Known as one of the richest gold fields on earth; Ballarat, Bendigo and the Macedon Ranges still hold treasures in more ways than one. With a vibrant arts culture, historic buildings along wide leafy streets and more award-winning restaurants in the country than any other part of Victoria, the area is a mecca for tourists.
When the Gold Rush began in 1851, thousands of gold seekers came here to make their fortunes. Today, gold is still mined and the region attracts thousands of visitors every year. From panning for gold on Sovereign Hill and wandering the historic streets of the towns and villages to the impressive natural beauty of Lal Lal Falls, the region is a must. Although the destination is a four-season destination, autumn is considered prime time, when the region is ablaze with vibrant red, yellow and orange colors.
As Victoria’s largest inland city, Ballarat is of historical, commercial and cultural importance. The elegant facades of the many historic buildings are reminiscent of the gold rush. The older part of the city is central Lydiard Street with the beautiful Her Majesty’s Theatreone of the oldest surviving theaters in Australia; Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, featuring works by the gold rush artists; and historic churches. The visitor center (also on Lydiard Street) has a useful heritage walks brochure that explains the history of each building. On the shores of Lake Wendoureethe beautiful Botanic Gardens cover 40 hectares. The range of gardens, highlighted by a central conservatory, has been part of Ballarat for more than 150 years and attracts garden enthusiasts from all over the world.
2 Sovereign Hill
Experience the gold rush day or night. More than a living museum, Sovereign Hill takes visitors back to 1851 to commemorate history. During the day, wander through the nice shops main Street mingle with actors dressed in traditional costumes, explore the underground mine, ride the horse-drawn carriage through the township or strike it rich looking for gold in the river. At night, a spectacular sound and light show tells the story of the 1854 Eureka Rebellion, an important part of Australian history. As a multi-award winning attraction, Sovereign Hill is considered one of the best authentic historical experiences in Australia.
Opening hours: Open every day of the year except Christmas Day.
Admission: Adults $47.00; children 5 – 15, $21.40
Location: Bradshaw Street, Ballarat
Official site: https://www.sovereignhill.com.au
3 Lal Lal Falls
A short drive from Ballarat, the Lal Lal Falls, meaning “water thinning”, is a spiritually significant site in Aboriginal history. The spectacular waterfalls sit majestically among a series of gorges with an easily accessible viewing platform. Hiking trails connect the entire reserve. Another highlight is the uniquely preserved blast furnace, a remnant of nineteenth-century industrialism that focused on the production of bricks, pottery, porcelain and paper in the area.
Location: Moorabool, via Ballarat
Slightly smaller than Ballarat in population, Bendigo is an extravagant provincial town. Grand, European architecture with a distinctly Australian feel; wide tree-lined boulevards; and an abundance of art galleries and churches provide a surprise at every turn. The Bendigo Art Gallery often hosts world-class exhibitions alongside a stunning collection of Australian paintings. Bendigo pottery is Australia’s oldest working pottery and a great place to pick up a unique gift. Bendigo makes a great base for exploring not only the township, but also the surrounding villages.
5 Bendigo Tramways
An 8.4 kilometer cruise takes you to the best of historic Bendigo aboard a lavishly decorated vintage tram. The hop-on hop-off trip can be extended by two days on the one ticket to allow you to spend time at each attraction. There are plenty of highlights. To name a few, on the Central Deborah Gold Mine, visitors can take an underground tour to see where more than one ton of gold was mined. The authentic bright red Chinese Joss House is a reminder of the important role Chinese immigrants played in the history of the gold rush. The beautiful Sacred Heart Cathedral is the most recognized landmark in Bendigo and is one of the largest churches in Australia. With 17 trams in the fleet, this is a time-efficient attraction that is enjoyed in a beautifully nostalgic way.
Opening hours: Open every day except Christmas Day
Admission: Adults $16.00, children $10.00
Address: 1 Tramways Ave, Bendigo
Maldon is a model town. Surrounded by hills and wooded countryside, the main street is lined with perfectly preserved 19th-century buildings with an eclectic collection of antique shops, cafes, restaurants and galleries. Maldon was protected by the National Trust and dubbed Australia’s first ‘distinctive town’. A restored steam train runs along the beautiful 11 mile journey from Maldon to Castlemaine most weekends and on Wednesdays.
In the heart of the goldfields, Castlemaine is another beautifully restored village. With wide streets and narrow alleys, the small town is popular with art, garden and food lovers. There are several excellent, organic cafes with local products. In recent years, a niche market has emerged in original one-off clothing stores Mostyn Street and the Restorer’s Barn is a gold mine for anyone interested in antiques and building materials. There are also many antiquarian booksellers in the general region with several excellent shops in Castlemaine. The nearby small village of Clunes is known for its second-hand dealers. It is also where gold was first discovered in 1851.
Located on the edge of the Wombat State Forest, Daylesford is a gold town with a difference. Swiss and Italian immigrants settled here during the gold rush, not only for the gold, but also for the water. Together with a twin city Hepburn Springs, Daylesford is the spa capital of Australia. Mineral springs complete with hand pumps are spread throughout the area. There are also many wellness retreats specializing in spa treatments and the excellently located, state-of-the-art Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa has been welcoming visitors since 1895. Walking “peace mile”, the designated route around Lake Daylesford, is considered a daily constitutional by residents and its many award-winning restaurants serve creatively prepared local produce. Located on the water’s edge, it’s elegant house on the lake is Victoria’s most celebrated country house. Just over an hour’s drive from Melbourne, Daylesford is one of Victoria’s most popular weekend getaways.
Located just outside Daylesford, Lavandula is a piece of Europe in an Australian landscape. The heady scent of lavender fields surrounds the old stone buildings and the farm is a perfect place for a lazy afternoon. La Trattoria Café is suitable for both indoor and outdoor dining and has a wood-fired oven. During the summer, visitors can watch the lavender being harvested by hand using traditional sickles, and the shop has a range of excellent body products made from lavender oil distilled on the premises.
Address: 350 Hepburn-Newstead Road, Shepherds Flat
With a thriving arts culture, Kyneton offers visitors a variety of experiences. historical Piper Street is lined with authentic, beautifully preserved buildings with a collection of galleries, restaurants and original shops. A lively farmers market is held on the second Saturday morning of every month. The Campaspe River Walk takes in the Botanic Gardens as well as a number of important, historic land features.
Where to Stay in Ballarat, Bendigo and the Macedon Ranges for Sightseeing
We recommend these highly rated hotels with easy access to the top historic and natural attractions in Ballarat, Bendigo and the Macedon Ranges:
- Craig’s Royal Hotel: Grand Gold Rush-era luxury, central Ballarat location, ornate furnishings, high tea, complimentary continental breakfast, L’Occitane toiletries.
- Braeside Mt Macedon Country Retreat and Bed & Breakfast: 4-star B&B in the Macedon Ranges, wonderful hosts, country retreat, peaceful surroundings, open fire, tasty breakfasts.
- Best Western Cathedral Motor Inn: mid-range price, center of Bendigo, good value, friendly front desk staff, spacious rooms.
- Seymours on Lydiard: budget-friendly Ballarat hotel, suites and apartments with kitchen, free parking.