Update 19/11/2020: Sovereign Hill has reopened to the public but some experiences remain unavailable due to current restrictions. Check with the venue for details.
Sovereign Hill is where history comes to life. The ten-hectare outdoor museum is sort of an antipodean version of Westworld, sans the homicidal robots and hedonistic atmosphere. Sovereign Hill genuinely makes learning about Victoria’s gold rush history fun, whether you’re panning for gold in the creek or dipping your own candle.
You’ll find Sovereign Hill in Ballarat, a goldfields town roughly 90 minutes drive from Melbourne (the town is also serviced by a VLine train from Southern Cross Station). Once you step through the admission building into the recreated 1850s town you’ll find yourself surrounded by characters in historically accurate costumes, horse and carts and attractions that reveal what life was like during one of Victoria’s, if not Australia’s, most significant historical periods.
You can spend hours meandering through the streets and exploring each building, however, it is worth looking at demonstration times and going in with a plan, too. See blacksmiths take to the anvil, confectioners create old school boiled sweets and even witness the spectacular gold pour where $160,000 of gold is melted and turned into a three-kilogram bullion.
Other daytime highlights at Sovereign Hill include the old-timey photography studio (dress up and get a sepia photograph with your friends) and underground mine tours. Then at night time come back for the outdoor show Aura.
Aura goes right back to the beginning of gold. All the way back the beginning of everything in fact. The immersive after-dark theatrical experience can be divided into three parts. First guests are treated to a (frankly, mind-bending) 3D film that takes you back to the big bang and the formation of all elements – including gold.
Guests then hop on an open-air bus for a short, Jurassic Park-esque drive through Sovereign Hill to the outdoor amphitheatre for a creation story from the land’s traditional owners, the Wathaurong people. Hear about Bunjil the eaglehawk through a magical projection show – the colourful, luminous projections against the dark bushland bring the story to life and remind us that Ballarat's history is not just that of the gold rush.
Finally, Aura takes you into a third theatre for the pièce de résistance; the story of Ballarat – the story of gold – from just before European invasion to the bloody Eureka Stockade and the aftermath. The 90-minute experience is filled with dazzling visuals and dramatic special effects; don’t be too concerned if you hear gunshots or see buildings spontaneously catch alight.