February 16, 2023
6 mins Read
Now that we’re travelling freely again after two years, it’s time to head to Grafton in the NSW Northern Rivers region this spring, and go purple.
This year you have double the reason to visit Grafton, because the town has rolled out a new way to experience Jacaranda season. The incredible evening experience, Illuminate, allows you to admire the trees in See Park while they’re spot-lit to stunning effect daily from dusk to 10:30pm. Illuminated sculptures floating on the pond bring additional sparkle that kids – and the young at heart – love.
Everyone is out and about, enjoying the warm evenings with friends and family, soaking up the spectacle of pale purple trees against a deep purple sky and tapping their toes to the live music. Events take place in the park on opening night (20 October this year) and on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings during the Jacaranda Festival. But bring a picnic any night – Grafton has a great array of emporiums and delis that supply fresh regional fare – to sit under a glowing purple canopy and enjoy a romantic meal. Or just lie back, do nothing, and watch purple petals drift down like confetti.
You’ll want to capture some classic jacaranda images with your camera or phone, and with so many trees grouped together, See Park is the place for the best results. Now that the jacarandas are illuminated at night you can get great evenings shots too. Get your inspiration by searching #MyClarenceValley and #GraftonJacarandas on Instagram, and see if you can go one better with your own photos. You might want to capture a perfect purple tunnel of trees, reflections in water, a single blossoming branch against the sky, or your friends and family under the blooms (if they have suitable matching outfits, even better).
Illuminate is far from the only way to enjoy the jacarandas. Their blooming is the perfect reason for a celebration, and Grafton’s quirky, delightfully retro and always fun Jacaranda Festival offers an abundance of events. The locals go purple crazy at this time of year: you can drink a festive Purple Punch, enjoy purple ice cream and smoothies, and join locals in wearing purple leis on Jacaranda Thursday. You won’t look out of place if you wear purple clothes, either.
The jacarandas generally start blooming in mid-October, and by early November the blossoms are forming lilac carpets on the footpaths. Most jacarandas are a vivid blue-mauve, although a couple are white (see if you can find them as you walk around town).
These amazing trees are native to South America but were first planted in Grafton in 1879. Hundreds were planted throughout town over the following decade and, as jacarandas live upwards of 200 years, most of the originals are still around. There are now around 1700 jacarandas framing parks and pathways and lining street after street.
Among the top purple patches are Market Square, where the Clock Tower is decorated with a festive crown of lights, and Pound, Turf, Dobie and Prince streets. If Prince Street gets you breaking into Purple Rain, don’t worry, as everyone else does it too.
Across the river in South Grafton, the Gwydir Highway is also lined with jacarandas. While you’re over there, explore South Grafton’s recycled clothing stores and laidback cafes, and admire the colourful street murals.
Incidentally, jacarandas aren’t the only incredible trees in Grafton. The immense fig trees along Breimba Street form a stunning green arch and are National Trust-listed, and the town is filled with wonderful golden trumpet trees, silky oaks and cape chestnuts. Flame trees bloom at the same time as the jacarandas, creating a startling scarlet-red contrast in photos.
You’ll also want to hit the heritage trail to check out the town’s glorious Victorian- and Edwardian-era architecture, including the landmark cathedral, mighty gaol, gorgeous turreted post office, and historic pubs draped in lacy verandahs.
Then admire the art at Grafton Regional Gallery, which has works from significant Australian artists including the always popular JADA (Jacaranda Acquisitive Drawing Award) exhibition. You’ll also find the My Clarence Valley Visitor Information Centre in the gallery, where you can grab a coffee and a Jacaranda Map, as well as jacaranda-themed souvenirs in the gift shop. At sunset, before you head on to the illuminations, Grafton Bridge (or Bendy Bridge to locals) is the place to be for sunset over the river.
You’ll want to stay overnight to see Illuminate and make the most of the jacarandas – or make that several overnights, because this region encourages life in the slow lane: think long walks, pub lunches, afternoon teas with river views, and fishing at sunset. The Clarence Valley has abundant accommodation options, from campsites to self-contained holiday apartments, boutique hotels, B&Bs and luxury resorts.
Grafton may be the region’s prime jacaranda territory but you have plenty of reasons to explore further. Yamba, superbly situated at the mouth of the Clarence River amid a maze of waterways, has great beaches, surfing and a buzzing dining scene, including great seafood.
For heritage charm and contemporary arts, culture and dining, consider Ulmarra, which is also a magnificent spot for boating and fishing on the river. Iluka and Wooli are surrounded by stunning coastline and national parkland and make a great base for those who love kayaking, fishing, paddle boarding, swimming and hiking.
Charming Maclean, cooled by salty sea breezes, has a fascinating Scottish heritage – you might find your own family tartan pole among the 200 hand-painted poles round town – as well as great walks that lead into rolling farmland and subtropical rainforest. Nip up to Maclean Lookout for a panorama that showcases the beauty of the Clarence Valley; it’s sure to make you smile.
Jacaranda season runs from 20 October – 10 November 2022.
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Wife and I live in Mildura and along Deacon Ave we too have Jacaranda trees plus some in around Mildura. They are a very beautiful tree when in full bloom.