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Two people standing on a balcony on Lydiard Street in Ballarat
Photograph: Visit Victoria

Weekend getaways: Ballarat

These days the glittering Goldfields city is enticing visitors inland with a different type of riches

By Nicola Dowse
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During the Victorian Gold Rush, Ballarat was considered the richest city in the world. While it's been nearly 150 years since the gold rush ended, Ballarat remains a remarkable place to visit. In recent years the city has become a magnet for creative types, be they artists, chefs, winemakers or artisan tradespeople. And you know what, you really can't beat the historical pageantry (and raspberry drops!) of Sovereign Hill.

Check out our other weekend getaway guides to the High Country, the Great Ocean Road and the Mornington Peninsula.

Keep up to date with travel advice and what's currently allowed across Victoria.

Ballarat travel guide

The Forge Pizzeria
The Forge Pizzeria
Photograph: Supplied

Eat

Start your day right with breakfast at Yellow Espresso. You can get all your brekky faves like scrambled eggs, smashed avo and eggs benny as well as ‘grammable delights (hello salted caramel matcha pancakes). Ballarat might be a long way away from Italy (or even Lygon Street), but that doesn’t stop the Forge Pizzeria. Since 2010 the pizzeria has been serving up woodfired pizzas, with vegetarians and vegans very welcome.

Of course, many come to regional cities for good old-fashioned county cooking, and Ballarat doesn't disappoint. Get your dose of pub grub at the Highlander pub (formerly the Pub With Two Names). Unsurprisingly, the menu does lean towards carnivores and those not concerned with their waistline – but surely that's the point of pubs? Find more home cooking at Café Sidra on the banks of Lake Learmonth, where wholesome pies and chunks of carrot cake are paired with lots of cider (local options available).

On the opposite end of the dining spectrum, fine food in Ballarat doesn’t come much better than Underbar. Dinners are limited to 12 guests per night, and there’s just one long table – so brush up on your small talk. Chef and owner Derek Boath is formerly of three-Michelin-starred New York restaurant Per Se. Come hungry, this degustation will have you rolling out the door full and happy.

Eastern Peake
Eastern Peake
Photograph: Supplied

Drink

Ballarat’s soil has lost its gold but remains rich in all the nutrients needed to grow award-winning wine. Eastern Peake (closed until late November 2020)vineyard and winery is a 20-minute drive outside of Ballarat, where Norm and Dianne Latta have been making wine with a wonderfully ad hoc attitude for the last 30 years. These days their son Owen takes care of the winemaking, and he clearly knows his stuff, having been named Gourmet Traveller's Australian Young Winemaker for 2018. The wines produced at Eastern Peake are what would call natural, with minimal intervention throughout the winemaking process. 

In the city of Ballarat itself, Mitchell Harris Wines is the place to go for a tipple. The building is 140 years old and has formerly been a produce store, tentmaker and motor workshop. Chief winemaker John Harris returned to Ballarat after a term at Domaine Chandon in the Yarra Valley,  setting up Mitchell Harris Wines as a family business alongside his wife, Shannyn, her brother Craig Mitchell and his wife, Alicia. They were among the first to lead the foodie transformation of Ballarat, opening their wine bar as a more effective means of selling their wine. With an effortlessly cool grunge look not unfamiliar to the streets of Fitzroy, it’s not uncommon to see the bar heaving on a Friday afternoon as locals sip vino and snack on small plates.

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Ballarat Botanic Gardens
Ballarat Botanic Gardens
Photograph: Supplied

Explore

Set aside two hours for a walk around Ballarat’s Lake Wendouree. The artificial lake was originally a swamp before it was dammed during the gold rush. These days you can’t swim in the shallow lake, but it makes a popular destination for those looking for a spot of boating, kayaking or fishing. The lake is teeming with ducks, waterhens and swans as well as a large (and non-garbage-eating) colony of ibises. It’s roughly six kilometres to walk around the entire lake, and it’ll take you about two hours.

On the western shore of the lake you’ll find the Ballarat Botanic Gardens, a significant Australian cool-climate botanic garden that is over 150 years old. Take some time to explore the Robert Clarke Conservatory, a glittering glass conservatory that visitors can walk through and enjoy seasonal flower displays. The gardens also feature bronze busts of Australia’s first 28 prime ministers (very impressive given how quickly they change) and 12 Italian marble statues donated by Thomas Stoddard in 1884.

Drysdale horses pulling along a horse and cart at Sovereign Hill
Drysdale horses pulling along a horse and cart at Sovereign Hill
Photograph: Supplied

Don't miss

Things to do Ballarat

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. 

 

On your way, why not stop on the Bellarine?

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