If you have ever wanted to immerse yourself in medieval history, pan for gold or discover Australian democracy, then Culture Trip recommends a weekend trip to Ballarat. This historic town has much to offer including a few surprises such as the picturesque Botanicals Gardens, Lake Wendouree, and the Ballarat Wildlife Park. If you’re looking to get away this weekend, head north-west to a place of historical sovereignty.
One of Victoria’s most popular tourist attractions, Sovereign Hill depicts Ballarat’s gold rush era in the 1850s. Opened in 1970, the open-air museum features 60 historically modelled buildings and costumed staff who never drop character. Pan for gold in the diggings creek, be amazed by the craftsmanship at the Gold Smelting Works, take a self-guided underground tour of Red Hill Mine and see the multi-million dollar sound-and-light show ‘Blood on the Southern Cross’, which depicts the 1854 Eureka Uprising. Sovereign Hill has six dining options, and there’s even a four-star, on-site accommodation.
Kryal Castle is a replica medieval adventure park which has been entertaining visitors since 1974. After many reincarnations, the castle’s drawbridge was officially re-lowered in 2013, and guests can once again travel back in time to a place of myth where dragons, queens, kings, knights and wizards roam. Start your day at The Dragon’s Labyrinth, see the Torture Dungeon and Museum, watch as brave knights joust for supremacy in the main arena, wander through the maze, watch as the wizard mixes potions and test your strength with the Sword in the Stone. Guests can also sleep at the castle, and there are dinner and show packages available.
Originally a stream and then a swamp, this urban lake was first used recreationally in 1864. Since then, Lake Wendouree has hosted rowing and canoeing events in the 1956 Olympic Games and the 2014 World Masters Rowing event. Today, the lake offers a variety of activities including the six-kilometre Steve Moneghetti walking and cycling track, bird watching, a playground and BBQ facilities. The Ballarat Botanical Gardens are also situated at the lake.
Located four kilometres from the centre of Ballarat, on the western shores of Lake Wendouree, the Ballarat Botanical Gardens covers 40 hectares and is one of Australia’s most remarkable cool climate gardens. Opened in 1857, the gardens are over 150 years old and feature mature trees, a modern conservatory, a heritage statuary pavilion and the Ex-Prisoner of War Memorial. Divided into three zones, the gardens include a Victorian pleasure garden and the Prime Ministers Avenue, which features bronze busts of every PM since the Federation. There is also a collection of 12 marble statues from Italy donated by Thomas Stoddart in 1884.
Through digital technology, art installations, and historic artefacts, the Eureka Centre immerses visitors in the Australian story of democracy through the tales of the men and women who fought for those freedoms. Located on the site of the 1854 Eureka Stockade, the Eureka Centre’s permanent exhibition features the Eureka Flag flown in December 1854. The museum seeks to ask ‘What is democracy and why do we care?’ and ‘Why has it been fought for, yesterday and today?’
A host of native Australian creatures including koalas, wombats, crocodiles, dingoes, Tasmanian devils and reptiles call Ballarat Wildlife Park home. Founded in 1985, the park is run by Greg Parker and his family who aim to educate people through interactive wildlife experiences. In addition to the daily guided tours, the park runs animal presentations and meet-the-keeper experiences. There is also an undercover café with a selection of hot and cold snacks and a souvenir shop. You can also take part in the animal adoption program.