Jacaranda Time in Grafton NSW


12 November, 2018

Today I set off with my Sydney friend, Barb, for a few days exploring Grafton and the beautiful jacaranda trees.  The day was sunny and warm, traffic was moving well, and we arrived at our first stop at Coolongalook and Andy’s Cherry Pie Cafe for a coffee (and cherry pie of course) about mid-morning.  It was a coincidence that we just happened to turn off the highway when we discovered the Cherry Pie Cafe – just goes to show you can always find the little gems in unexpected places.

A little further up the coast we decided to drive off the road the short distance to Old Bar (below left), and Wallabi Point (below right) for some wonderful views of the ocean and coastline before returning to the main highway.  The seaside town of Old Bar is located twelve kilometres from the Pacific Highway and 15 minutes east of Taree. Old Bar Beach is a well known surfing beach and is a also a fantastic kite boarding spot. Beach fishing is also a favourite pastime for locals and tourists. The Manning Valley Summer Festival is held during the month of January, with Old Bar Beach the location for the popular sand modelling competition which has become a family and community favourite.

Adjacent Saltwater and Wallabi Point beaches, just south of Old Bar, are perfect for surfing enthusiasts. These surfing meccas attract thousands of tourists every year who are in search the perfect wave. These beaches are also great for families as there is a warm, shallow saltwater lagoon nestled against the picnic reserve, providing excellent swimming opportunities. For those with a love of fishing you won’t be disappointed as there is a direct ocean boat launch in this area.


At Kew we again left the highway to stop at Laurieton for some lunch and a walk along the main street.  Kew is a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ village on the old Pacific Highway, with a pub, post office, small police station, motel, roadhouse and general store. World famous aviatrix Nancy Bird Walton was born in Kew and the road adjacent to the village is named after her.  From Kew we drove along the coast road through North Haven, Bonny Hills, and Lake Cathie.

If there is a true Cinderella district on the New South Wales north coast it is the area around Queens Lake and Watson Taylors Lake where the water from the two lakes enters the sea through a narrow passage between North Haven and Camden Haven. To the north lies the prosperous and rapidly growing centre of Port Macquarie. The town of Laurieton is now part of the holiday-cum-urban development which spreads through Lake Cathie, Bonny Hills and North Haven. In fact Laurieton is one of a number of towns and villages which form the straggling lake and coastal community sometimes known as Camden Haven. The other villages include Dunbogan, Kew, Kendall, Lakewood, West Haven and Comboyne. Each of these towns and villages edges the Camden Haven River. Laurieton is the most important town in the area. It  is scenically located at the base of North Brother Mountain at the mouth of the Camden Haven River in a setting which combines lagoons and waterways with bushland and some unique views of the Mid-North coast line.

Our destination for our first night was the pretty coastal town of Port Macquarie where we were upgraded to a lovely room overlooking the Hastings River in the Mid Pacific Motel.


Port Macquarie is a town at the mouth of the Hastings River in New South Wales, Australia. It’s known for its beaches, wildlife and penal colony past. St. Thomas’ Anglican Church was built by convicts in the 19th century. A coastal walk from the town centre to the 19th-century Tacking Point Lighthouse offers views over waters home to whales and dolphins. Billabong Zoo is known for its koala breeding centre.

Once we settled into our room we wandered around the CBD then along the river where we saw the statue of Edmund Barton, looking out over the river (above left).  Sir Edmund “Toby” Barton, GCMG, KC (18 January 1849 – January 1920) was an Australian politician and judge who served as the first Prime Minister of Australia, in office from 1901 to 1903. He resigned to become a founding member of the High Court of Australia, where he served until his death.

It was a glorious day as we walked along the foreshore and came across a long row of rocks stretching along the river (above right and below right), that the community had been encouraged to paint, a very colourful sight.  The quaint old pub has a great view of the river and is very popular with the locals (below left).



We had found what we thought was a very nice restaurant close to the river, and that night enjoyed a delicious meal at Town Green Inn before strolling back alongside the river to our hotel.  We both ordered pork belly and it was delicious – but no room for dessert!


13 November 2018

Grafton is to be our destination for today, but on the way we wanted to stop at South Kempsey to see the Slim Dusty Centre, and the Akubra Hat showroom.  However breakfast was our first thought and we drove the short distance north to Ricardoes where they grow wonderful tomatoes and strawberries (vertically), and sell what seems like hundreds of other goodies.  We decided on roast tomatoes on toast which was delicious, with a coffee.



