Tag Archives: iron ore

Port Hedland and Dampier

Thursday 19th and Friday 20th September 2013

This morning was a long, uneventful, drive into Port Hedland. By this time we were using cruise control and so passed the place of our speeding fine with an easy conscience.

HERE is our route and pictures of our route to, and within, Port Hedland. Open with Google Earth

Port Hedland1
Geological map of the Port Hedland area and our route from Eighty Mile Beach

In Port Hedland we booked a tour of the port, spotted a dentist and booked an appointment for later that afternoon.

The tour of the port was very disappointing. We were not allowed off the bus, could not get near the interesting bits such as the rail wagon unloader and I think I knew more about the nature of the business than the guide. She did not know the capacities of the boats or how fast they could be loaded. Photos from the bus were poor – the best I have got is of an ore carrier passing the end of the main street of Port Hedland.

Ore ship at the end of the street
Huge Chinese ore carrier at the end of the street. Note the sign for the dentist.

I suspect that the reason that they are so reticent is that relations between BHP and the people of Port Hedland are not very good. Many of the workers on the site fly in to Port Hedland, work for their shifts and fly out to spend their money in Perth.

Also the stacks of iron ore in the older part of the complex often cause dust problems and low level annoyance. BHP does not want to give any information which would cause them grief. But they are trying to move the dirty bits of the operation further away from the town.

Then off to the dentist where I had a replacement filling put in for A$255! Then to the camp site where, to celebrate my birthday, we hired a cabin which was very comfortable.

Then back downtown to have dinner at the Esplanade Hotel.

Friday 20th September

We left our comfortable chalet and went to the retail delights of Port Hedland – shopping and diesel at Woolworths. then a long and uneventful drive to Cossack.

HERE is our route from Port Hedland to Dampier via Cossack. Open with Google Earth

Geological map of an earlier part of our route from Port Hedland to Dampier
Pelican at Cossack wharf
A tame pelican at Cossack wharf

Cossack is an old, almost abandoned, settlement which was once a centre for the pearling industry. A dangerous business – the highlight of Cossack are the graveyards, one European and one Japanese. But the highlight for us was a tame pelican which posed shamelessly.

Geological map of the latter part of our route from Port Hedland to Dampier

Then we drove to Dampier where we found the smallest camp site of our trip. We were next to a guy from Victoria who was in the area looking for a job – he was a mechanic of some description. He thought he could get a job very easily but was more worried about finding some place to stay. The camp site had a rule that you could only stay for three nights and no returns for a week.

This was typical of the mining and oil and gas areas of WA. Most hotels are filled with workers who fly in for one or two weeks then fly back to Perth. In many cases what are described as hotels are really a collection of dressed up shipping containers.

(We did hear of a few workers who stayed in Bali and flew on the frequent tourist planes between Perth and Bali – only three hours. For the same money you can live a much more luxurious lifestyle in Bali than you can in Perth.)

Because many of these towns will be abandoned when the mine closes, there is a reluctance to provide permanent facilities, release land for house building and establish communities.

Iron ore loading at Dampier
The RTZ iron ore loading dock at Dampier. There are four ships here – they dock on both sides of the pier.

From the camp site we had a good view of the RTZ iron ore loading facilities. In the evening we saw a huge bulk carrier start being loaded. It was high in the water showing much of its underwater paint protection. When we got up next morning it was low in the water with hundred of thousands of tons of iron ore in its holds and getting ready to sail to China.

Iron ore loading at Dampier
Ship being loaded with iron ore at the RTZ pier at Dampier. Note another ship on the other side of the dock.

Our First Few Days – South of Newman to near Hickman Crater

We set off for Newman next morning with several objectives in mind:

  • Refuel
  • Fix Johns tyre
  • Get some groceries
  • Contact people in Perth and the UK
  • Tour the Mount Whaleback iron ore mine

We managed to do all of that although John’s tyre had to be replaced – heavy trucks and dirt roads are not kind to flat tyres.

The Mine Tour was interesting and extremely safe. The mine is huge with lots of big machines but we were not able to get anywhere near them. Even so we had hard hats, visibility vests and safety goggles.

