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ZB Travel – Victoria Goldfields

Mike’s notes on Victoria’s Goldfields, from Newstalk ZB’s Jack Tame Show.

How close to Melbourne is Goldfields country?

Over the hills and not that far away. In fact, from Melbourne Airport, head west through the rolling pastoral countryside, and you’ll be in goldfields country in one hour. Born in the romance and turmoil of the 1850s, the world’s prospectors swooped on Victoria in search of gold, after a few ounces of the prized find were panned at Canadian Creek. So this was a decade before the Otago gold rush.  And here’s a trivial truth. The international stampede  was so massive, that one in four Australians can trace their roots to the Victoria goldfields.

Ballarat main street

What makes Ballarat such an impressive town?

Quite simply, it is one of the world’s greatest gold rush towns. The staggering wealth generated by gold strikes transformed Ballarat, leaving it boasting the grandest collection of bluestone and red brick buildings in Australia. The legacy lives on with its sumptuous architecture. I think it is the Oamaru of Australia. You would be hard pressed to find a more elegant freeze-framed street than Lydiard Street, with its preserved gold rush buildings.  Her Majesty’s Theatre, opened in 1906, is the oldest continuously operating theatre in Australia. Don’t miss the old court, jail and supremely imposing Mining Exchange.

Ballarat Architecture

Craig’s Royal Hotel is a huge crowd-puller, right?

Historic Lydiard Street is crowned by Craig’s Royal Hotel, which has been on the frontlines of much of Ballarat’s history, and it remains the centre of the city’s social scene. The guest list has included Mark Twain, Queen Victoria’s son Prince Alfred, King George V,  Lord Kitchener, Sir Don Bradman and Dame Nellie Melba. In 1865, the hotel hosted the Shenandoah Ball, organised by the Confederate Navy who were in town to enlist recruits to fight in the American Civil War.

Craigs Royal Craigs room

Current owners, John and Mary Finning, have recently completed a painstaking renovation of the property, which is positively
gleaming, gorgeous and faithful to its authentic Victorian roots. The grand old dame offers 41 luxury rooms, carefully and skilfully furnished with period antiques, art works and decorative features.  With a proud history as Ballarat’s social meeting place, the variety of bars, restaurants and banquet rooms within the hotel adds to its charm. The bluestone cellar is a gem, as is the historic bar. Be sure to sample the Mediterranean-inspired fare that is served in the Gallery Bistro. And a recent innovation is Craig’s Coffeeshop & Larder, which stocks all manner of gourmet treats and tailor made gifts for loved onesback home. Ballarat is rightly proud of its legendary establishment. Be sure to experience it for yourself.

What about Sovereign Hill? Is it like Shanty Town?

It’s more like a hybrid of Shanty Town and Disneyland. Constructed directly over the site of one of its richest mines, this open-air museum evokes the spirit of  gold-fevered Ballarat. The Cobb and Co coach rides are a big drawer as are the magnificent collection of colonial buildings and the street theatre. The Redcoat Soldiers perform a variety of drills including musket firing. Plus there’s plenty of family-friendly hands-on activity including old-fashioned sweet making, candle dipping and metal spinning.  Sovereign Hill also hosts the nightly sound and light spectacular, “ Blood on the Southern Cross.” The dramatic  pyrotechnic-powered spectacle showcases the 1854 Eureka Rebellion which forced the colonial poohbahs to recognise the rights of miners and gave rise to the birth of democracy in Australia.

Sovereign Hill2Sovereign Hill1

Is Bendigo worth a look?

Certainly is. It’s just a short hop from Ballarat, and once again, the flavour and character of this small city was shaped by the migrant gold prospectors.  It was the richest city in the world in 1880.The German architecture really stands out. It’s like a mini Heidelberg.  Australia’s very first Myer department store opened in Bendigo. And Benidgo also has a very strong Chinese heritage.

Is it true that Bendigo has the world’s longest Chinese dragons?

Believe it or not, Mr Ripley. Have a poke around the Golden Dragon Museum which  showcases how integral  Chinese heritage is, to the story of Bendigo. And the museum is home to two fantastic dragons, one is the oldest in the world, and the other is the longest in the world, longer than a rugby field.

Are the Goldfields best tackled as a self-drive trip?

That would be my recommendation. Beyond  the two big nuggets, Ballarat and Bendigo,  there’s a stack of storybook goldrush villages, like Maldon, Creswick and Daylesford, that are great to explore  at your own free-wheeling pace. And if you’re heading to Melbourne for some summer sizzle and their mega sporting events, a side-trip to the goldfields will add a great twist to your holiday.

For further travel insights, tips and advice, check out the website of New Zealand’s premier travel magazine, For the Love of Travel.

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