Hunter River

Our water quality monitoring program has shown the Hunter River estuary to have poor water quality. Find out more about the estuary and its unique features.

The Hunter River estuary is situated on the Hunter coast of New South Wales. It is a large barrier river estuary and contains the extensive internationally recognised Hunter Estuary Wetlands.

The Hunter River begins in the Barrington Tops and flows around 460 kilometres to its entrance at Newcastle. It drains the third largest coastal catchment in New South Wales. The Hunter River is a major hub of industrial and export activity.

Estuary health and features

Water quality

As part of our water quality monitoring program we assess the water quality and ecosystem health of an estuary using a range of relevant indicators. We sample a subset of the estuaries located between Taree and Wollongong every 3 years. The most recent sampling in the Hunter River was completed over the 2019–20 summer when 2 sites were sampled on a monthly basis.

Hunter River water quality report card for algae and water clarity showing colour-coded ratings (red, orange, yellow, light green and dark green, which represent very poor, poor, fair, good and excellent, respectively). Algae is rated 'good' and water clarity is rated 'fair' giving an overall rating of 'fair' or 'C'.

This report card represents 2 water quality indicators that we routinely measure: the amount of algae present and water clarity. Low levels of these 2 indicators equate with good water quality.

The report card shows the condition of the estuary was fair with:

  • algae abundance graded good (B)
  • water clarity graded fair (C)
  • overall estuary health graded poor (C).

Find out more about our estuary report cards and what each grade means. Read our sampling, data analysis and reporting protocols and find out how we calculate these grades.

We have monitored water quality in the Hunter river since 2010. This table shows the water quality grades for this estuary over that time.

Hunter River historic water quality grades from 2010-11 for algae and water clarity. Colour-coded ratings (red, orange, yellow, light green and dark green represent very poor (E), poor (D), fair (C), good (B) and excellent (A), respectively).

Grades for algae, water clarity and overall are represented as:

  • A – excellent
  • B – good
  • C – fair
  • D – poor
  • E – very poor.

Physical characteristics

Estuary type: Barrier river

Latitude (ºS) –32.91
Longitude (ºE) 151.8
Catchment area (km2) 21,367
Estuary area (km2) 47
Estuary volume (ML) 137,089.4
Average depth (m) 3.3

Tidal exchange volume

Tidal exchange volume or tidal prism data is available for this estuary. This tidal prism was measured in 1998. 

Tide state Flow
(106 m3)
Local tidal
range (m)
Sydney Harbour
tidal range (m)
Ebb flow 29.2 1.42 1.36
Flood flow 26.8 1.41 1.37
Notes: km2 = square kilometres; m = metres; m3 = cubic metres; ML = megalitres.

Water depth and survey data

Bathymetric and coastal topography data for this estuary are available in our data portal.

Land use

The Hunter River catchment has been heavily disturbed with most of the middle and lower catchment having been cleared. Less than 40% of the catchment remains forested, a lot of which is protected in the western sections of the catchment. The dominant land use within the catchment is beef and dairy production. Mining, industry and urban areas make up the remainder of land use.

Water use

Find out about water use in the Hunter catchment, including information about major water users, real-time flow data, and environmental and water sharing plans.

National and marine parks

  • Wollemi National Park is the largest conservation area in this catchment.
  • This estuary does not flow into a marine park

Community involvement

The Hunter Region Landcare Network provide resources and links to local landcare groups within the Hunter River region. The network helps co-ordinate volunteers who work to manage and protect the local natural environment.

Hunter River

Local government management

Local councils manage estuaries within their area unless the estuary is attached to a marine park. Newcastle City Council manage this estuary. More information about the Hunter River estuary can be found on the council’s Hunter River webpage.