Ballarat was our first stop after an autumn spent in Melbourne. We never intended on spending so long in one spot but when your car needs an entire engine rebuild and you’ve got the luxury of time, you wait patiently in the hope that the fix will be a long-lasting one.

So with a repaired car (and a much lighter bank account) we hit the road, full of trepidation but incredibly relieved to be moving again. Ballarat was the perfect first stop; an hour-and-a-half from Melbourne and the promise of a few days spent at the iconic Sovereign Hill.

We stayed at BIG4 Ballarat Goldfields Holiday Park which was walking distance from Sovereign Hill and it was ideal. We had the opportunity to stay in a 3-bedroom Deluxe Cabin which, considering the cold and the forecast, was a very welcome change from the caravan. Spacious and comfortable, it sleeps 8 and features one bathroom + an ensuite, a big kitchen and combined dining/loungeroom. There was even a washing machine in the cupboard which was all my dreams come true (a full size washing machine is what I miss most about living in a house!). The beds were comfy, the linen soft, the showers hot and the extra space much appreciated.

We really loved the thoughtful details at BIG4 Ballarat Goldfields; replica mining equipment as garden features, period lampposts and quaint mining cottages. The grounds are immaculate and the staff offered the warmest welome; they genuinely care about your travelling experience. It was definitely cold when we were there (sideways rain and howling wind will do that) so the indoor play area was a respite when cabin fever took hold. And for caravanners, the heated floors in the amenities are a hit (creature comforts should never be underestimated).

We don’t like to make too many plans while travelling but a visit to Sovereign Hill was definitely one of our must-dos. A family ticket gives you two-days access to Sovereign Hill and the adjacent Gold Museum. We completely underestimated how big and intriguing it is! We spent about four hours there each day (long enough for the little ones) and we only scraped the surface.

It’s a rich historical experience and brimming with opportunities to learn. Every staff member and volunteer is dressed in period costume and will happily share details of the goldrush era. One of our favourite discoveries was a little miners hut on the hill above the creek. We wandered inside to find a gentleman cooking scones on the fire; flour and dough and a rolling pin sitting on the table nearby. He chatted to us for a good half-an-hour, explaining who would have lived in the hut (a miner, his wife and probably 8-10 kids), where they would have slept (3-4 kids in a tiny bed, some on the floor), and how they went about their days. It was the most powerful reminder of our modern-day privilege.

Of course we panned for gold, got swept up in reenactments, watched a gold pour (a must-see), saw candy being made (then bought and ate some) and wandered and read and looked and learned.

In a serendipitous turn of events, we were there for the first night of Winter Wonderlights; the annual Christmas in July celebration featuring a spectacular light show, an abundance of fairy lights, evening activities and a palpable sense of magic. It was unforgettable and the perfect end to our two days at Australia’s largest outdoor museum.

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  • Eira Clapton

    I stayed in that caravan park many years ago and I still remember the heated floor in the amenities block! I took my kids to Sovereign Hill too. So glad to see it still in good condition. I loved it there.

  • Felicity from Down Under

    I visited Sovereign Hill a few years ago at about this time of year, and experienced much the same weather conditions you’ve described. I didn’t pan for gold, but my son did. He reckoned his back was aching after only half an hour. Like any visitor, he was doing it for the experience, not because of any obligation. Although he’s taller than many of those earlier miners would have been, and perhaps therefore more prone to having problems with lots of bending over, it was indeed a salutary lesson. 🙂

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