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Each week, news.com.au in partnership with Tourism Australia and the National Bushfire Recovery Agency will shine a spotlight on an Aussie region devastated by the 2020 bushfires. The video series will provide ideas on ways to help, where to visit and cafes not to miss on your next holiday at home.
The Northern Rivers region in NSW is the perfect all-rounder.
A destination that encompasses the picturesque regions of Clarence Valley and Richmond Valley, the Northern Rivers is home to lush hinterland, quaint towns, glorious rivers and valleys, and long stretches of spectacular Pacific Ocean coast.
Whether you’re a nature lover, foodie, beach bum, culture vulture or adrenaline junkie seeking adventure, there is something for every kind of holiday-maker in this spot, which is found about five hours from Brisbane, and less than an eight-hour road trip from Sydney.
The Northern Rivers was devastated by last summer’s bushfires, which claimed many homes and businesses – close to 170 homes were lost in Clarence Valley alone, with many others badly damaged.
A year on, the forests and wildlife are regenerating, businesses are back, and the friendly locals are more than ready to welcome visitors to their stunning patch of Australia.
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Visitors can choose their own adventure in the Northern Rivers, with so many places to explore and activities to enjoy.
The region is home to charming towns and villages like dreamy Nimbin, underrated Byron rival Yamba, and the historical hub of Grafton, known for its classic cottages, country pubs and wondrous farmers markets.
The Grafton Heritage Trail shows off the town’s stunning Edwardian and Victorian architecture and if you visit in late spring, around late October to early November, you’ll be rewarded with more than 2000 vibrant purple jacarandas in bloom for the season.
Grafton is a great base from which to explore other highlights in the region, such as the nearby rivers, gorges and ancient rainforests of Nymboida National Park.
There are plenty of activities to enjoy along the Clarence River, including sailing, boating and waterskiing, and you can even hire a houseboat to take in the surroundings at your own pace.
Highlights include the Clarence Canoe and Kayak Trail, which covers more than 195km of river and is the longest mapped white-water trail in Australia.
Picnic, bushwalk or camp in the World Heritage-listed Nightcap National Park, exploring the park’s waterfalls, creeks and escarpments. Here, you can take in the view of the Wollumbin shield volcano, a genuinely impressive landmark, which was formed more than 20 million years ago.
The volcano’s caldera – the bowl-shaped depression – is considered “possibly the best preserved erosion caldera in the world” by UNESCO.
That’s not the only claim to fame held by this naturally beautiful region.
The Iluka Rainforest walking track takes visitors through Iluka Nature Reserve, the largest remaining seashore rainforest in NSW.
For a touch of more recent history, take the infamous Protesters Falls walking track, named after a 1979 environmental protest in which protesters dramatically blocked the path of bulldozers to stop logging of rainforest at Terania Creek.
If you’re looking to pick up some souvenirs from your visit, the charming towns of the Northern Regions offer plenty of artisan shops and boutiques where you’ll find a treasure trove of unique gems.
There are also some local stores that are great for online shopping, if you want to support the region from afar: Willow Botanica specialises in curated, organic gifts while family-run Petal and Spice, based in Grafton, sells locally handmade and sustainable goods – and delivers Australia-wide.
All that exploring and adventure-seeking certainly works up an appetite, and fortunately there are plenty of excellent spots to quench your thirst or enjoy a memorable meal.
Sit back with a drink and soak up the atmosphere in the gardens of Ulmarra Hotel, a short drive northeast of Grafton: a quintessential Aussie pub that dates back 113 years.
A hot tip is to drop by Nimbin Farmers’ Market, held every Wednesday afternoon, to sample some of the region’s best fresh produce.
Head to coastal eatery Paradiso in Yamba for some fresh and locally sourced food delights, Beachwood Cafe for a long lunch of authentic Turkish food, and discover one of the prides of the region at Sanctus Brewing Co, where you’ll find an impressive selection of craft beer, just outside Yamba towards Maclean.
And there’s no better way to experience Yamba than pulling up a seat alongside the friendly locals and tuckering into some pub grub at the Pacific Hotel.