An easy drive on easy highway out an hour west of Melbourne, Victoria, you will find Ballarat, and synonomous with Ballarat is Sovereign Hill. This destination is a recreation of gold rush time Ballarat, taking its visitors back in time. It has been around for almost 50 years, and I can remember the excitement of any school excursion that took us there.
The familiar smell of dust accosts me every time I enter the turnstiles, which is as it would have been on the harsh, dry and barren landscapes where the miners sought new fortunes (much as I do when I buy a tattslotto ticket, without the associated hardship!). Sovereign Hill is a complete town, with reconstructed streets, shops, homes, and old school trades skills that have been generally lost to modern society (such as coach wheel building).
There are a number of differing underground tours on offer also. Be sure to plan your day, for we generally arrive late, and after maybe 30 visits, have still never managed to get on the first tour of the day.
One thing we do manage to do every time is watch the confectionary making demonstration. The raspberry drops are definitely the kids favourite, but it is family tradition to enter the sweets store and debate which variety we are going to buy, before leaving with a glass jar of raspberry drops!
The machinery is awe inspiring. Every so often, this immense piece of machinery that is the gold stamping mill, gets into action, the thump reverbrating through the entire village. You can also visit the foundry for highly skilled and well priced goods (I have come away with a wok and gold pan), candle making and printing. I highly highly highly recommend that kids and the younger folk come here just to see the technology that existed before IT technology.
Grab a free pan and try your luck at finding the gold flakes that are released into the creek that winds through Sovereign Hill.
In keeping with Ballarat, it can be blazingly hot, or cold and foggy, either adding to the atmosphere. I love nothing more than being here until close, when the crowds have left, and wandering through the deserted streets to the exit.
There is a wonderful bakery here, where you can grab a pie or cakes or similar, and go sit by the lake to eat, watching the geese. There is also a tea room and bistro for indoor eating, each offering a different experience. Or to save money, bring a picnic basket, and grab a pass out when you want to collect your food.
Or as we do, eat at the Beechworth Bakery in Ballarat before or after (serving all day long).
Sovereign Hill isnt cheap, but once you take into consideration what you will experience, it is well worth it. And I think, there is a second day free option, if you are staying in the area. We buy the annual pass, so that whenever we get the urge for some old time bowling, panning or just a walk in the past, we can pop in without the stress of the cost.