Chris and Graeme and iron ore
Chris and Graeme fully equipped for our bus tour.


Broken Hill Propriety (BHP) is turning Mount Whaleback into Lake Whaleback. They should achieve it in 60 years. They are mining haematite from the Banded Iron Formation rocks (BIFs) in particular the Brockman Iron Formation. These are iron rich sediments which have been further enriched in iron content by surface waters percolating down. These pick up iron from the overlying rocks and redeposit it in places, making the rock an economic ore. And the ore can be 70% iron! Anything below 50% Fe is considered waste. This contrasts with grades of less than 40% Fe which used to be mined at Corby in the East of England.

The bus took us up to a lookout high above all the mining activity from which lots of stuff was pointed out. The lady in charge certainly knew her stuff! She bombarded us with statistics and information emphasising the size of the operation. It soon became apparent that was as close as we were going to get to anything moving. Still we were able to see a lot. I’m glad I had my telephoto lens!

This was once Mount Whaleback
A part of the Mount Whaleback mine not being currently worked.


This was once Mount Whaleback
A busier part of the mine – people working at the left edge, just above the railing.


Dumper trucks waiting to load
A close up of the “busy” part of the mine. Dumper trucks (240 tonners!) waiting to be loaded by a loader the top of which can be seen. Just in front can be seen vertical blast holes. These will be detonated to produce more broken rock to be loaded, processed and exported.


This was once Mount Whaleback
This was once a mountain. in 60 years or so it will be a rather deep lake.


Drilling blast holes
Blast holes being drilled. They also allow the grade of iron ore to be measured so that, by selective mining, a consistent grade can be produced.


Dumper trucks at work
Ore trucks on their way to the processing mill.


Mine buildings
This is where the mined ore is crushed, sized,sorted and prepared for shipping. On the left can be seen the train loader. The train goes through the hill and is loaded in the middle. The ore is supplied by the conveyor belt coming from the right.


Chris with the big wheel
Some indication of the size of the machines: Chris next to a tyre from a dumper truck.


Back at the visitor centre we completed our tasks and got permits to drive along the road next to the railway taking ore to Port Hedland. Here it was just a formality. This not always so – RTZ at Mount Tom Price make a BIG DEAL about it.

At Poondal Siding we headed south and after driving along bad tracks came to the Punda aboriginal art site. Here the petroglyphs are on dolerite boulders which are scattered over the hillside.

The Punda dyke
Julie at the Punda Aboriginal Art site


Aboriginal art at Punda
Aboriginal art at Punda


Aboriginal art at Punda
Aboriginal art at Punda


Aboriginal art
Aboriginal Art at Punda


I must admit Aboriginal Art does not do much for me, but lots of people tell me that I am wrong.  I don’t like graffiti either, so perhaps I am doomed.

We then set off for the Hickman Crater. This was discovered in 2006 by Arthur Hickman, a senior geologist with the Western Australian Geological Survey. He found it when browsing Google Earth preparatory for heading into the bush and he saw this:-

Hickman Crater
The Hickman Crater as seen in Google Earth.


Later  site visits confirmed that it was an impact crater. It is interpreted as a meteorite striking a valley side. The open side of the crater was valley and here the debris was flung across the valley and did not leave the crater edge seen on the other sides.

The name of the crater has not been settled as it not acceptable to name a feature after a living person, but I am sure a suitable name will emerge.

At the Hickman Crater
Hickman Crater – the open side and the crater walls.


At the Hickman Crater
The crater walls


After rummaging about the crater floor looking for meteorite bits, we set off to find a place to camp.

And found the best camp site of our trip.

Our best wild camp site
Our best wild camp site


We reckoned there was no one within twenty miles of us – it was certainly very quiet.

Newman Map
The 1:250,00- Geological Map of the Newman Area, with some localities and GPS tracks added.Click on the map and you will be transported to the map on Flickr. Click on the three dots at the bottom right, then on “View all sizes”. This takes you to a page offering a variety of sizes for download. The “Original” size will download the map at full size with my additions.

 HERE is today’s route and photos.Open with Google Earth.