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Ballarat: A City of Prosperous Finds
While most of Ballarat’s riches may have already been discovered during the 1850s gold rush, the city is still wealthy with tourist attractions, including historical sites, museums, and its magnificent man-made lake. During your stay, you can dine in a “haunted” hotel, watch a wombat in its natural habitat, or make your way through a recreated gold mining settlement. You may not leave with any gold in your pockets, but this urban city in Victoria, Australia, can provide a wealth of experiences for travellers of all ages.
Sovereign Hill & Other Historical Attractions
One of the most notable aspects of Ballarat’s history is the role it played in the 1850s gold rushes of Australia. After the discovery of gold in the city’s Yarrowee Valley area, the “Ballarat diggings” began, drawing thousands of prospectors. Now, you can witness a live recreation of the city’s gold mining settlements at Sovereign Hill, which has been named Australia’s best “Major Tourist Attraction” three times. Visitors can try their hand at uncovering real gold to keep, or watch as the costumed characters go about their work, including candle makers, a blacksmith, and workers in the confectionery factory. Onsite accommodation is available at the Sovereign Hill Hotel, though there are a number of nearby hotels in Ballarat that are convenient to the attraction as well. If the city’s history continues to pique your interest, take a walk past some of its oldest buildings, including Her Majesty’s Theatre, which was erected in 1875 and is still home to musicals and other performances today, or the majestic Ballarat Town Hall, which was constructed in the early 1870s.
Museums & Galleries Galore
Established in 1884, the Art Gallery of Ballarat is the oldest gallery in Australia, as well as its largest regional gallery. It showcases a massive selection of Australian paintings, sculpture, and ceramics, and is home to both historical pieces and contemporary art. Should you wish to take home a piece of Australian art, you can visit the Gallery on Sturt next, a retail art gallery with frequently-changing exhibits and a wide selection of art available for purchase. The city also has a number of popular museums, including The Gold Museum, where you can behold a collection of stunning gold artefacts. There’s also the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (also referred to as “MADE”), which tells the story of Australian democracy through its informative digital exhibits and historic displays, like the Flag of the Southern Cross. MADE is situated at the site of the 1854 Eureka Stockade, in which Australian gold miners revolted against the U.K.’s colonial authority.
Spooky Dining Experiences
Ghost tours are a popular attraction in Ballarat, but if you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of a spectre and you’re also feeling a bit hungry, you can skip the walk and go directly to one of the city’s “haunted” eateries. Craig’s Royal Hotel, which opened in 1853, is a popular stop along some of the city’s guided ghost tours, and it’s also home to The Gallery Restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a casual setting. Just keep an eye out the “haunted” portrait of Walter Craig, one of the hotel’s earliest owners, who had a premonition that his horse Nimblefoot would win the 1870 Melbourne Cup after his passing (which turned out to be true!). Another one of the supposedly haunted hotels and eateries in Ballarat is The Eastern Station Hotel, which is said to be haunted by the original owner, Thomas Redshaw Hunt. His ghost is said to be preceded by an odour of tobacco, so whether you’re enjoying a brew in the pub or feel brave enough to stay the night, just beware! Of course, if you prefer to dine without the ghouls, there are plenty of modern gastro pubs in the city, many of which offer inventive menus consisting of regional produce, as well as breweries and wineries featuring locally-crafted beverages.
Lake Wendouree & Australian Wildlife
Ballarat is the third-most populated urban area in the state of Victoria, but that doesn’t mean that it’s without its fair share of open land. In fact, the city is home to Lake Wendouree, a man-made lake that has been an outdoor attraction for residents for more than 150 years. The lake is also known for the fact that it hosted two events in the 1956 Olympics. A number of native bird species dwell within the lake’s reeds and small islands, and you can also observe a beautiful display of fauna at the nearby Botanical Gardens. Lake Wendouree provides ample opportunities for tourists and locals alike to enjoy outdoor activities, including picnicking, walking, running, and cycling. On the lake itself, sailing, rowing, and canoeing are popular as well. If you can’t get enough of the Australian wildlife, you can head to Ballarat Wildlife Park, a conservation centre for animals like kangaroos, koalas, wombats, and crocodiles. The “Crunch” crocodile feeding show is one of the zoo’s most popular tourist attractions, drawing visitors of all ages.