real life

The (big) little town you should lock in for your next weekend escape.

 

Pickles the wombat.

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.

Feeding the kangaroos at the Ballarat Wildlife Park.

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.

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Creswick Woollen Mills: have been around for 60 years and it’s very possible you or someone you know owns one of their quilts, blankets, throws, scarves or apparel.

This weekend marks the launch of ‘A Very Fine Yarn,‘ an interactive experience for visitors to meet the alpacas and learn every facet from ‘farm gate to shop shelf‘ to see how their woollen products are made. A must-see for anyone interested in textiles, knitting or weaving.

M.A.D.E Museum: M.A.D.E (Museum of Democracy at Eureka) is Australia’s newest museum. It officially opened in May this year and focuses on what democracy means in Australia today. It’s built on the physical site of the Eureka Stockade, and is fantastic kid-friendly museum with lots of interactive exhibits (and a great playground nearby).

Vintage shopping: Ballarat is a great town for vintage and antique shopping, I showed extreme restraint by not bringing home a 1950s coffee table and lamp but made up for it in the vintage clothing stores dotted around town.

My favourite shop was the one run by a lovely older couple (with excellent taste) opposite Catfish (on Main Rd). I was able to source my outfit for the Beyonce concert I was attending the following night, and could’ve sifted through the racks of vintage clothing and accessories for hours.

The homewares in Such and Such.

Want more? Daylesford is short drive away and is also fantastic for vintage shopping and day spas.

But first, coffee: I had it on good Melbourne-based authority that L’Espresso was the place to go good coffee and I wasn’t disappointed.

There are plenty of great cafes in Ballarat; check out Open Pantry, Eclectic Tastes, Europa, The Turret Cafe and Such and Such.

Where to eat: Promise me now that you’ll head straight to Forge Pizzeria – the food is incredible. And probably the best pizza I’ve tasted this side of Italy. Go for the butternut pumpkin pizza and calamari.

Cafe-cum-shopping-mecca, Such and Such is great spot for lunch. It not only has delicious food made solely from local produce but also stocks boutique clothing, beautiful homewares and furniture (sourced from around the world), menswear, jewellery and accessories. A great spot to get all youru Christmas shopping done.

Where to drink: Jackson’s & Co, Oscar’s hotel, the George hotel, the Golden City hotel; you will not have to go far in search of a beer or a great pub in Ballarat. My pick is the renovated Jackson’s & Co; cool vibe, great drinks, modern decor and excellent food.

Where to stay: for me the mark of good accommodation is wanting come back immediately after setting foot inside. And that’s exactly what I thought when we arrived at Martin Place.

It’s a stunning self-contained three bedroom house, including a children’s bedroom (my toddler went MAD for) close to all the main attractions. I can’t tell you the relief we experienced when we saw the house was decked out with toys (that were spotless), and everything had been thought of, from fresh bread and jams to kid-friendly crockery.

Nicky travelled to Ballarat courtesy of Ballarat Regional Tourism.

Ballarat is home to many great retro/vintage festivals and events throughout the year. To check out accomodation rates, offers and to book your next weekend escape visit visitballarat.com.au. 

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