Port Hedland might be an industrial town, but it is charming and there is more to it than its port. With a gallery, street art, and historic West End, there are plenty of amazing things to do in Port Hedland, so I can only recommend stopping here for a day or two if you are exploring the area.
While I only spend one day and night in the town, I was able to do a lot of the free things to do in Port Hedland. It was only the second day of my Western Australia road trip, so I really did not know what to expect
Somehow, I seem to have had the worst timing as a bunch of things I wanted to do were not possible while I was there. But I dream of exploring the area again, so they will stay on my list of things to do in Port Hedland for my next visit.
Established in the 1880s, Port Hedland has become the largest town of the Pilbara region in Western Australia. The Port of Hedland is the world’s largest bulk export port, which highlights how much the iron ore industry has changed the area since the 1960s when the Commonwealth embargo on ore export was lifted and the massive amount of iron ore in the Hamersley Rangy could be exported.
The area’s pre-colonial name is ‘Marapikurrinya‘, which describes the handprint shape that the tidal waters form while creating a connection between land and sea at the Pretty Pools. It is safe to say that this naming process is much more descriptive and beautiful than naming the town of Port Hedland after Captain Peter Hedland who landed in the natural harbour back in 1863.
1. Visit the Pretty Pool Park
The Pretty Pool Park in Port Hedland is the ideal place if you want to go for a swim or have a picnic. There is a shaded sitting area with benches and tables, and even showers, so you can wash off the saltwater if you ended up swimming.
The Pretty Pools are a tidal river, and as the high and low tides in the Pilbara are extreme, this area sees a lot of change as the tides change. Therefore, the best place to swim at the Pretty Pool tends to vary, so do what the locals do. Additionally, I recommend wearing reef boots, as stonefish are not uncommon.
2. See the ‘Staircase to the Moon’
From March to October, the Staircase to the Moon is visible 3 days a month around the full moon. It is a great illusion created by the shallow water in the mudflats just off the coast. The water reflects the moonlight, and thanks to the ripples on the surface it looks like there is a staircase that leads all the way to the moon. The best viewpoint is the ‘Cooke Point Viewing Platform’ as it faces east.
Be sure to check the Staircase to the Moon dates and times when planning your trip to Port Hedland. After all, this is one of the many things to do in Port Hedland that you do not want to miss.
The Staircase to the Moon is also visible in other locations in the region like Broome, so you might have a chance to see it if you are exploring another part along the coast of the Pilbara region during a full moon.
I was actually in Port Hedland on a day the Staircase to the Moon was visible, but my road trip crew was not interested in seeing it, so I drew the short stick. It is just one of those things that happen when you travel with a larger group and no other photographers.
3. Visit the ‘Courthouse Gallery + Studio’
Visiting the Courthouse Gallery + Studio is one of the most interesting things to do in Port Hedland, as this gallery displays local contemporary and Aboriginal art. It houses paintings, sculptures, and photos, so you will find something intriguing regardless of what medium you prefer. From Monday to Friday it is open from 9 AM to 4:30 PM, and on Saturday you can visit the Courthouse Gallery from 9 AM to 3 PM.
The annual Hedland Art Awards take place in August, and I recommend going there to check out the submissions, as it is a really amazing experience.
I rarely enjoy visiting galleries or museums full of paintings, as the way too high prices of paintings spoiled the entire art scene for me, but I absolutely loved visiting this gallery in Port Hedland. The artistic skill of the local artists whose works they displayed when I visited it was amazing.
I feel like seeing these artworks actually taught me something about the area and the people that live there, as every single painting or sculpture was connected to the environment. Seeing the paintings allowed me to see the area through the artist’s eyes.
I visited the Courthouse Gallery just after the annual Hedland Art Awards, and they were running a postcard drawing contest. They provided paper and pens, so we decided to give it a go. And I sure had a great time when an employee taped my ‘drawing’ to the gallery wall so she could take a photo of it for their Instagram page (like they did with all submissions).
And I can only say that I sure wish that I would have had the aqua markers I use back home because it is slightly frustrating that the only artwork of mine that has ever hung in a gallery (if only for a minute) was likely the worst things I’ve drawn since I was a kid. P.S. Me and crayons do not get along, and the proof is still on the Gallery’s Instagram page.
4. Watch Flatback Turtles Nest or Hatch
Flatback turtles are a threatened species and they only nest on Australian beaches, so getting to see these turtles is a special experience. The nesting season is from October to January, and the hatching season is from December to March.
If you want to observe the flatback turtles during these months, it is by far the best option to contact the Care for Hedland Environmental Association.
They organize guided evening turtle watching tours that ensure that the turtle watching code of conduct is followed. Contact them via email at turtle@careforhedland(.)org(.)au or give them a call (+61 488 907 260).
