As we left Broome and started our long journey down the Western Australian coast, the idea of a short stop at 80 Mile Beach for a spot of fishing and chilling sounded appealing.
We booked into an unpowered site for the night, with the intention of moving to a powered site if one became available the next day. As it turned out, the unpowered sites were connected to water and there was plenty of sundrenched weather to power our solar panels – and the unpowered sites were right next to the beach. So, we stayed put … and didn’t leave for almost a week!
The beach was spectacular and enticed us with notions of days spent fishing for salmon, followed by romantic evenings enjoying the sunsets (not to mention our freshly cooked salmon).
So, we fished …
… and we fished …
… and we fished …
… but, alas, the fish cleaning area remained sparkling clean! Few people were catching anything, thanks to very small tidal movements over the days we were there (tidal movements of just three metres instead of the more usual seven to eight metres).
So, we walked on the beach and collected shells instead! 80 Mile Beach is home to an immense range of beautiful shells, so we collected quite a selection. (And if we had any Wi-Fi or Mobile reception in some of these remote locations, we could try to identify some of the more unusual ones … but we don’t, so we can’t!)
Our next stop was Port Hedland, gateway to the Pilbara mining region. We only intended staying a night or two, mainly to restock the supplies before heading inland in search of wildflowers and national parks.
We pulled up at the Port Hedland Turf Club’s free camp, conveniently located within easy walking distance of a shopping mall and Woollies supermarket. And as luck would have it, it was race day … we had some of the best seats in the house to watch the horse races!
While there were some picturesque spots around Port Hedland, there is no escaping the town’s main industry … a 24/7 port for exporting the Pilbara’s iron ore and other mining product.
The port, bulk ore carrier ships, and mining stockpiles dominate the landscape, right in the centre of town and the surrounding urban community.
Another dominant feature is the road and rail transport that carries the ore and other mining product (mainly iron ore, copper, scrap metal, lithium, manganese, and salt) from the mines to the docks and dockside stockpiles. Three- and four-trailer road trains are the norm up here, up to 53.5 metres long; and these giants are plentiful on the roads. As an example, the Utah Point dockside area is fed by 480 road trains offloading product every 24 hours!
The trains are equally impressive in size, haulage and frequency. BHP Billiton uses ‘double rake’ trains, which consist of two engines followed by 134 cars, followed by another two engines and a further 134 cars. That’s 268 rail cars on every train, with each rail car carrying 140t of iron ore! And they have 24 trains servicing their port every 24 hours. Plus, Fortescue Metals Group’s has a further 13 trains of ore delivered to their docks every 24 hours. (And it takes six trains to load every ship!) This is one very busy port, surrounded by equally busy roads and railway lines.
We took a tour of the harbour, run by the Seafarers’ Mission, which offers practical, emotional and spiritual support to all seafarers. The Port Hedland mission supports the largest populace of seafarers than any of the other 27 Australian missions, and is within the top five in the world – an indication of the throughput of ships in this port.
There are 21 ship berths in Port Hedland, 19 of which are currently operational.
After a very informative presentation on the port (which contributed greatly to the information in this blog!), we embarked on the Seafarers’ Mission boat as it visited all the ships in port, looking to take any of the ships’ crew ashore or back to their ship.
The Mission’s boat service operates five times each day, much like a bus service … if there’s nobody waiting near a ship’s embarkation ladder, the boat moves on to the next ship, until all ships are visited.
It takes between 22 and 36 hours for a ship to be loaded.
These next images highlight the significant difference between the loaded and empty ride heights. The ship in the second image is so empty, the rudder is riding quite high out of the water.
The next two images depict a unique berth that uses an automated mooring technology system (Cavotec), including 13 x 20t suction pads to hold the ship to the wharf. The system moves up and down on a runner to allow for the variations in tides.
The channel leading into Port Hedland over 20kms long in the shape of an ‘S’ bend shape, with a width ranging from between 183m and 300m wide. Ships are generally over 300m long and around 50m wide, and must proceed through the channel on an angle to accommodate the significant tides and winds. As such, only one vessel can proceed through the channel at any one time. It takes 2.5 hours to enter the port, while the heavy ore-laden ships take four hours to negotiate the channel on departure.
The tidal movement can be as much as seven metres rise or fall, requiring some innovative design of boat ramps and jetty platforms.
Each ship entering or departing the port requires the assistance of four tugboats.
The Port Hedland harbour tour is a fascinating opportunity to see a busy working port up close. A big thank you to the Seafarers’ Mission for offering this unique experience!
Check here to view a short video of the cruise highlights.