For close to 90 years, the Clarence Valley city of Grafton has been celebrating the arrival of spring with their effervescent jacaranda season – and it’s so much more than flowers.
Set on the mighty Clarence River, the northern NSW regional city of Grafton is a beautifully preserved historic destination with all the charming rural beauty of yesteryear.
Every spring, the city is enveloped in the vibrant purple blooms of Grafton’s iconic jacaranda trees. So iridescent and prolific are the flowers that for 89 years the city has celebrated with the annual Jacaranda Festival, making it the oldest floral festival in Australia.
Stop to marvel at the oldest floral festival in Australia.
Beginning in 1934, and held for 10 days across the last week of October and first week of November, the festival has become a much-adored highlight on the calendar for locals and visitors alike.
While you’re in the area, check out the neighbouring oceanside towns of Yamba, Iluka and Wooli, all a maximum 45-minute drive away.
Jacaranda Festival history
The mauve canopies that eventually fall to carpet the streets of Grafton aren’t native to Australia, as they originated in South America. However, in 1879, Grafton seed merchant Mr Volkers was tasked with planting trees for Grafton Council; clearly a fan of the lilac hue, he chose jacarandas. Over the following years, Volkers planted hundreds of the trees throughout the town, which thrived in the region’s sub-tropical climate.
Find jacarands in Grafton’s CBD and countryside. (Image: Destination NSW)
The trend continued, and today there are more than 1700 jacarandas in Grafton. They all bloom in unison for three weeks of the year, attracting visitors from around Australia who come to bask in the vibrancy of the velvety soft flowers.
Unmissable Jacaranda Festival events
The Jacaranda Festival is packed with free and ticketed events for all ages that enliven Grafton with a carnival-like atmosphere. The annual Jacaranda Float Procession, where the whole town congregates to watch the purple floral-themed parade, is among the most favourite events.
Spot vintage cars in the Float Parade. (Image: Destination NSW)
Jacaranda Thursday, held in Market Square in the CBD, is also hugely popular. This is preceded by a free breakfast before everyone gathers to enjoy market stalls, live entertainment and food trucks.
Don’t miss the riverfront events, such as the exciting dragon boat races on the Clarence, in which teams compete to the beat of a drum. There’s also the fabulous Venetian Carnival – held at the newly renovated Grafton Waterfront Precinct – where live performances and music are backdropped by the sparkling river.
Find treasures at the markets. (Image: Simon Hughes)
Head along to River Dreaming | A Day of Culture to discover more about and celebrate the culture, music, dance and community of the local Bundjalung, Yaegl and Gumbaynggirr people.
Other popular events include a car rally scavenger hunt, a children’s party, fireworks and free concerts in Market Square, the ticketed and unmissable Blossom Long Lunch, and the Jacaranda Royal Party Crowning, where the ambassador of the festival is named.
Another must-see event is Illuminate; in this luminous nighttime spectacle, the jacarandas at See Park are lit up to expose their brilliance against the dark sky.
Watch the jacaranda trees light up at Illuminate.
Eating purple throughout the jacaranda season
You’ll notice a distinctly purple shade to many local treats during the Jacaranda Festival, with many lavender-coloured foods available.
Perhaps the most famous is the iconic purple ice cream, which is a must-try dessert and Instagram hit that’s available at most festival events. The longest-running Clarence Valley bakery also whips up a range of purple treats, from cupcakes and chocolate eclairs to purple bread.
Don’t miss the iconic purple ice cream.
If you prefer to sip the colour purple, try a jacaranda-hued cocktail from one of Grafton’s hotels, such as a Purple Rain, made with blueberry-infused gin and violet liqueur, or a Purple Haze mocktail, composed of blackberry, cranberry and grape juice.
Sip purple drinks at various locations around the festival. (Image: Destination NSW)
Take a jacaranda walk
Most of the floral action happens in the CBD, which is easy to navigate on foot or by bike. Head to Market Square, Prince Street, See Park and Memorial Park to glimpse the blue sky through purple canopies and snap a few selfies.
While you can simply wander the streets, happily getting not too lost following the jacaranda-lined streets and one of the downloadable maps, there’s plenty more to discover on foot, too.
Stop for Instagram photos along the stunning Jacaranda-lined streets.
For more things to do, stop by the Grafton Visitor Information Centre and grab a copy of the Grafton Heritage Trail map; it will lead you to well-preserved historic buildings and the town’s stately architecture, such as the Grafton Gaol and Christ Church Cathedral. Cross the unusually bent Bendy Bridge to admire the shimmering Clarence River from above.
Walk the Grafton Heritage Trail.
Places to stay during the jacaranda season
With Grafton becoming as populous as the bright blooms during the festival, booking your accommodation well in advance is a good idea. There are plenty of hotels, serviced apartments and motels in the CBD, which will place you close to all the action.
If you’re keen to camp in the warm spring weather, book into the Grafton Showground Campgrounds and Grafton Greyhounds Racing Club Caravan Park. Another option is the quieter enclave of South Grafton, just across the river, or look to book an Airbnb in a historic riverfront home on the Clarence River.
Drive to Grafton along purple streets.
Getting to the Jacaranda Festival
Grafton is a six-and-a-half-hour drive north from Sydney along the M1, and three and a half hours south of Brisbane. Another great option is to fly into the Ballina Byron Gateway Airport, then take the 90-minute drive to Grafton, or arrive at Coffs Harbour Airport, which is less than an hour away.
Prefer rail travel? Grafton has a train station that’s linked to Sydney and Brisbane.