5. Check out the Banger’s Camp Bungalow
& the historic West End
Originally constructed for the Western Pearling & Trading Company in 1918, it now is a representative example of typical northwest bungalow housing of the early 1900s. It is part of the historic West End, so pick up a map at the visitor center or use the historic West End map if you want to learn more about this area’s rich history.
It is said that this bungalow was a popular gambling house where people gambled with pearls. According to some sources, pearls did tend to fall down and slip through the floorboards, and local kids eventually found them while playing under the elevated bungalow.
This bungalow was built by Charlie Bayman who build many of Port Hedland’s early buildings and was originally located at the foreshore where it was an accommodation for the Pearling company’s workers.
It was relocated to its current location in the 1930s and in 1993 the interior was changed completely. On the outside, a central gable patio was added, which means that the building is no longer completely authentic. However, it is still really interesting to see it, so add a short visit to your list of things to do in Port Hedland.
In August 2020 the Banger’s Camp Bungalow was turned into a retail space for small businesses, so it is an ideal place to go if you want to buy local products like artworks, candles, crystals, and clothes. Shopping in the Bungalow on Edgar helps support small businesses, so be sure to check out what it sold in this historic location of Port Hedland.
6. Marvel at the Street Art
If you are interested in street art, you will love exploring the West End with its murals by artists like Yok and Sheryo. Visit the Courthouse Gallery to pick up a map or download a map of street art locations in Port Hedland before exploring the area to find the different murals like the bird with bunny ears on the wall of the Courthouse Gallery.
7. See the ‘Silver Star Café’ Train Carriage
Located in the garden of the Courthouse Gallery, this train carriage is something you would not expect to see. The stainless steel dining cart of a 1930s Burlington Zephyr is an icon of American railway history, but nowadays it is the best breakfast place in the town of Port Hedland. After all, it is the location of the charming ‘Silver Star Café’.
It is a crucial part of the history of Port Hedland and the area because the carriage and the rest of the train were used as a Pilbara stalwart between Port Hedland and Newman until the towns were connected by a road in 1989.
8. Relax at the Beach
While the beaches of Port Hedland are admittedly not the most beautiful beaches in Australia, they are still worth a visit outside of the flatback turtle nesting and hatching season.
After all, there is nothing like some relaxed time on the beach after days filled with adventure and exploration. So head to the Cemetery Beach and enjoy the sun or go for a swim. There is a smaller likelihood of encountering stone fish than at the Pretty Pools of Port Hedland.
9. West End Markets
The West End Markets are a great thing to do in Port Hedland if you want to buy local handmade items or want to eat amazing food. There are usually around 50 stalls in the garden of the Courthouse Gallery and there is live music. They happen quarterly in the months of April, June, August, and October. Be sure to look up if your trip to Port Hedland during those months happens to coincide with the West End Markets as they are worth a visit.
Sadly, I missed the West End Markets by a few days when I visited the town, so let me know what it is like if you are lucky enough to visit Port Hedland at the right time.
10. Free Camp at a nearby Station
The area around Port Hedland hides two of the prettiest free camping spots in Western Australia, so spending a night under the stars at one or both of them is one of the best things to do in Port Hedland and the surrounding area if you love camping.
Both are suitable for caravans, campervans, and tents, so you can stay there regardless of your mode of transportation. Use the WikiCamps Australia app to find them.
‘Split Rock Campsite‘ is a gravel pitch that is a good distance away from the busy highway. There are several bigger hills that frame the campsite, which makes it an incredibly picturesque location and my favorite campsite in Western Australia. It is located 43 km up Highway 1, and the drive is more than worth it. Just know, that there are no amenities.
‘Yule River Station‘ is located 54 km south of Port Hedland and right at the Yule River. Located on a station, this campsite is behind a gate that you have to close after driving through it to ensure that the cattle cannot escape. There is a sitting area and plenty of trees that provide shade.
As the sun sets, the campsite is cast in a beautiful light, which makes free camping here a wonderful experience. There are bins, but no toilet. Please be courteous and clean up after yourself when you camp there.
Read more: Free Camping in Australia
Other Things to Do in Port Hedland
While there are many great free things to do in Port Hedland, there are also several paid activities that might interest you. I personally did not end up doing them as I only had one day in Port Hedland, but given the chance, I will definitely do the ‘Salt Eco Tour‘ when I get to explore the town again.
11. Salt Eco Tour
Another great thing to do in Port Hedland is to go on a Salt Eco Tour. It is a 3 hours long guided bus tour of Dampier Salt‘s production area and includes a visit to the wetlands where you can observe animals and the area with towering salt stacks. While in the wetlands 35 km south of the town of Port Hedland, you can spot birds, but also frogs, reptiles, mammals, and fish.
