A few facts about Maitland
Around 80,000 people live in the Maitland City Council area. The town was established in 1820 and is about 170 km north of Sydney via the M1 Motorway and the New England Highway. It’s in the middle of the “Hunter Valley”.
Being a very easy drive from Sydney, the Hunter Valley is a popular tourist destination. Why? There are a LOT of vineyards with many of Australia’s premium wineries based here including Tyrells and Brokenwood to name two. In addition, the coastline is studded with spectacular beaches, lakes and inlets. Paradoxically, cheek by jowl with the wineries are several large coal mines and power stations which bring down the ambience a notch or two.
Maitland is built right on the edge of the Hunter River. It is frequently affected by floods. A levee and other flood mitigation works have reduced the impact of floods and it takes a LOT of water to cause the level of inundation seen in July 2022. (Thank you La Nina!)
Flood strikes Maitland (again)
Early July 2022 was perhaps not the best time to be in Maitland. The Hunter River had burst its banks, and parts of the town were submerged under several metres of muddy brown water. The levee was holding – but only just. The New England Highway was closed at Singleton. I was there, not as a tourist, but doing my bit in the “flood cell” as a volunteer with the NSW SES.
My role was to support operations in the back rooms of the Incident Control Centre, answering phones, entering data into the computer and helping out where I could. The real action in the flood boats, was happening outside. Trained flood rescue operators from NSW Fire and Rescue, Police, NSW SES, NSW Surf Lifesaving clubs were putting themselves at risk to rescue those who were trapped by the rapidly rising river. As the days progressed they were called upon to rescue stupid people who drove into flood water thinking they could get across. (No, you can’t! Modern cars are more or less water-tight and float very well even in as little as 15 cm of water) They were also helping farmers relocate stock that had become trapped by flood waters. Thankfully there were many willing interstate crews at the ready to relieve the already exhausted locals. It’s important to remember while some of these people are in paid roles, many more are volunteers who take time out to help their communities.
Life continues despite the flood and people have babies, heart attacks and other medical emergencies. Flooded roads mean that the ambulance service can’t access the patients so the flood crews are called in again, lights and sirens blazing, to ferry the patient to the ambulance or the other way around as the case may be.
Out and About in Maitland
I was assigned to the night shift, so had time in the early afternoon (after a kip) to have a look around the mostly deserted CBD area. Most of the shops were closed because people were unable to enter the town. In my lonely walks down High Street, I saw lots of interesting buildings, street art, cute cafes, and amazing Op shops. One thing is for certain, I’ll be going back to Maitland (by train!) when the flood recedes and the town is BAU.
High Street, the main street through the Maitland CBD, is a “melting pot” of different architectural styles. There are many well-preserved buildings from the 1860s. I enjoyed the snippets of street art I did find and I’m sure there are lots of other murals I did not get a chance to discover. The Levee area has many cafes that nestle up to the river. I am sure the ambience is lovely when the Hunter is not a torrent of mud and debris! There are Art Deco pubs a-plenty.
I stayed at the very eclectic Mecure Hotel Mone Pio – a converted convent. I’m not really sure what decor vibe they are trying to hit but the room was comfortable and quiet.
The return trip
When I head back to Maitland I’ll be checking out:
- The Maitland Regional Art Gallery,
- The Maitland Gaol Museum
- The Heritage Walks
- Going back to The Rigby, Coquun and CJ’s on the Levee for a more leisurely meal
- The four BIG Op shops to snap up some sustainable bargains
Have a look at the My Maitland website for itineraries and suggestions for things to do.
It’s an easy train ride from Sydney and Maitland and I think there is enough to do within walking distance from the train station to keep you busy for a couple of days without the car.
This is the second post in my series Snapshots of NSW.
Maitland was and always will be the traditional land of its custodians the Wonnarua people.