Goldfields family guide: Six great things to do with kids
When it comes to family-friendly activities, central Victoria is a veritable goldmine.
Victoria’s Goldfields region was once the centre of the world. The discovery of gold in 1851 brought tens of thousands of hopefuls in pursuit of lady luck, in the process helping to make Bendigo the world’s richest city and Ballarat a bona fide boomtown.
Fast-forward 170 years and the region’s rich cultural legacy has sparked a campaign for UNESCO World Heritage recognition for the old mines, grand Victorian architecture and natural landscapes that were at the heart of Victoria’s gold rush.
But why wait till the rest of the world catches on? Families can get ahead of the tourism rush these holidays and experience all the history, food, art and adventure that Central Victoria has to offer. And if you’re an RACV member, you can take advantage of special offers and discounts at a range of local experiences that will delight the whole family when you book through RACV Attraction Tickets.
Get lit up at Kryal Castle.
Ballarat Wildlife Park
Fancy the chance to cuddle a wombat, pat a koala, feed a kangaroo or have a python draped around your neck? Ballarat Wildlife Park is home to a menagerie of Australian animals well versed in the happy family snap, as well as more exotic creatures you might not want to get so close to, such as the prowling pair of Sumatran tigers. The family-run wildlife park has a strong conservation bent, with guided tours detailing their efforts to preserve habitat, as well as breeding programs for species such as Little Penguins. It also has picnic facilities to help you make a day of it. Don’t miss feeding time for the aptly named Crunch, the enormous saltwater crocodile, a spectacle of raw reptilian power at 3pm every day throughout the school holidays.
Corner of York & Fussell Streets, Ballarat East
The medieval fortress commanding a hilltop eight kilometres south of Ballarat has been an improbable sight from the Western Freeway since 1974, but don’t be quick to dismiss it as old hat. Australia’s only medieval-themed adventure park, Kryal Castle’s $10 million upgrade in 2013 was timed perfectly to win over new generation of fans of pop culture blockbusters such as The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Game of Thrones. You’ll thrill to full-costume jousting tournaments and get the chance to test your own sword skills against the king’s knights, visit the torture museum and the dungeons of doom, and wander through the wizards’ workroom and the dragon’s labyrinth.
121 Forbes Rd, Leigh Creek
The Chocolate Mill
Few things unite the generations like chocolate, and this Goldfields home of Belgian couverture chocolates is bound to create family harmony until a fight breaks out over the last piece of rocky road. Opened in 2003, it keeps the people of Daylesford and further afield supplied with handmade Fair Trade chocolate as well as treats like liquorice bullets, coconut crunch and “Goldfields bark” (spoiler alert: no bark was used in the making of these rugged sheets of light and dark chocolate studded with pieces of honeycomb). Hit the shop, which has a viewing window through to the chocolate-making area, but be sure to pitstop at the Hot Chocolate café where shots of pure molten chocolate are all your Augustus Gloop fantasies come to life.
5451 Midland Hwy, Mount Franklin
Treat yourself at The Chocolate Mill.
Aim for a turkey (that’s three strikes in a row) and avoid the gutter at Ballarat’s home of ten pin bowling, 10 minutes’ drive from the centre of town. The ultimate family sport involves an unbeatable combination of skill, luck and quirky shoes that you can hire on-site - plus the centre also has a good range of classic arcade video games and a snack bar. Want to get even groovier? Head along for their “Cozmic” glow-in-the-dark bowling every Saturday and Sunday from noon until late.
901 Doveton Street, Ballarat North
No Victorian childhood is complete without a visit to Sovereign Hill. This faithful recreation of gold rush Ballarat is part open-air museum, part cosplay; a place where you can step back in time to the 1850s, complete with dirt roads, horse-drawn carriages and people dressed in character as shopkeepers, teachers, soldiers and miners. Pan for gold or head deep underground into the mine pit; watch the redcoats fire their muskets and see how molten gold is poured and how candles and boiled lollies are made. It’s certainly worthwhile hanging around after dark for the acclaimed new sound and light show AURA, which uses spectacular illuminations to tell the history of gold in Australia, from the Dreamtime of the Wadawurrung people to the Eureka Rebellion. And it’s a disappointed child indeed who leaves without getting their face printed on a “Wanted: Dead or Alive” poster, the ultimate keepsake for all aspiring bushrangers. While bookings are temporarily restricted due to COVID-19 it’s worth checking the website for up-to-date ticket availability.
Bradshaw Street, Golden Point, Ballarat
Stay: RACV Goldfields Resort
RACV’s Goldfields Resort makes the perfect base for exploring all the region has to offer. Located in Creswick, 80 minutes’ drive from Melbourne and the scenic halfway point between Daylesford and Ballarat, its family-style accommodation includes the option of two-bedroom suites with a kitchenette or interconnecting rooms. But the family-friendliness doesn’t end there. The newly launched Three Founders restaurant has a covered outdoor terrace and a family-friendly menu designed to share and a wine list studded with local heroes . The new kids’ games room with air hockey, table tennis and arcade games ought to prove equally compelling, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to lure the youngsters out into the fresh country air thanks to the adventure playground, the enormous heated swimming pool or the network of mountain bike trails starting from the resort that thread through surrounding forest. And don’t forget, RACV members save more when booking an RACV resort directly
1500 Midland Highway, Creswick