The tours run on Monday and Friday at 1:30 PM, but there might be more during the high season. It costs 65 AUD for adults, 40 AUD for children, and 55 AUD for seniors.
12. Harbour Tour
The Port Hedland Peace Seafarers Centre offers pastoral care, services, and support for seafarers, organizes harbour tours. The 2-hour long tour starts with an informative talk about the port, how the ships are loaded, and what the Seafarers Centre does before you get to go on a boat ride through the harbour of Port Hedland.
During the peak season (May to October) the Harbour tour starts at 9 AM on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. If you want to join a tour during the off-season, you have to contact the Port Hedland Seafarers Centre for harbour tour times.
There is also an FMG Port Facility Tour during which you can observe the ore loading process with all its steps. During the peak season, there are tours from Tuesday to Thursday. This tour starts at 12:30 PM.
Both the Harbour tour and the Port Facility Tour cost 55 AUD for adults, 30 AUD for children, and 46.50 AUD for seniors. There are also family discounts. If you want to join both tours, a combi ticket costs 99 AUD for adults, 54 AUD for children, and 84.10 AUD for seniors.
I have to admit that this activity would not be on my personal list of things to do in Port Hedland, as I discovered that I do not enjoy touring industrial places (unless they have been abandoned). However, it is one of the most popular activities in Port Hedland, so it felt wrong not to include it. If this is something you like to do, then you should definitely add it to your list of things to do in Port Hedland.
Port Hedland Visitor Centre
The opening times of the Port Hedland Visitor Centre are as follows: 9 AM to 5 PM from Monday to Friday and 9 AM to 3 PM on Saturday and Sunday. Go there to learn more about the area and to pick up a map for the self-guided street art tour or a map of all important locations in the historic West End of Port Hedland.
How to get to Port Hedland
If you want to visit Port Hedland, you can either drive there, take the bus, or even fly into Port Hedland International Airport.
Port Hedland is 604 km south of Broome, so it takes around 6 hours to drive there if you follow Highway 1 without stops. If you are coming from Perth, the total driving time along the coast is around 18 hours.
Due to these distances, it is best to visit Port Hedland during a road trip from Perth to Broome or just from Broome to Exmouth.
If you want to take the bus from Perth, the bus ride will take 28 hours and 50 minutes. Buses depart on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday.
If you want to avoid the long bus ride, you can catch a flight from Perth to Port Hedland. There are usually between 7 and 10 flights a day.
Trips from Port Hedland
80 Mile Beach (250 km)
80 Mile Beach is a white sandy beach with crystal clear water and can be considered one of the most amazing beaches of Western Australia. There are a lot of sharks in the water, so it is not a swimming beach, but it is ideal for long walks on the beach, finding colorful shells, and (catch and release) fishing.
It is also an ideal stop on the way to Broome, and you can stay at the ‘Eighty Mile Beach Caravan Park‘.
Karijini National Park (340 km)
This Australian hidden gem is ideal for outdoor lovers and those looking for a relaxing getaway in a beautiful environment.
Marble Bar (205 km)
Marble Bar became known as Australia’s hottest town back in the summer of 1923-1924. Be sure to visit this town, if you want to say that you have visited a town where the temperature was above 37.8°C (100°F) for 160 consecutive days.
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Port Hedland Accommodation
If free camping is not your thing or if you do not have a tent or camper, there are several accommodations in Port Hedland.
Port Hedland Discovery Park — The Discovery Park in the town of Port Hedland has beachfront access and is incredibly close to the Pretty Pool inlet. There are both cabins and powered campsites, so it is also a great option if you have a camper and want to stay in town.
Hospitality Port Hedland — Book a room at Hospitality Port Hedland and be only 2 minutes away from the beach.
Free Things to do in Port Hedland
- Visit Pretty Pool Park
- See the Staircase to the Moon
- Visit the ‘Courthouse Gallery + Studio’
- Watch Flatback Turtles Nest or Hatch
- Explore the Historic West End
- Marvel at the Street Art
- See the ‘Silver Star Cafe’ Train Carriage
- Relax at the Beach
- Free Camp at a nearby Station
- West End Markets
Roundup: Things to do in Port Hedland
You might be surprised just how many great free things to do in Port Hedland there are, as you would not expect it from an industrial port town. However, this list hopefully highlighted that there is more to Port Hedland than its industry and that this charming town is well worth a visit if you love art, history, or even nature.
Visiting Port Hedland is a great way to learn more about this rugged area of Western Australia, and I can only encourage you to visit this town when you make your way to the Pilbara region.
Planning to visit the town?
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