Hunter River (New South Wales)

The Hunter River (Wonnarua: Coquun) is a major river in New South Wales, Australia. The Hunter River rises in the Liverpool Range and flows generally south and then east, reaching the Tasman Sea at Newcastle, the second largest city in New South Wales and a major harbour port. Its lower reaches form an open and trained mature wave dominated barrier estuary.[5]

Hunter River
Coquon P.T.O., First Hunter Creek, Coal River[1]
Ship entering the mouth of the Hunter River at Newcastle
EtymologyIn honour of John Hunter[1]
Native nameCoquun
StateNew South Wales
RegionNSW North Coast (IBRA), Sydney Basin (IBRA), Hunter
Local government areasUpper Hunter, Dungog, Maitland, Muswellbrook, Singleton, Port Stephens
Major settlements and townsAberdeen, Muswellbrook, Denman, Jerrys Plains, Singleton, Maitland, Morpeth, Raymond Terrace., Newcastle
Physical characteristics
SourceMount Royal Range, Liverpool Range
  locationwithin Barrington Tops National Park, Upper Hunter
  elevation1,420 m (4,660 ft)
MouthTasman Sea
between Nobbys Head and Stockton
32.92°S 151.79°E / -32.92; 151.79
0 m (0 ft)
Length300 km (190 mi)[2]
Basin size21,367 km2 (8,250 sq mi)[2]
Basin features
  leftMoonan Brook, Stewarts Brook, Paterson River, Williams River
  rightPages Creek, Pages River, Goulburn River, Wollombi Brook
National parkBarrington Tops NP

Course and features

The Hunter River rises on the western slopes of Mount Royal Range, part of the Liverpool Range, within Barrington Tops National Park, east of Murrurundi, and flows generally northwest and then southwest before being impounded by Lake Glenbawn; then flowing southwest and then east southeast before reaching its mouth of the Tasman Sea,[1] in Newcastle between Nobbys Head and Stockton. The river is joined by ten tributaries upstream of Lake Glenbawn; and a further thirty-one tributaries downstream of the reservoir. The main tributaries are the Pages, Goulburn, Williams and the Paterson rivers and the Moonan, Stewarts and Wollombi brooks. East of Hexham, the river splits into two main channels, separated by the Ramsar-protected Kooragang Wetlands that feeds Milham Ponds, Wader Pond, Swan Pond and a series of smaller wetland pondages. The southern arm of the river also creates Hexham Island, while the northern creaters Smiths Island and flows in Fullerton Cove. The two channels converge at Walsh Point, reaching confluence with Throsby Creek adjacent to the Newcastle central business district, before reaching the river mouth. The Hunter River descends 1,397 m (4,583 ft) over its 468 km (291 mi) course from the high upper reaches, through the Hunter Valley, and out to sea.[3]

The Hunter River is subject to substantial flooding, which Glenbawn Dam, near Scone, was constructed to ameliorate. Major floods have occurred on the Hunter including the flood of 1955 that caused devastation to townships along the river, especially Maitland. Severe flooding again occurred in June 2007 and again in 2015.

Towns along the Hunter River, from upstream to downstream, include Aberdeen, Muswellbrook, Denman, Jerrys Plains, Singleton, Maitland, Morpeth, and Raymond Terrace.

At Hexham, the river is transversed by the Pacific Highway; while at Singleton and again at Aberdeen, the river is crossed by the New England Highway; and the Golden Highway crosses the river to the north and to the southeast of Denman.

Hunter Valley

The Hunter Valley is one of the best routes to the interior of the state with access relatively unimpeded by mountains and other obstacles. It is the largest area of relatively low-lying land near the coast of New South Wales, and owing to the shielding by rugged ranges to its north, is much drier than any other coastal region of the state. Annual rainfall ranges from 1,100 mm (43 in) at Newcastle to only 640 mm (25 in) at Merriwa and Scone in the upper reaches. In the driest years rainfall can be as low as 600 mm (24 in) at Newcastle and 375 mm (15 in) in the upper valley.

Around the Barrington Tops on the northern side of the valley, however, annual precipitation can be as high as 2,000 mm (79 in), not all of which falls as rain since July temperatures are often below 0 °C (32 °F). In the lower areas, summer maxima are usually around 27 °C (81 °F) and winter maxima around 16 °C (61 °F).

Except for the driest parts of Tasmania and a small area of the Monaro between Cooma and Nimmitabel, the Hunter Valley is the southern limit of rich "black earths" (actually black cracking clays). These are the only soils in all of Australia with reasonable levels of soluble phosphorus, with the result that upstream from Singleton very rich pasture land with many thoroughbred horse studs occurs. Around Merriwa and south of Singleton, the soils are very infertile sands more typical of Australia as a whole, and the dominant land use is extensive grazing.

Parts of the Hunter Valley are important for grape growing and wine producing. The Hunter Valley is also one of Australia's most important coal mining areas. The Hunter River is threatened by drought, climate change and proposed loss of water due to coal mining. The region is also favoured by thoroughbred horse breeders and stud farms.


The Hunter River has been inhabited for thousands of years by the Wonnarua Aboriginal people, who called it the Coquun (/kˈkwɪn/), meaning "fresh water". The Lower Hunter River nearer to the coast is the traditional country of the Awabakal people. Both groups spoke a similar language.

The river was first settled by European explorers in the 1790s. In June 1796 fishermen sheltering from bad weather discovered coal there, and the river was initially called Coal River. In 1797 it was formally named the Hunter, after Captain John Hunter who was Governor of the British colony in New South Wales at that time.[1][6]

Between 1826 and 1836 convicts built the 264 km (164 mi) long Great North Road that links Sydney to the Hunter Region.[7]

See also


  1. "Hunter River". Geographical Names Register (GNR) of NSW. Geographical Names Board of New South Wales. Retrieved 22 March 2013.
  2. "Estuaries of NSW: Hunter River". NSW Environment & Heritage. Government of New South Wales. 26 April 2012. Retrieved 22 March 2013.
  3. "Map of Hunter River (1), NSW". Bonzle Digital Atlas of Australia. Retrieved 22 March 2013.
  4. "Map of Hunter River (2), NSW". Bonzle Digital Atlas of Australia. Retrieved 22 March 2013.
  5. Roy, P. S; Williams, R. J; Jones, A. R; Yassini, I; et al. (2001). "Structure and Function of South-east Australian Estuaries". Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science. 53: 351–384. doi:10.1006/ecss.2001.0796.
  6. Clark, Manning (1981). "Chapter 8". A History of Australia. 1 (reprint ed.). ISBN 0-522-84008-6.
  7. "The Convict Trail Project".
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