Grafton’s July Racing Carnival is one of the biggest events on the Clarence Valley calendar and finally, the countdown is over. It’s on and we’re racing!
Now we know you can never get enough of horses lunging over lines, or a dress code that encourages extreme hat wearing. But outside of the actual act of horses running around the track, there’s plenty of downtime during the carnival. So we’ve made a list of some of the amazing things you can see and do around the Clarence to enhance your July Racing Carnival experience. You might even find some divine inspiration to help with your betting, like the pelican in Yamba who will pick you a winner if you throw him a couple of Yamba prawns.
So in between races, go on an adventure and explore our Valley – where the hills roll down to the floodplains and stretch out to kiss the coast.
As you drive through the Jacaranda-lined streets of Grafton you can imagine how magnificent it must be in October when the trees are in full bloom. But thankfully it’s July so you get to enjoy all of the other treasures Grafton has to offer, without the distraction of a purple haze. Whew!
When you’re not at the races, spend some time getting to know Grafton, a city divided by the Clarence River, but joined by a bendy bridge built-in 1932. Built on a floodplain, Grafton is flat and easy to explore on foot or by bike, including a trip across the Grafton Bridge via the footpath on the lower level, below the traffic.
Grafton Regional Gallery – one of the cultural treasures of the Clarence – is well worth a visit and over the racing carnival there’s always a racing-themed exhibition, so gidday up! If you enjoy a trip down memory lane, Schaeffer House is the museum for you. Cafés and restaurants of ridiculously good quality are scattered across Grafton, along with a heritage trail that takes in a visit to the Christ Church Cathedral built-in 1884. And you haven’t truly explored Grafton until you’ve visited South Grafton. The CBD is an eclectic mix of colourful murals, cafes, shops and old buildings reflecting architectural styles from around the turn of the century.
Take a drive into the hills
Since you’ve made it to Grafton, it would be rude not to take a peek out west at the stunning river country of the Upper Clarence. Within minutes of driving west of Grafton, the road rises up off the floodplain and into the bush. Little rivers snake and weave through this rugged, rolling country, joining bigger rivers and towering ranges. It’s here that Clarence is reborn and replenished every day. Within an hour’s drive of Grafton, you can be picnicking on the banks of the Mann River at Cangai or enjoying a counter lunch with the locals at the traditional country pub in Copmanhurst. The lemon, lime and bitters are the best we’ve ever tasted! If you have the time, why not take the scenic River Revelation Drive, a five-hour round trip from Grafton that soaks up the rugged beauty of the Upper Clarence.
Seafood and shopping in Yamba
Forty-five minutes north-east of Grafton is the bustling seaside town of Yamba. Voted the best town in Australia, Yamba is a beach lovers’ paradise – even in winter – with six beautiful beaches to enjoy. If you surf, don’t forget to pack your board. There are top-quality waves around every headland. If you fancy a walk, take a wander out along the break wall at the mouth of the Clarence River. In the evenings you can wave to the fishermen as they stare at their trawlers seaward, chasing prawns. This is also where the local jewfish hunters gather.
Yamba has a vibrant mix of award-winning restaurants, cafes and boutique shopping. The farmer’s market every Wednesday morning is a great place to soak up the coastal vibe of Yamba and rub shoulders with the locals. A few more must-dos when you’re in town (there are too many to list) include catching the ferry across the mouth of the Clarence River to Iluka, lunching at the pub while watching the whales migrate north, and of course, you can’t leave Yamba without a selfie peeling a few Yamba prawns down at the marina. But watch out for the greedy pelican.
The call of the coast
If you’re like us and can hear the call of the sea when you’re inland, you’ll be needing a quick coastal fix during the racing carnival. The twin seaside villages of Wooli and Minnie Water are just over half an hour’s drive from Grafton and well worth a visit. Wooli is a quaint fishing village nestled between the Wooli River and the ocean. It’s celebrated for its old-school charm, with quaint beach shacks, sandy beaches and great fishing. You can dine in at the pub or grab some fish and chips or fresh Wooli oysters (or both) and head to the lagoon at the mouth of the Wooli River for a picnic in paradise. Look out for the soldier crabs on the move at low tide.
A quick drive north through the Yuraygir National Park and you’ll arrive at Minnie Water, a gem of a village with some spectacular beaches to explore. Pick up a coffee and paper at the general store, throw a rug under a tree overlooking the beach, and settle in for a serious session studying the form guide. The sea breeze will bring you luck.
Action sports on tap
From the mountain to the sea, there are so many ways to get active in the Clarence Valley.
In the Upper Clarence, the Clarence Canoe & Kayak Trail is the longest whitewater trail in Australia! It covers more than 195 km of river encompassing the Nymboida, Mann and Clarence river systems. It offers spectacular scenery, an abundance of wildlife and some exhilarating whitewater adventure. Whether you’re into bone-rattling rapids or zen-like cruising, there is something to please all paddling palates.
About 5km south of Grafton is the Bom Bom Forest mountain bike trail. The single-track trail offers riding for all levels. Basically, the faster you go through the ironbark and spotted gum forest, the more technical challenges you’ll face. But take it easy on the corners!
If you’re into stand-up paddle boarding you’ll love the sheltered inland waterways that dissect the floodplains of the Clarence Valley. Pick any finger of water stretching towards the coast, jump on your board and soak up the sounds of nature as you float down the river. It’s as close to walking on water as you can get.
Surfing is on tap right along the Clarence Coast. In fact, we’re so spoilt for surf, all you really need to do is head east and you’ll find a wave. There is, however, one surf break that stands above the rest and holds a special place in the big beating heart of Australian surfing – Angourie Surfing Reserve. Described as one of the best right-hand surf breaks in the country, it’s well worth a visit and only a five-minute drive from Yamba. But if you prefer surfing without crowds, try the back beaches of Iluka, Yamba and Minnie Water. Most of the time it’ll just be you and the dolphins in the lineup. Now that’s what we love about surfing the Clarence Coast!
If you’re up for a walk, big or small, try the Yuraygir Coastal Walk, a 65km multi-day walk that hugs the coastline from Angourie to Red Rock. The great thing about this track is you don’t have to do the entire walk and you certainly don’t need to pack dehydrated lasagna. You can jump on the track at any coastal village along the way and walk as far as you fancy in either direction. Whether you’re a serious hiker or a leisurely stroller, it’s a wonderful way to take in the coastline.