The first glimpse of the Hunter River for Maitland is as it winds into the historic town of Morpeth, which was once one of the busiest trade ports in NSW. Visitors can relive this voyage into Morpeth from Newcastle with tours scheduled regularly by local tour company Nova Cruises.
The river then meanders from Morpeth and into Central Maitland providing a perfect backdrop to the city. The link from the city to the river makes for an ideal stroll that captures the historic architecture dotted along the city’s High Street before looping back along the river bank.
Maitland’s relationship with the Hunter River has been one of give and take. On one hand the river and surrounds have provided a rich natural resource and a significant passage of transport and trade as the city was established. But it has also shown its devastating worst with major flooding occurring throughout Maitland’s history, none more confronting than in 1955 which is etched in the folklore of the city.
Most kids who grow up in Maitland will have fond memories of the Hunter River. Countless generations have used rope swings to launch themselves into the water. Getting older, bike rides or strolls replaced the swimming. Then there’s people like Tom Lantry, who can’t stay away.
‘As kids we always used to have a drum net in the river, so that was good fun, going down every afternoon and pulling your drum out to see what was in there.
‘The river is very close to my heart. I was born on the farms in Phoenix Park and as kids we used to swim in the river every weekend’.
Although Tom Lantry’s days of river swimming and drum net casting may be long behind him, now, as the president of Maitland City Offshore Fishing Club, Tom has found another link to his beloved river. So if you visit the river foreshore don’t be surprised if you run into Tom with a rod in his hand.
The city’s connection to the river also provides a great place for the community to come together. Each year in early October the community’s diversity is celebrated as part of the Riverlights Multicultural Festival which culminates on the banks of the Hunter River with a floating lantern display. Then on New Year’s Eve the community again meets at the same location to welcome in the New Year with a fireworks display.
The river and city is steeped in history and to ensure it firmly remains a part of life in Maitland a series of plans are in progress that will reconnect the city to its former lifeblood. Improvements are being made to the wharves, access points and surrounding facilities, bringing visitors back to its side. If you are looking to take advantage and spend a day on the water then head to Lorn or Queens Wharf in Morpeth for easy access points to the river.
Maitland is also home to the Hunter River Dragons a local Dragon Boat club and the Endeavour Rowing Club that both meet regularly and are always looking for new members. With canoes, kayaks and dragonboats adding to the scene, the river’s popularity speaks for itself.
In an effort to build on this popularity, a multi million dollar renovation of The Levee precinct is underway and will see the construction of a new river link building that will open Central Maitland to the Hunter River, further strengthening the existing bond for generations of locals and visitors for years to come.