Don't waste your Easter break stuck in a traffic jam to the coast. Head northwest and visit Ballarat, where you can kick back with the family without losing your mind (or your budget). Located an easy 90-minute drive (or comfy train ride) from Melbourne CBD, the old gold rush town has got everything from cuddly animals to beautiful walks and delicious food.
Forget about the Easter bunny, Ballarat has a host of more cuddly animals to meet. The Ballarat Wildlife Park is home to two Sumatran tigers, a family of meerkats, lots of roaming kangaroos, a colony of little penguins and lots more native animals. You can even get up close to koalas, dingoes, wombats and snakes.
For a magical escape drop into Kryal Castle, where the whole family can enjoy an enchanting Easter program inspired by Alice in Wonderland. The medieval castle has invited Alice, the Mad Hatter and the rest of the characters to stay over Easter, and you can join them as they take tea, play croquet, joust and more.
Almost everyone who’s grown up in Victoria will have fond memories of going to Sovereign Hill, and for good reason. The immersive outdoor museum takes visitors back to the Victorian gold rush and lets you experience life in the 1850s. We mean really experience it: over Easter you can even learn some of the traditional trades like chair, candle and rope making.
For those looking for a less hands-on activity, Sovereign Hill has launched a new nighttime show called Aura that tells Ballarat’s story with dazzling projections across 26 hectares. Starting with the Wadawurrung creation story, it's a multi-sensory experience that explores how the discovery of gold changed Ballarat forever.
On a budget this Easter? There’s still plenty to do on the cheap in Ballarat. Start in the centre of town at the Ballarat Art Gallery. This is the oldest purpose-built art gallery in regional Australia, and that means the halls are home to works from some of Australia’s biggest names in art. We’re talking Grace Cossington Smith, Arthur Boyd, Frederick McCubbin and more. There is also a growing contemporary collection.
Embrace the balmy autumn weather in Ballarat with a stroll around Lake Wendouree. It’s a six-kilometre round walk, but it’s easy to stroll just a section of it. Kids will want to stop off at the lake’s adventure playground while parents will likely enjoy the nearby botanic gardens. Or go just a little beyond Ballarat with a daytrip to Creswick or Talbot.
Ballarat is quickly gaining a reputation as a thriving food hub, but you don’t have to spend a lot of dough. The town’s dinky laneways (move over, Degraves Street) house a bunch of delicious cafés and restaurants that have something for even the fussiest eaters. Parents craving coffee are advised to head to Hydrant Food Hall (it’s got a great kids' area) or Little Bird Café.
Locals who need an Italian fix head straight to Carboni's Italian Kitchen. The chic restaurant serves everything from authentic woodfired pizza to Sardinian seafood pies and sweet Sicilian cannoli. Afterwards, why not stop by Il Piccolo for a scoop of artisan gelato?
Be aware that public holidays may affect trading hours.
There’s so much to do in and around Ballarat that you’re going to want to stay overnight. For a fun family vacay book in at Big4 Ballarat Goldfields Holiday Park. Located in the centre of the city (perfect for exploring) the holiday park has a half-sized tennis court, heated pool, playground and a jumping pillow.
For those looking to stay in Ballarat’s beautiful countryside there’s RACV Goldfields Resort. The resort features a lush golf course, day spa and comfortable modern rooms perfect for families. Plus there’s an activity room where kids can play board games or colour in.