The Slim Dusty Centre was much more than I anticipated, the building itself is expansive and set among beautiful native gardens.  We spent quite a bit of time looking through the Centre, listening to his music and seeing the mementoes of his life with his wife, Joy and daughter Anne.  You can’t help but dance along with his songs!  I didn’t realise just how many songs he had written, and how many awards he had won, he certainly is a legend and we were pleased we had decided to visit.



It was only a short drive to the Akubra hat showroom, unfortunately the factory is no longer open to the public.  It was very interesting to see the array of hats and learn more about how they are made, and to see their lovely gardens.


We hadn’t eaten since our breakfast at Ricardoes so were getting a bit hungry, when we came across The Honey Place at Urunga (right) where we indulged with a coffee with scones, jam and cream – just what we needed!  After some minor interruptions with road works, we arrived in Grafton on a hot afternoon, and settled into the Grafton Central Motel, close to the Clarence River.  We had time for a walk around the main CBD, photographing the beautiful jacaranda trees (below), and on the way back found a nice restaurant for dinner. The restaurant was a short walk from our motel, and had delicious entree sized meals, which meant we had room for dessert!

Grafton, located nearly 50 km from the coast, is a substantial and gracious rural city characterised by wide streets, elegant Victorian buildings, a superb location on the banks of the Clarence River, a sense of solidity and permanence, and a long-standing concern with civic beauty which is obvious from the 24 parks which adorn the city. The first ornamental trees were planted as early as 1874 and the city’s famous jacaranda stands, which are celebrated with an annual festival, were planted in 1907-08. The city is situated on, and divided by, the Clarence River which, until 1932 when the unusual two storey bridge was built, presented a major barrier between the city centre and the road to Sydney. The Clarence with its tributaries – the Nymboida, the Orara, the Mann and the Coldstream – constitutes the largest river system on the northern New South Wales coast. It drains over two million hectares and contains over 100 islands, including Susan Island which lies between Grafton and South Grafton. Grafton is the major settlement on the Clarence River and the commercial centre of an extensive agricultural and pastoral district. The fertile river flats are used for dairying, sugar cane and mixed farming. Fishing, the raising of pigs and cattle, and the processing and marketing of primary produce are also important to the local economy.

14 November 2018

Our decision was to travel to the coast today to Yamba, a town I had visited many years ago as a teen, and I was keen to see the old Pacific Hotel where we had stayed, and it is still there!


Again we skipped breakfast, intending to find a place to stop along the way, and we were soon at the very quaint and interesting town of Ulmarra.  As soon as we turned into the main street I remembered it was where I had stopped a few months before on my way home from Murwillumbah.  The Ulmarra Hotel is a lovely old building backing on to the Clarence River, and the cafe is at the back of the hotel where you can either sit in the large cafe, or outside at tables set out on the lawn (above left and right).  We chose the latter and while we waited for our breakfast we wandered around the beautiful garden, admiring the placid river, the ferry and the beautiful jacaranda and flame trees.  We even had visits from a family of water dragons (above) who obviously had no fear of humans and were quite friendly.  The hotel and village were used as the location for the TV mini-series “Fields of Fire”, a story based on life in a 1929 Queensland sugar cane town, and scenes for the film “The Picture Show Man” were also shot here.



It is like stepping back in time to visit Ulmarra and the village is a fine example of a 19th century riverport in Australia.  The entire village is classified by the National Trust.  The best way to describe wandering through Ulmarra is like a walk down memory lane with its art and crafts or antiques shops, with refreshments at the local coffee lounge, hotel or service station – just being there makes you want to learn more of its history.

The short main street of Ulmarra is packed with quaint shops and galleries.  Firstly we visited the second hand book shop that was crammed full, and each chose some books. When I asked the owner how many books he had he replied that he had counted them a few years ago and at that time had over 70,000 books!  The nearby gallery of Peter Hill (P.J. Art Gallery) looked interesting, his equine and landscape art works are hanging on the walls of private collections and public offices in three continents (above right).  Peter and his wife Judy opened the gallery in the former Ulmarra newsagency.  It was very special to see Peter’s art work and to meet him personally.


