When the opportunity to spend a weekend in Ballarat came up, I jumped at it.
Which was odd, considering the only two things I knew about Ballarat was people once panned for gold there (or maybe they still did?) and that I’d been saying, ‘Ballarat, actually’ ever since the mid-90s when that popular lamb ad had made the town part of the Aussie vernacular.
So as you can tell, I was definitely taking this travel gig seriously.
We headed out of Sydney on a stormy Thursday evening expecting much the same weather in Melbourne.
We were pleasantly surprised to arrive to no rain and (almost) balmy weather.
After checking that we had indeed landed in Melbourne, we wrangled our tired toddler into her stroller to pick up the hire car and drive the 115 km journey down (up? Across?) to Ballarat.
Arriving at our stunning accommodation (more on that below) we were pleasantly surprised that our hosts had kindly put together a welcome hamper that included a delicious bottle of Pinot Noir.
Exactly what you need after a plane and car journey with a two-year-old, even a mostly well behaved one.
I can’t recommend Ballarat highly enough, if even for the people alone. It’s so refreshing to leave the city behind to come to a friendly town where the locals are more than happy to have a chat and share some local history.
I’ve put together a quick guide of what to do and where to eat. I stayed for two nights but you could easily stay for a week and still not run out of things to do and see.
48hrs in Ballarat: a quick guide.
What to do: So. Many. Things. To be honest I thought we’d be able to do it all, and see it all in one day but oh, how wrong I was.
Ballarat Wildlife Park: Nicholas Cage has been there, as has Kim Cattrall so, you know you’re in good company. The best thing about this park is the 100-odd free roaming kangaroos that you can get up close to and feed – so great for the little ones.
We were particularly well looked after with a behind-the-scenes tour from one of the zookeepers. We got up close with Hugo a cheeky 80-year-old tortoise, cuddled a koala, met the wombats, and got the low down on all the slippery snakes and lizards in the reptile room.
Sovereign Hill: Sovereign Hill is an outdoor museum and recreation of a gold rush town where you can learn about Australia’s gold mining history. You can pan for gold (they’ll let you keep it), dress up in Victorian clothing and catch a horse-drawn coach.
Kryal Castle: An interactive castle/theme park where Harry Potter meets Game of Thrones. There’s jousting, a maze, museum, theatre and a kids playground. A hot tip: skip the dragon’s lair if you have a tot under three (ahem).
The Tangled Maze: Just as you’d expect this is a botanical maze that will keep the kids (and adults) entertained for hours. Also on site is an 18 hole mini-golf course and family-friendly restaurant.
Ballarat Observatory: over 100 years old the observatory is a great space (geddit?) for kids and adults alike to check out the stars and planets. Best for school-aged kids.