Ten top things to do in Victorian Goldfields
The discovery of gold in central Victoria drew tens of thousands of people from around the world hoping to strike it rich.
Gold fever quadrupled the population and turned tent settlements into wealthy cities. The Gold Rush may have passed but there’s still plenty to draw enthusiastic visitors. Famed for fabulous Victorian era architecture, a rich history and, more recently, as a food and wine destination, the Goldfields deserve a place high on the itinerary of any visitor to Victoria.
Here are ten top things to do in the Victorian Goldfields.
Step back in time in Ballarat
You can’t visit the Victorian Goldfields without immersing yourself in their history. Ballarat – the region’s biggest city – is a great starting point, and a walking tour with Ballarat Heritage Tours is not to be missed. In 90-minutes you’ll learn all about the architecture of the city and some of its most colourful characters.
Highlights include the historic buildings of Lydiard Street (the best-preserved Victorian era streetscape outside of the UK) and the southern hemisphere’s most intact 19th Century railway precinct.
Listen to a podcast of our tips for five must-sees in the Victorian Goldfields:
Strike it lucky at Sovereign Hill
Artisans at work, period shops and costume-clad actors bring Ballarat’s diggings to life at Sovereign Hill. There are plenty of hands-on opportunities for visitors too. Go back to school 1850s-style to write lines with ink and quill, or dress up in vintage garb for a sitting at the photographic studio. Try your luck panning for gold or head underground on a mine tour.
If the harsh conditions miners faced leave you feeling a bit rebellious, then stick around after dark for Blood on the Southern Cross. This engaging light and sound show depicts the poverty, lawlessness and corruption that led miners to rebel at the famous Eureka Stockade.
Ride the Victorian Goldfields Railway
To experience the golden era of rail take a ride on the Victorian Goldfields Railway. The volunteer-run tourist railway connects the towns of Castlemaine and Maldon. Trains are hauled by vintage steam or diesel locomotives.
Catch the train from Castlemaine and enjoy a couple of hours browsing the boutique shops along Maldon’s main street, along with a hearty pub lunch at the Kangaroo Hotel. On your return trip hop aboard the 1930s-era Macedon club car for a touch of luxury.
Take the waters in spa country
In the late 1800s the area around Hepburn Springs became a mecca for people seeking the healing properties of the region’s natural mineral springs. Today the plethora of day spas in Hepburn Springs and Daylesford attracts visitors seeking relaxation and pampering. The historic Hepburn Bathhouse has been operating since 1895 and is one of the region’s top attractions. The communal relaxation pool draws water from the natural springs and an extensive range of spa treatments is available.
Fossick for books in Clunes
Tiny Clunes lays claim to being the site of Victoria’s first gold strike, but these days it attracts a different kind of treasure hunter. Booklovers and booksellers converge here for the annual Clunes Booktown festival each May. The town is turned into a giant market for rare, collectable, new and second-hand books. But you don’t have to wait for the festival. Clunes has a thriving book scene year-round and regular literary events are conducted by the Booktown on Sundays program. A number of excellent permanent book shops can be found in the heritage town centre, including Index on Literature and The Book Fossicker.
Relive the golden age of cinema
The Goldfields are home to two of Victoria’s best historic cinemas. The charming Star Cinema in Eaglehawk offers a program of arthouse and classic movies in the former Town Hall. From the restored original seating to the 1920s ticket booth, the Star is a celebration of cinema’s heyday. Sit back, relax and watch a film while enjoying a tipple from the fully licensed bar.
Castlemaine’s Theatre Royal is the oldest continuously operating cinema on the Australian mainland – it’s been entertaining locals since 1854. The art deco facade and interior are thanks to a 1930s makeover, and have been lovingly maintained ever since.
Enjoy Bendigo’s Victorian architecture
Bendigo boasts some of the best examples of Victorian era architecture. The Ulumbarra Theatre, built within the historic Sandhurst prison, Bendigo Town Hall, the Hotel Shamrock and historic Post Office all offer guided tours. If you prefer to do your own thing, the Bendigo tourism office will give you a map for a self-guided walking tour.
Head underground on a mining tour
Getting a feel for life as a gold miner is one of the top things to do in the Victorian Goldfields and the Central Deborah Gold Mine in Bendigo offers a range of underground mine tours. Venture 61 or 85 metres underground, or join Australia’s deepest mine tour. You’ll be kitted out in overalls and hard hat before heading 228 metres down for the Nine Levels of Darkness tour.
Stay at a grand hotel
Don’t miss the opportunity to stay in one of the region’s grand historic hotels. Craig’s Royal Hotel has been at the centre of Ballarat’s story for well over a century and has hosted many famous guests including Prince Alfred (son of Queen Victoria), Mark Twain, Lord Kitchener and Dame Nellie Melba.
The hotel was completely restored in 2010 and while the refurbished rooms offer modern comforts, Craig’s is still packed with old world charm. Antique furniture, fabrics and wallpapers add to the ambience. The hotel’s glass-roofed gallery is home to The Gallery – one of Ballarat’s best restaurants.
Visit Harcourt’s wineries
All of this activity will probably leave you thirsty and as luck would have it the area around Harcourt is home to some of Victoria’s finest wineries, including Harcourt Valley and Bress. At Bress’ cellar door you can also taste the vineyard’s renowned apple and pear ciders. Welshmans Reef Vineyard near Maldon produces handcrafted reds and whites.
Louise travelled as a guest of Ballarat Heritage Tours.
Do you have anything to add to our list of ten top things to do in the Victorian Goldfields? We would love to hear from you. Please leave us a comment.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Louise Reynolds made up her mind at the age of about four that she would one day travel the world – and has so far visited around 30 countries across five continents and the Pacific. A hopeless Francophile, Louise has a particular love for France, its language and pretty much all things French. Her favourite way to explore the world is on foot and her boots have taken her walking on famous trails in Europe, South America and New Zealand. Louise also has a passion for her home state and loves exploring regional Victoria. While travelling she’s usually found with a pile of books and at least one teddy bear in tow. She also practices the little-known sport of extreme knitting in far off places.