Cruise passengers dig iron ore port stopover

It's currently home to the world's largest bulk tonnage export port, and now the Pilbara town of Port Hedland is working towards another title.

Community leaders, including Mayor Kelly Howlett, want to cement the iron ore town as the next 'it' tourist destination.

"I feel we are the 'it' destination right now, and certainly that's why people are coming and cruise ships are keen to come," she said.

Four such ships have docked at Hedland since last year with the first arriving last October.

The idea was first floated by cruise ship company, Intercruises.

Passenger Kerryn Watson, from Sydney, says she was quite impressed by the mining town.

"We opened up our curtains and we saw the most amazing sight," she said.

"We haven't been to a working port, we don't know much about the iron ore industry so we got to see this really interesting red, barren, dusty, hard working port." Kerryn's husband, Phillip says it was a great stopover.

"To see a part of the world like this which is the largest producing iron ore port in Australia," he said.

"It's a matter of having a look at the local community, and in terms of what it's like to live here, to go into town and probably have a drink at the pub that would be a good thing." Niche market Ms Howlett says the arrival of the first cruise ship marked an important moment for the town.

"We were celebrating that day as a day like securing the Olympics", she said.

The mayor says it's the perfect scenario for a town struggling with accommodation shortages because the visitors bring their own beds.

"We are very strong in terms of wanting to support tourism but when there isn't accommodation or space in the caravan parks for tourists to come and stay then it makes it very difficult," she said.

"But, this is one niche market we can cater for and do very well." In the past two weeks alone, Hedland has welcomed two cruise liners, "Radiance of the Seas" and the town's largest cruise ship to date, "Voyager of the Seas." The ships came from Bali and Singapore respectively, bringing a total of nearly 7,500 passengers and crew.

The town has been bustling with locals hosting mine tours, market stalls and entertainment for the thousands of guests.

The passengers encounter, at close proximity, the port operations associated with the mines.

The visitors can also choose to take a tour of the BHP Billiton iron ore Nelson Point operation where they can see the iron ore trains arrive, the unloading of the trains and the ship loading operations.

Local impact Locals say it's an exciting opportunity for the mining town.

Annelies Oldham has been involved in the latest cruise ship visits, selling her Mexican food at the markets, which are put on for cruise ship guests.

"It's really, really cool actually," she said.

"I've only been here for two years now but I have seen it grow and over the past two years more and more people are coming here, especially during the winter months.

"I think a lot of the people in town are doing a really great job of putting events together, such as the markets and the gallery spaces.

"Restaurants are really picking up their game and offering a great service and a great place to go for people who are from different countries from all around the world and coming to a small tiny, little, rusty, dusty town like Port Hedland.

"Seeing that develop over the past couple of years has been great." The Port Hedland Port Authority's CEO Roger Johnston says cruise ship are a spectacular contrast to the bulk carriers busy loading their cargo at the port.

He says another three cruise ships are already scheduled to arrive early next year.

"The PHPA is eager to facilitate additional cruise ships to the port," he said.

"[They] not only enhance local tourism and economic benefits to the town but also give tourists a chance to see firsthand the operations of one of the world's busiest ports." Kelly Howlett agrees the cruise ship stopovers are a major coup for locals.

"It's the flow on benefits to the small business, community organisations, the markets, the arts and culture," she said.

"Also, we find that we actually then get repeat visits so when people have more time, they will hitch up the caravan and come and spend longer, or family members will come up through employment processes as well." Economic benefit Ms Howlett says the economic benefits of the cruise liners stopping at the port are being assessed.

"We are still collating the data from surveys and that will give us a better indication of the actual spend and what people do when they do come here, and the attractions they are wanting to see," she said.

"But, based on what other cruise ship destination towns in WA receive, there is a potential contribution for the economy of around $2 million [per annum].

Ms Howlett says that figure is based on a study conducted in Broome about what cruise ship passengers do when they arrive and what they spend.

"We are doing our very own survey at the moment to see if those results the Broome Chamber of Commerce obtained are able to be applied to our situation here," she said.

Perth passenger Betty Stanley says she was a bit sceptical at first but Port Hedland proved an enjoyable experience.

"I thought why would we want to call into Port Hedland but I got a surprise, it's wonderful," she said.

"I think I may have gone through here about 20 odd years ago and well I wouldn't know it was Port Hedland anymore, it's beautiful."

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