Here’s How to Drive 1.5 Hours from Melbourne and Go Back 150 Years!

It was only 25 degrees but it felt hotter than that. Much hotter!

Actually the heat only served to act as context and a reminder of how tough and stoic those early European and Chinese settlers must have been all those years ago. Trying to forge new lives thousands-of-kilometres away from their loved-ones and past lives. These opportunistic souls began arriving en masse in Victoria in the 1850s in search of their fortunes on the goldfields.

And today I was in a place that helped retell their fascinating yester-year stories. I had brought my family to Sovereign Hill in Ballarat. I’d never been before and to be honest I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect as we headed for the ticket office…

Ticket Office or time-machine?

Once you step outside it is as if you have been transported immediately into another time, another world. You know that modernity is only metres away but after a few steps you can easily imagine that it is 1857 rather than 2017. Such is the attention to detail.

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Main Street is like something you’d see in a faded sepia photo plucked from the pages of a dusty old history book. There is the occasional “hee yaar!” to be heard as the driver of a Cobb & Co era coach gees up his team of horses to accelerate up an incline. Elsewhere a workman in period garb attends to a pot hole not with modern tools but with a wheelbarrow, shovel and plenty of elbow-grease.

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Horse power on these dirt streets is very literal indeed!

It’s all too easy to get lost in the history here!

View more video stories from the Story Lives On collection.

I have to say that the period costumes worn by all the staff within the complex were both a surprise and a massive highlight to me. The other striking feature was how wonderfully they fulfilled their character’s personas and how friendly they were.

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Even the policemen who arrested my 7 year old son did it with a cheeky smile and mischievous glint in their eye; however there was also just enough seriousness to cause a fleeting worrying moment for the boy. Handcuffs will do that to ya I’m told! The candle maker, the gold prospector, the wandering minstrel… It didn’t matter who you interacted with the warmth and willingness to help, or pose for a photo or six, felt very genuine.

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Don’t just see – do!

What makes Sovereign Hill so wonderful for families is the extensive list of fascinating activities on offer. And most of these are included in the price of entry! During our visit we did the sweet-making demonstration, candle-making, ‘Redcoat Soldiers’ display and gun volley (a must!), underground mine tour (careful if you are scared of the dark!) and the gold-panning.

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But that was merely scratching the surface of all the options. You can tour the precinct by horse and cart, see gold being poured, muskets being fired, steam machinery in action, wheelwrighting demonstrations, go on an orientation tour and much, much more! View the link for all daily Activities.

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‘Prospectors’ still come from all round the world to try their luck!

Your entrance ticket will also gain you access to the wonderful Gold Museum.  The hero attraction here is a 4.4 kilogram gigantic gold nugget nicknamed – Goldasuarus. It is worth $250,000 and comes with a great yarn about how it was discovered! The museum is located directly across the street (Bradshaw St) from the car park.

Another exhilarating attraction on offer only in the evening is the acclaimed ‘Sound and Light Spectacular’. Held seven-days-a-week the show retells the story of the Eureka Rebellion, a dramatic battle between gold miners and Government forces at Ballarat on 3 December, 1854. The nightly retelling of ‘Blood on the Southern Cross’  involves no actors – just voices, dazzling sound-and-light effects and a stunning open-air set. There are some excellent value ticket and accommodation packages available.

Two for the price of one. Nice!

And whilst we are speaking about great deals I’d like to mention that your entrance fee also enables you to get a 2nd-day-free! We travelled from Melbourne for our visit and left feeling we only scratched-the-surface. A night in Ballarat or in the region with two days to explore sounds like just the ticket (pun intended). That way also allows for some flexibility with the weather. Avoiding the heat in summer and picking out the best times of day to visit during the cooler months.

The Wrap

Sovereign Hill is one of those places that almost all Victorians know is there but might never have visited. Or perhaps may have visited when you were a child many years ago. Not to go, or to re-visit, is a mistake, a big mistake. Whilst it is perfect for families it is also a must-visit for history buffs or anyone just interested in the Gold Rush era of Victoria. A period when Melbourne became – albeit fleetingly –  the richest city in the world due to the rivers of gold being transported into the city from the gold fields.

This site is a perfect blend of historical recreation and fantastic escapism. No wonder that trophy cabinet all the way back in the ticket office is almost full to overflowing!

Highly, highly recommended.

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My tip: Don’t miss the Redcoat display & gunfire volley (blanks of course!)

More Information

  • Sovereign Hill, Ballarat is 115kms from the Melbourne CBD. Roughly a 1.5 hour drive.
  • Pricing^: Adults $55.50 (concession $44.40); Child 5 – 15 $25;  Family (2 adults & up to 4 children) $140.00; Single Parent Family (1 adult & up to 3 children) $100.00
  • Sovereign Hill is open 10.00 am to 5.00 pm every day except Christmas Day.
    During daylight saving open until 5.30 pm. There is free parking.
  • Visit their excellent website for all the details about events, pricing and attractions.
  • A tip from me during the summer heat is to arrive early – 10am if you can. You will be able to park next to the entrance and escape the hottest part of the afternoon. Visiting across two days is another idea I recommend.

^ Pricing correct as at 13 December 2017.

Video courtesy of Sovereign Hill Youtube channel. All photography ©Thirty Summers. Please note my family and I visited as a guest of Sovereign Hill. All views and opinions expressed are my own without influence.



Travel is my passion and also my career. I’ve spent my entire working-life in the travel industry with roles as diverse as tour guide, travel agent and marketing manager for some of the worlds largest travel brands. My favourite city in the world to visit is NYC and France is my most beloved country to explore. I travel to learn and observe to understand always with camera in hand.

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