Macleay River

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

The Macleay River is situated on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. It is a large barrier river with a permanently open, trained entrance. It is the fourth largest coastal river in New South Wales.

The Macleay River and its tributaries, aptly named the Wild Rivers, crash and fall through rugged and mountainous terrain in the Great Dividing Range. Further downstream a large estuarine zone supports diverse assemblages of vegetation communities, including wetlands in the Clybucca Creek estuary that are listed in the Australian Directory of Important Wetlands.

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 the Queensland border and Taree every 3 years. The most recent sampling in the Macleay River was completed over the 2018–19 summer when 2 sites were sampled on a monthly basis.

Macleay 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 'excellent' and water clarity is rated 'excellent' giving an overall rating of 'excellent' or 'A'.

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 excellent with:

  • algae abundance graded excellent (A)
  • water clarity graded excellent (A)
  • overall estuary health graded excellent (A).

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 Macleay River since 2009. This table shows the water quality grades for this estuary over that time.

Macleay River historic water quality grades from 2009-10 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) –30.87
Longitude (ºE) 153.03
Catchment area (km2) 11,287
Estuary area (km2) 31.6
Estuary volume (ML) 70,235.2
Average depth (m) 2.6

Tidal exchange volume

Tidal exchange volume and tidal prism data is available for this estuary. This tidal prism was measured in 2003.

Tide state Flow
(106 m3)
Local tidal
range (m)
Sydney Harbour
tidal range (m)
Ebb flow 16.48 1.39 1.68
Flood flow 16.65 1.38 1.71
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 Macleay River flows from the agriculture-dominated Northern Tablelands through a rugged and sparsely populated mid-catchment. The wider valleys of the lower catchment are used for livestock grazing, agriculture and dairying. Grazing accounts for over half of land use within the catchment, and forest accounts for around 40% of land use. Major towns in the catchment are Armidale, Walcha and Kempsey.

Water use

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

South West Rocks and Macleay River web cam

The South West Rocks and Macleay River web camera provides real-time video of conditions within the river entrance immediately offshore to help with bar crossings and boat safety.

National and marine parks

Community involvement

  • The Macleay Landcare Network coordinates a range of projects in the Macleay Valley to help protect and enhance the natural environment.

Local government management

Local councils manage estuaries within their area unless the estuary is attached to a marine park. Kempsey Shire Council manage this estuary and have. Many relevant publications and information are available on their Macleay River Estuary webpage.