What to do in Ballarat
Dig beneath the surface and you'll discover it's not just gold that makes Ballarat sparkle, writes Lauren McGroder.
For many, the word ‘Ballarat’ conjures sepia-toned
visions of men from across the globe, picks in hand,
hoping to strike it rich. It’s the town with a gold-plated
history, but its present is what has people buzzing.
Today, Ballarat remains one of Victoria's holiday
hotspots for families, and for every mention in a history book,
there’s a modern-day adventure to be had and enjoyed by all.
Of course, every journey to Ballarat must commence with a trip to
Sovereign Hill; it’s one of the most impressive immersive
attractions in the state. After all, over 150 years of this town’s
history have been shaped by a precious metal, since gold was
first discovered here in 1851. It’s not all artefacts and delicate
displays at this outdoor museum, however. In fact, you can
expect the world as you know it to transform before your eyes, as
men and women of old bustle along Main Street in 19th-century
dress. Have you ever seen how a coach wheel is assembled? A
blacksmith shape red hot metal? Or perhaps you’d like to see
boiled sweets made with historic equipment? Here you can, as
an entire village recreates life during the rush.
At Sovereign Hill, gold fever is infectious and you can succumb
to it at Red Hill Gully Diggings, hoping to catch sight of a tell-tale
glint in your pan. Alternatively, go underground at the Gold Mine,
boarding the tram that recounts the experiences of miners
throughout history. As dusk settles, return to the surface for a tale
of rebellion as ‘Blood on the Southern Cross’ reenacts the events
of 3 December 1854 that saw a dramatic clash between miners
and government forces at Ballarat. More interactive than any
classroom history lesson, the audience is transported through the
sound-and-light spectacular while enjoying a two-course meal,
included with your entry ticket. Retire to the Comfort Inn
Sovereign Hill where weary treasure hunters can recuperate.
Knights and ladies
Rewind another 1700 years and you’ll find the
atmosphere to be suitably medieval at Kryal
Castle, where knights, wizards and royalty
roam free among fairies, and children are
fascinated by the sudden change in century.
You would expect an adventure park that
contains something called the ‘Dragons
Labyrinth’ to be a guaranteed winner with the
kids, and you’d be right. Uncover the legend of
Kryal in this village that contains more myth
and magic than a 'Lord of the Rings' novel,
having just celebrated its 40th birthday.
Dimly lit chambers, a torture museum (not
for the faint-hearted or little ones) and a baffling
maze are just some obstacles to overcome in
this quest. A daring display of jousting in the
Castle Arena by the resident knights divides
families as they cheer their favourite onto
victory, the Jolly Jesters entertain the kingdom,
and children with the strength of seven men
can test their might on the sword in the stone.
For a magical finale to your visit, visit the
Wizard’s Workroom in the Oggle Watch Tower
or extend your stay in one of 17 on-site Castle
Suites, offering King, Queen and Twin Rooms.
Magic of another variety is rife at the Ballarat
Municipal Observatory Museum, although no
spells or potions are required to summon it.
Families need only look to the sky and study
the twinkling cosmos with the help of The
Federation Telescope. The 3D AstroTour uses
interactive tools and simulations to transport
visitors on a whirlwind tour of the visible
universe (without the long-haul journey).
If there’s no time to don your astronaut suit this
time around, Ballarat offers plenty of fun on the
ground. Getting lost is the aim of the game at
the Tangled Maze, where visitors are
surrounded by three kilometres of hedges
towering two metres high over little ones. Dead
ends and puzzling loops add to the challenge,
whether you race against the clock or stop and
smell the honeysuckle. Be sure to climb to the
top of the ramp towers where you will be
rewarded with panoramic views of the Central
Highlands. An 18-hole mini-golf course set on
the hillside, and the new indoor synthetic ice
rink ensure there’s plenty of fun to be had when
you’ve emerged from the hedges.