I’ve long been fascinated by time travel. I think it stemmed from reading ‘Charlotte Sometimes’ when I was a kid. It opened my eyes to the concept, and It’s been blowing my mind through movies and novels ever since. So, imagine my surprise when I found myself in my own Time Travel adventure! Ok, so I’ve got an active imagination but on my recent visit to Sovereign Hill in Ballarat, I truly felt like I had warped back in time.
Describing itself as an outdoor museum, Sovereign Hill is so much more; It’s a working antique village; a tribute to a bygone era; and an interactive history lesson…. and one of the best places I have ever visited.
From the minute I stepped through the gates, history truly came alive and I became fully immersed in life in a Goldfields Town, complete with shops, hotels, a theatre, schools, and factories. Set on 25 acres of an original mining site, Sovereign Hill also offers underground mines to explore, and a real creek in which to pan for gold, and make your fortune.
I can’t possibly give you a detailed run through of everything that Sovereign Hill offers, after all you do need to experience it for yourself, but I will give you a quick rundown of my ….
Top Seven (or so) things that make Sovereign Hill a must-do!
Honestly, the commitment of the staff to deliver a real experience was one of my highlights. From gentlemen tipping their hats and addressing me as Ma’am as I passed; the authentic costumes of the village folk going about their day, washing their laundry, or tending to their garden, to the authentic prospector panning for gold in the creek, it really was a sight to behold.
The Gold Mine Tours
No trip to the Goldfields is complete without a Gold Mine tour, but first up let me say, these are not for the claustrophobic or those with a fear of the dark. You literally go deep underground, and there is no quick way out if you have decided you are a sufferer too late! But for those with a sense of adventure you can take the self-guided walking tour down the Red Hill mine, and/or take your choice of 3 guided tours each highlighting a different period or tale. These guided tours do cost additional to your entry ticket, so I’d recommend trying the Red Hill mine first to be sure you can cope with the underground conditions.
If you time it right, you really should try to see the demonstrations. We watched the boiled sweets being made, and got to sample and taste test (so amazing we bought lots to bring home), and we saw the Gold Smelting and Pour. I got to hold a real Gold bar in my hands! Unfortunately, I had a nineteenth century pistol pointed at me so I wasn’t able to take that sample home!. The demonstrators were funny and educational, and a really valuable part of the day. Other demonstrations were available at the Blacksmith, Candlemaker, Wheelwright and more.
Panning for Gold
It was on my bucket list, and I’m so grateful for Sovereign Hill for allowing me to tick it off! ✓ It’s pretty obvious to me that If I was really back in the 1850’s I would have suffered from Gold Rush Fever, because after I found my first little speck of the stuff, I just wanted to stay and find more. The Irishman in full Gold Rush garb was an amazing panning tutor, and helped us all get the right technique to strike gold … sadly not enough to strike it rich, barely enough to see with the human eye but I can tell you for sure that ‘’there’s gold in them there hills’’ and I have a little bottle of it to keep as a memory of my very own little thrill of a Gold Rush. Definitely my favourite part of the day (once I got the hang of it)
Tip: Ask for help from the ‘locals’ and you’ll find gold in no time!
Wandering the Hill
Seriously, just wandering about the streets and visiting houses with their stunning gardens, and authentic interior displays was an absolute pleasure. Looking through windows into history, in a strange but magical way made me feel closer to my own colonial ancestors; acknowledging those of them who lived in similar times. They lived like this, and it felt like an honour to be peeking into the past and grabbing a glimpse of their lives.
The History Lesson
I’m not Australian by birth, and wasn’t educated here, so I never learned about the Eureka Stockade in school. Of course I had heard of it, but I must admit I was pretty unaware of the stories of the men who lived (and died) through it.
After your visit to the town in the day, you may wish to come back for the light show at night (and dinner in the town hotel as well, if you’re keen). The light show provides you with that education. My 12 year old daughter, who had learned about it at school, was thrilled to see the story come to life before her eyes. Be warned though, the show is outdoor, and involves walking between locations. We learned the hard way, just how cold it can get in Ballarat at night, even in summer.
Tip: Dress very very warmly and take a blanket for good measure.
Don’t Miss these
The Red Coat Soldiers parade through town at 1.30pm, and fire their muskets. It’s a great photo opportunity, and a chance to learn a little more about the political climate of the time.
9 Pin Bowling – Seriously! Right at the top of the hill, there is a bowling alley, where you can have a go and try to knock the pins down. All included in the entry price.
The horses – You can choose an entry ticket that includes horse and cart rides, or purchase a single ride. Or simply admire the majestic beauty of these hardworking creatures as they power through town on a regular basis.
Tip: If one day is not enough, you can validate your ticket to come back the next day again for free! More time to stake your claim, and pan for your fortune.
Stay at WorldMark Ballarat
If you can, stay at a grand old homestead, like WorldMark Ballarat. Having the hauntingly beautiful historic building to go back to after our adventure extended my time travel fantasy. The building and extensive grounds were a by-product of luck on the Goldfields, by Scottish miner, James Leckie. He built the bluestone mansion, called Blythewood Grange, in 1878, from the fortune he made. Since that time, the building expanded, and reincarnated as a boys home and working farm in 1913, and 70 years later was remodelled into holiday accommodation and conference centre. Many of the original features still exist, and the original tiles, stained glass, wide corridors and high ceilings, lend the imagination some inspirational notions. My daughter was fascinated, and determined to find a ghost in the old walls. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) she was unsuccessful this time, but I’m sure we’ll be back on a future adventure through time.