Opposite was the beautiful Coldstream Gallery (below left and right) which was full of wonderful art works, and again we were lucky to meet the two owners.  The gallery is situated in the original Sydney Stores department store circa 1907.  In 1975 it became a fine art gallery and has grown to become a gallery promoting local artists and artisans predominantly from the Clarence Valley.  They exhibit paintings, wood, glass, bronze and there is something for everyone.  The variety of their art works is extensive and we could have spent much longer browsing around this special gallery – next time! Ulmarra is a very friendly interesting town and well worth a visit, we loved it!

Find Coldstream Gallery here


As we were nearing Maclean we drove to a Lookout overlooking the Clarence River for great views of the area, then drove through the town to admire the telegraph posts that are painted in  different Scottish tartans – obviously a town settled by the Scots!


Although it is only a short trip across the Clarence River from Iluka, the two towns could not be more different. Iluka lives in a timewarp and is a 1950s holiday town. Yamba prides itself, as the local brochure states, on its “vibrant mix of award-winning restaurants, funky cafes and boutique shopping” and “the wide range of accommodation”. In other words it is a prosperous town pitched at holidaymakers wanting to enjoy the “buzzy vibe” while gorging on the famous Yamba prawns.

It was lunch time when we arrived at Yamba, and heading toward the beach we found the old Pacific Hotel, still going strong, so we decided to have our lunch there.  The views from the hotel are quite spectacular and we had a table right next to the glass widows and enjoyed our fish and chips looking out at the ocean.  Unfortunately there were no famous Yamba prawns for us today.  From there we drove into town and browsed the shops, decided to have an icecream before we headed home.



The meal we had last night was so nice, we decided to go back to the same restaurant tonight for dinner – decided not to have dessert but a cheese platter instead.


15 November 2018

This morning we are heading south for a stopover at Sawtell on our way home, and decided to visit the Thursday morning market at a nearby church in Grafton, thinking we might pick something up for breakfast.  There was some nice local produce but nothing that appealed for breakfast, so we walked into town to the Toast Cafe for eggs and coffee.  This was the same cafe where I had stopped also on my way home from Murwillumbah a few months ago!   Later we had planned to meet my friend Emily and her new baby, River Jayne, at Coffs Harbour Plaza Shopping Centre.  It was quite a hot morning and we thought the air conditioned shopping centre would be nice and cool, and it worked out well.  Would have liked to have a cuddle with baby River, but she slept the whole time!

Sawtell is a peaceful and increasingly fashionable coastal village which is both a retirement destination and a family holiday escape. It is technically a suburb of the City of Coffs Harbour and is bounded to the west by the railway line, to the north by Boambee Creek and to the south by Bonville Creek.  The town’s primary attractions for the visitor are the beach which lies between Boambee Head and Bonville Head, the two rocky promontories which are located beside the estuaries of Boambee Creek and Bonville Creek.  The town has a small, elegant shopping centre which is defined by a distinctive and quite tropical median strip. For the visitor there are panoramic lookouts from the two headlands, some pleasant walking areas near the river and the beach, a fine picnic area and playground near the mouth of Boambee Creek, good fishing in the creeks and the ocean, boat ramps at the two caravan and camping reserves, surfing, skin diving, an inviting saltwater tidal swimming pool at Bonville Head and safe swimming at Boambee Bay. It is an attractive alternative to buzz of Coffs Harbour. A quiet retreat with real class.

Sawtell is only a few kilometres from Coffs Harbour so we arrived in good time to check in to our Airbnb and for a walk around the main street which is very picturesque with lovely old trees and gardens down the centre of the road.  The Spare Room was a restaurant I had been to a couple of times before, and we were able to make a booking for dinner, it is always busy and best to book, or miss out.  The dinner was delicious, we both chose a pasta dish (started to eat before I realised I hadn’t taken a photo), and were very strong in resisting dessert!  Some of the beautiful old trees along the centre of the main road are lit up at night and look quite spectacular (below centre).


For more images of my earlier stay in Sawtell click here

16 November 2018

Today is the last day of our short holiday.  The Airbnb had provided breakfast, and we were able to head off by 8am for the drive south, and home.  We had a short stop at the Taree Service Centre for a coffee then had a smooth drive back to Newcastle in time for Barb to catch her train back to Sydney.  Again lots of memories after a great trip up the picturesque north coast of New South Wales.

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