If you’re looking for a quick and easy getaway, with plenty to keep the whole family busy, Ballarat is only a little more than an hour from Melbourne CBD and so full of things to do and see.
Our daughter visited Kryal Castle a few months ago and had an absolute ball, so when the invitation from Ballarat Regional Tourism to explore Ballarat came along, I jumped at the opportunity to experience what else Ballarat had to offer. My husband, daughter and I spent the weekend there and I’m so glad we did!
On Saturday morning, we checked into the BIG4 Ballarat Goldfields Holiday Park in Clayton St, only a stone’s throw from Sovereign Hill. Our two-bedroom cabin was comfortable and well appointed, with a queen-size bed (with a TV) in one room, and two sets of bunks in the other. A spacious sitting room, dining area and kitchen meant there was enough room for a family to spread out comfortably. The balcony was perfect for sitting of an evening with a nice glass of wine. There was plenty to do at the park, with a jumping pillow and pool, along with various playgrounds and barbecue facilities.
Our first stop was the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (M.A.D.E.), in Stawell St South. The museum is built on the historic site of the 1854 Eureka Stockade, where the goldrush miners stood up for their rights and shaped democracy in our country. We met with Jane Smith, director of the museum, who very generously gave up her time to show us around and explain the displays, some of which she’d a hand in designing.
The museum was full of engaging displays that presented the history of democracy in an easy-to-understand and interesting way. There were plenty of displays to keep the kids entertained – the interactive touch tables were a big hit with my 11-year-old, as was the space set aside to design your own flag with plenty of paper and colouring pencils.
Visiting the room that houses the original Flag of the Southern Cross – the actual flag that was carried into battle on the day – is quite moving. On loan from the Art Gallery of Ballarat, it’s the first time it’s been exhibited on site since 1854. The museum also showcases democracy from other countries and is quite fascinating.
We stopped for lunch at the Saltbush Kitchen (at M.A.D.E.). The café showcases native Australian flavours, like wattleseed, strawberry gum, pepperberry and saltbush. We munched on homemade quiche and local beef pies with bush tomato chutney. My daughter had a strawberry gum soda, which, from the tiny sip she allowed me to have, was sweet and very refreshing. They also make a version with gin, and I think next time I’ll try it! I had an iced wattleseed milkshake, which tasted a little like iced coffee but nutty. The café overlooked the Eureka Park Memorial gardens and lake, and on a nice day you can grab a beanbag and head outside to eat your lunch on the grass.
Our bellies full, we headed off to spend the afternoon at the Ballarat Wildlife Park at the corner of York and Fussell streets. We were met by Alex for an unexpected, up-close and personal tour of the park. Our first stop was the tortoise enclosure where we met Hugo, the 80plus-year-old giant tortoise. He liked a scratch on his shell, but we were warned to stay out of his path as he weighed in at more than 100kg. Alex took us around and showed us the crocs, both saltwater and freshwater, as well as the echidnas, wombats and Tasmanian Devils, and then into the koala enclosure for a cuddle. I highly recommend the koala animal experience for the kids – they were so soft and cuddly!
We sat down for a bit while Alex went into the reptile house to get a lizard for us to look at, or so I thought – and out he comes with Pablo, the boa constrictor. Never one to shy away from a challenge, I eagerly held my arms out to hold this incredible creature (while my daughter and husband slowly backed away). I sat with him for about 15 minutes, he was absolutely gorgeous, heavy and a little bit “grippy”. I was assured by Alex that he was just “hanging on” and not slowly strangling me. Good to know. We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around at our own pace, feeding the kangaroos and wallabies that roam free over the Park.
Dinner that night was at The Forge Pizzerria, one of the hottest places in Ballarat it seemed. Packed to the rafters with diners, it was lucky we had a table booked. The service was great. Our waiter, Zac, was very attentive, and recommended we try “The Shearer” – the best pizza I have ever tasted. Ever. The Shearer was a wood-fired pizza topped with slow-cooked Western Victorian lamb, Meredith goat cheese, rosemary, garlic, spinach, Spanish onion, mozzarella, and a sprinkling of pine nuts. My mouth waters just thinking about it. We also had a “Butchers” – San Marzano tomato, bacon, sausage, shaved ham, salami, mozzarella, and rosemary, and a “Bacon”, topped with Maple bacon, streaky bacon, tasty cheese, caramelised onions, sage, and garlic. I talked husband into having a Lemon Meringue Pizza for dessert, with home-made lemon curd, crispy meringue, and vanilla crème. He was pretty thankful I did – it was absolutely delicious! We waddled out and headed back to our cabin to collapse into a food coma.
We were up and at ‘em early on Sunday and decided to have a bit of a drive around town. Ballarat is such a picturesque town, with flowers and trees lining the streets and beautiful and quaint houses wherever you look. We drove right around Lake Wendouree and ended up at the Ballarat Botanic Gardens and the Indigenous Playground. My daughter went crazy on the playground, while husband and I soaked up some rays and dreamed about coffee. It was definitely time for breakfast.
We headed to The Red Lion in Main Rd. I don’t know how we managed to eat again after such a feast the night before, but the husband and I managed eggs benedict – two poached eggs atop slabs of homemade sourdough, slathered in hollandaise sauce, while the daughter hooked into a massive homemade pancake stack with maple syrup, lemon and sugar. No judgement please – we had a big day ahead and needed sustenance!
We spend the rest of the day at Sovereign Hill, possibly Ballarat’s most well-known tourist attraction. I hadn’t been to the park for more than 20 years, so I was interested to see how (or if) it had changed. I was pleased to see that it hadn’t changed that much. The streets were still bustling with costumed ladies and gents – who stayed in character no matter what! We started walking up the hill, stopping at the various shops and attractions along the way. We stopped in at the Hope Bakery for morning tea (because clearly we needed more sustenance), and bought lollies at the Confectionery shop. We tapped our feet along to the banjo and fiddle band outside the Post Office and did a spot of candle making at William Hewett’s Candleworks.
We marvelled at the conditions the miners had to live in, and wished we had time to check out the Red Hill Mine tour. We met the Coach Ride horses and played a game of old fashioned 9-pin bowling. We learned how they make the famous Raspberry Drops boiled lollies, and watched the Redcoat Soldiers drumming and marching. And finally, we panned for gold, but unfortunately didn’t find anything this time.
Our trip to Ballarat wasn’t long enough – I wish we had time to check out the Art Gallery of Ballarat to see the Archibald Prize exhibition, and I wish we could have gone back to Kryal Castle to explore more. But to be honest – at only an hour’s drive from home, and so much more to see, we’ll definitely be going back!
A huge thank you to the Visit Ballarat team at Ballarat Regional Tourism.
This post is sponsored by Visit Ballarat.
For more information see visitballarat.com.au