytime temperatures are much milder and are suited to outdoor activities and adventures, and nights are cool.
For more detailed information about the weather and climate in the Pilbara region, visit the Bureau of Meteorology.
The Pilbara is accessed by two major road arteries: The North West Coastal Highway which passes through Carnarvon and the Great Northern Highway, which passes through Newman. Travelling from Perth to Port Hedland on road is approximately 1,600km and takes about 24 hours or 2 days with 1 night stopover in Carnarvon.
Road trains travel regularly along both highways, and when you are driving you will need to be aware of kangaroos and wandering cattle on the road. Make sure you look at safe driving tips about driving through remote Australia. It is also important to check road conditions before commencing your journey, especially during the wet season, as some roads are prone to flooding.