The port, completed in 1979, was originally called Hunterston Ore Terminal and was intended to handle iron ore for British Steel's Ravenscraig steelworks. Existing facilities on the River Clyde were unsuitable for increasingly large vessels, but Hunterston, with its one-mile long jetty, is able to handle modern ships of any size.
At the port, an overhead conveyor linked to two gantry cranes carries coal to a railhead on the Ayrshire Coast Line railway. Clydeport claim an unloading rate of 2400 tonnes of coal per hour. The conveyor is also linked to a ship loader which loads coal into smaller ships on the inner berth, this coal is transported to Manchester and Belfast amongst other places.
Among other users, coal from Hunterston Terminal supplies Longannet power station in Fife and the Drax power station in Yorkshire. The resulting coal traffic has been a major reason for the planned reopening of the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine rail link.
The nearest town is Fairlie.
On 31st December 2006, winds gusting up to 100 mph blew the North gantry crane from the South end of the jetty to the North end (approx 350m) in less than a minute. The unloader collided with the ship loader causing extensive damage. All operations at the terminal were suspended for a month in the summer of 2007 to carry out repairs and maintenance. This was the first maintenance break at Hunterston since its acquisition by Clydeport.