Clarence Valley Day 1:
Welcome to the Clarence Valley.
We were greeted in Grafton with a blaze of colour. They don’t call this city of 19,000 people the Jacaranda Capital for nothing. Hundreds of these trees line the streets and it’s a joy to cruise randomly along, turning down whatever street takes your fancy and driving under the purple haze. A couple of streets have such a profusion of lilac blooms that they’ve been designated ‘Jacaranda Avenues’ – the western end of Pound Street, Grafton and Ryan Street in South Grafton. And for picnickers wanting to laze on a rug under the blossoms, there’s See Park on the corner of Pound and Turf streets. Tree-huggers and nature lovers can have their fill even if visiting out of Jacaranda season (which runs from late October to end November) as there are fig trees galore. A street to take your breath away is Breimba (colloquially known as Fig Tree Avenue) where the mighty trees link their branches over the road to form a dramatic archway.
Suitably refreshed by nature we headed off for lunch and took a seat at Vines at 139, a café in the city’s heritage Legacy House building. It’s a popular place, with Balinese flags out the front and entry through a shady garden. It was hot so fresh salads caught our fancy; my companion went straight for the roasted vegetable salad with feta, and although I could have eaten everything on the menu (or at least sampled them), I opted for salt and pepper prawns and squid with lot of greens and cubes of mango. A lovely café with white timber walls decorated with a series of framed floral prints and jars of jams and condiments for sale, Vines at 139 is also the place for parties and functions…or just a coffee.
This is where I could have done with a snooze however Maclean, just 30 minutes up the road, was calling us — or was that the sound of the bagpipes I could here.
With a name like Maclean, this town of around 2,600 basks in its Scottish heritage. Funnily enough the town was originally known as Rocky Mouth, simply because there were plenty of big rocks in the river. In the 1860s the NSW surveyor-general, an Alexander McLean, laid out the township much as it is today and they renamed it in his honour albeit with a slightly different spelling. Everything seems to take place in River Street – here you’ll find the three pubs (the top, the middle and bottom pub), the cafes and restaurants and a fantastic walking trail. And to our amazement we learnt that the largest inland island in the Southern Hemisphere, Woodford Island, is in the river and can be accessed from Maclean by car ferry.
There are several ferries crossing the Clarence River in this neck of the woods – you’ll find others in Yamba and Ulmarra.
A funky place for afternoon is On the Bite Cafe in River Street of course. Had I still been hungry I would have ordered the Middle Eastern meatballs or the popular quinoa salad, but instead had a raspberry friande and a pot of real tea served in a very cool-looking silver plunger.
One of the best finds in town is the King‘s Studio Creative Stays B&B at no. 105 River Street. A two-storey timber house bedecked with Indian bunting of golden marigolds and with hammocks in the lovely courtyard, it is heaven for anyone who appreciates art or just wants somewhere unique to say. Owners Malcolm and Julie are newcomers to Maclean but they’ve run B&Bs before and have lived in many country towns in NSW. She’s a terrific artist whose hundreds of paintings, many of Australian trees, fill the downstairs gallery and the three guest rooms; he’s a silkscreen printer with a studio at the back of the house where he conducts lessons and also brings aspiring artists’ work to life.
I could have talked to Malcolm and Julie forever – and it turned out they knew a friend of mine from the Blue Mountains! They love Maclean and their enthusiasm was infectious. When I visit a ‘new’ town, I like to play a little game. I ask myself: “Could I live here?”. The answer for this Scottish gem, with the cool cafes and friendly folk, is a definite “yes”. And I’d take art lessons!
I chose the upstairs attic room (think sloping ceilings) and double bed, and my friend took the room with the queen bed with silk bedspread. I love an attic look – I imagine I’m living in a doll’s house. With tea, coffee and free Wi-Fi and the freedom to wander into Julie’s adjoining studio and look at her works-in-progress, it was a fabulous stay.