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What to do in Ballarat

with kids

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.

Sparkle bright
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.

Universal fun
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.

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