Our Rivers
majestic and magical

Each of the four featured rivers of the Mid North Coast has its own distinct stories they also have many common themes which have become intertwined to create our shared values and a sense of place.

Long before European settlement the rivers were (and still are) central to the life of the first inhabitants of the local Biripai and Dunghutti nations. While evidence of such occupation in the lower reaches of the rivers remains and obviously reflects their importance as a source of food and meeting places evidence suggests a wider distribution of Aboriginals in areas such as on the upper terraces of the Macleay and its tributary the Apsley River.

There is a shared history of early exploration by Europeans and particularly the travels of NSW Surveyor General, John Oxley in the 1820’s who used local rivers as key markers and points of access to unknown lands. Following his work the role of “government” in establishing penal and government towns on the rivers established a framework of both future government and settlement patterns. From the 1820’s to the 1840’s the Mid North Coast and its rivers were “new frontiers”

Following this colonial government phase of settlement although still linked to it was period when timber cutters were encouraged into the region with the initial promise of gold being the many stands of magnificent red cedar. This industry changed the watershed areas of the rivers and was also the first major use of the rivers as “arterial highways. Right across the lands of the four rivers timber mills sprung up with logs and timber being transported down the rivers to distant markets.

Once land was cleared of the rich timber resources or areas set aside for forestry (still important today) the land began to be used for agriculture. Although many types of farming were tried from vineyards and sugar cane to various orchard crops it was dairying and pastoral farming that became dominant and so started an era when milk, butter and cream were the new prize and the rivers remained the main form of transport leaving a rich heritage and many stories.

The use of the river for transport changed with the coming of the railway into the region from 1914 onwards followed by the development of new roads and an increasing ability to build bigger and better bridges. The focus across the region began to change from up and down the river to crossing the river. Such a change resulted in upstream settlements and townships across the region losing key roles and the focus shifted to more coastal locations on each river.

With this changing focus to downstream and the coastal settlements of the regions rivers the natural qualities of each river has regained an important place. For many of the lower reaches and coastal towns tourism became a major activity and this has allowed a focus once again on nature and a more benign use of the rivers for a wide range of related recreational opportunities.


Camden Haven River

The Camden Haven River starts high up on the Great Escarpment and the Comboyne Plateau at an elevation of 698m and flows east through state forests and fertile valleys for its relatively short length of 72.4 kilometres. As it meanders through historic townships and districts such as Lorne and Kendall it is a small but very scenic river that then broadens dramatically as it reaches the Pacific Highway, the first place many travellers actually see the river. It then becomes part of an expansive waterways system flowing through Watson Taylors Lake before travelling to the township of Laurieton where it joins with water from Queens Lake before its broad calm waters travel by North Haven and Dunbogan to enter the Pacific Ocean at Camden Head.

In early colonial times it was an important transport route for the red cedar timber trade and later farming ventures but todays its value is in the activities that take place on the river of fishing, boating and kayaking and recreational use of surrounding national parks and State Forests.

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Hastings River

The Hastings River rises in the Great Dividing Range in the surrounding Oxley Wild Rivers National Park and Werrikimbe National Park and flows generally south, southeast and east, joined by seven tributaries including the Tobins, Forbes, Ellenborough, Pappinbarra and Thone rivers, before reaching its mouth at Port Macquarie.

The river descends 1,040 metres over its 180 kilometres course.

The upper course of the river flows adjacent to the settlements of Ellenborough, Long Flat, Beechwood, Wauchope but is its lower reaches that are best known indeed have been since the river was first charted by European explorers in 1818, after its discovery by John Oxley. His explorations also led to the establishment of Port Macquarie as a penal settlements in the 1820’s providing strong foundations for a major settlement from the 1840’s and free settlement.

The connection of the river as a port and to primary industry in its hinterland has also had the additional one element in the last hundred years or so of oyster farming. Today combined with a very strong tourism sector the place of the Hastings River remains central to the identity and future of the Port Macquarie Hastings region.

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Manning River

The Manning is one of Australia’s few large river systems not to be dammed for water supply purposes anywhere along its 261km length. The river starts at an elevation of nearly 1500 metres in the area of the Barrington Tops area and Backwater Creek one of the 10 creeks and rivers that eventually flow into and form the Manning River. It flows through remote rural lands for much of its upper catchment touching only small townships such as Mount George before becoming a significant river flowing through Wingham. This picturesque town of nearly 5000 was chosen in the 1840’s as a location for a government settlement because supply boats could not proceed any further up the Manning River. The river continues its journey past Tinonee also established in 1856 as a government town. Once the river reaches Taree, now the largest town on the river with a population of around 20,000 it splits and the southern arm flows into the Pacific Ocean at Old Bar. The northern arm is joined by the Dawson River and the Landsdowne River and meets the ocean at Harrington. Indeed the Manning River is the only double delta river in the southern Hemisphere and the only permanent multiple entrance river in the world other than the Nile in Egypt.

Historically, the Manning River became the economic lifeblood of the region as a transport link for timber and agricultural products to Sydney. Today its importance is more to do with recreation and tourism offering local residents and visitors the opportunity to use and enjoy the river for simple leisure activities. It was deemed a recreational fishing area in 2001 with 150km of saltwater estuary and many more of fresh water in the Manning River system.

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Macleay River

Formed by the confluence of the Gara River, Salisbury Waters and Bakers Creek, the Macleay River rises east of Uralla within the Great Dividing Range. The river flows to the sea east by south, joined by twenty-six tributaries including the Apsley, Chandler, and Dyke rivers. By the time it reaches the ocean at South West Rocks it will have travelled 298 kilometres. The Macleay River is said to be the second fastest running river in the world. In its upper reaches it passes through some rugged landscapes and gorges creating spectacular waterfalls in the Cunnawarra and Oxley Wild Rivers National Parks.

However it is its lower reaches that are most known and which have generated townships and a range of economic activities. The river flows adjacent to the city of Kempsey and has been ever present with a number of major flood episodes affecting Kempsey and downstream areas. This area and its problems have been ameliorated by the construction of variety of works including the opening in 2014 of the Macleay River Bridge, the longest road bridge in Australia. It is this downstream flood plain area that has seen the greatest links over time between the river and supporting townships. Visiting places today such as Frederickton, Gladstone, Smithtown and Jerseyville provides an insight into these strong connections to the river, past and present.

The township at the mouth of the River today, South West Rocks has its own distinct history. When Europeans arrived in the area around the 1820s the river mouth was just south of Grassy Head, and almost a mile wide with a sand spit in the middle. The small town of Stuarts Point was established on the river just inside to serve arriving ships. The area from Grassy Head to what is now South West Rocks was a wide delta with various channels connected to the river. In 1893 a flood enlarged an opening near South West Rocks and the Government of the day decided to improve that opportunity, called New Entrance. Work on the new entrance commenced in April 1896, improving the channel and adding training walls. A new pilot station was built in 1902, establishing the town of South West Rocks. Work was completed in 1906. Today the old mouth has silted up. South West Rocks and the nearby Trial Bay Goal are today a popular tourism destination with a focus on coastal and heritage tourism experiences.

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