It takes so long to explore the convent that you’ll even be handed directions that advise you where to go and in what order. Built in the 1860s during the gold rush, it’s now home to multiple touring exhibitions and old artefacts, from the bell tower right down to the basement. Actually, a local artist, Tina Banitska, had bought the property in 1988 after the last nuns moved out in the ’70s. A stroll around the carefully cultivated grounds is a must (particularly if you like begonias), as is a morning stint in the Bad Habits café, which serves everything from high tea (which must be booked) to mulled wine.
Sunday Market and Heritage Train Rides
Every Sunday a sprawling market that’s part flea, part produce, part clothing, sets up alongside Daylesford Railway Station. Drop in for the briefest of browses and you’re liable to walk away with a house plant, locally produced honey and… whatever that antique bit of iron is. The 1882 heritage-listed railway station is the highest-operating in Victoria, and the hour-long journey of its historic railmotor ($13-$15 return) takes in volcanic hills, dense forests, and no doubt the odd wombat. The only thing it won’t do is take you back to Melbourne.
A mere five minutes’ drive from Daylesford is gracious Hepburn Springs – a spa town that’s risen up around the natural mineral springs. Indeed, you can either take a stroll through the bush and fill up your water bottle straight from the source, or you can splash out on one of the many hotels and day spas that will soon get you afloat (well, as soon as you’ve had a massage). There’s plenty of sustenance here, too, such as Surly Goat – a popular restaurant just off Main Road. It books out at weekends so you might need to grab a seat at the bar. The menu changes weekly, but think barramundi fillets, Black Angus rump steak and chargrilled lamb cutlets. After dinner, trek all the way down to the sulphur spring, guided by the Narnia-like green streetlamps.
There really is something for everyone at these massive markets that stretch from room to room. Fans of Australiana are particularly well catered for, thanks to the vintage tea towels, postcards and kitsch tablewear, but there are also plenty of clothes to rummage for (whether you’re looking to be Steve McQueen or Amy Winehouse), lots of coins for collector buffs, and everything from ancient motorbike parts to vintage pinnies.
Staffed by the volunteers of the Daylesford & District Historical Society, this museum is a goldmine of local history. Much of it was donated by the descendants of early settlers, so you can imagine there’s a wealth of early gold-mining relics. There are also artefacts and papers from the Loddon Aboriginal Protectorate station at nearby Franklinford, which was land loaned back to the Dja Dja Wurrung people in 1841 – before they were forcibly resettled again in 1864. For those embarking on research projects, the museum opens its archival resources to the public, even providing insight from its own team of researchers, provided an appointment is booked.