Once, tens of thousands came here from around the world to dig up the earth, fevered in their search for gold that would change their luck. While the gold that was discovered here over 150 years ago has mostly gone, its legacy remains for you to experience.
Walk among gold rush towns like Bendigo and Ballarat, whose elegant facades still tell the tale of overnight wealth. Discover tales of dangerous bushrangers, rebellious miners and far-travelled migrants, told by passionate locals in inventive ways. Raise a glass to it all at one of the many vineyards here, before tucking into a meal of fresh produce that the region is famous for.
From towns dripping in Victorian-era grandeur to abandoned mine shafts in the bush, here’s what you need to know about visiting the Goldfields.
Come to the state’s largest inland city for food and wine, artistic events, and mining heritage. While the gold that spurred Ballarat’s growth in the 1850s is no longer here, gold rush history is everywhere, from its magnificent heritage buildings to the mining settlement of Sovereign Hill. Head west from here to find the small Goldfields town of Beaufort.
Once named ‘the richest city in the world’, like Ballarat, Bendigo’s wealthy gold rush heritage is still evident today. Admire the grandeur of its streets, explore its famous regional gallery, head deep underground on a mining expedition and visit its surrounding vineyards. It was also named a Creative City of Gastronomy by UNESCO, so travellers should hustle making those dinner reservations while here.
Between Ballarat and Bendigo, you’ll find the town of Castlemaine. Once a gold-mining town, now it’s known for its artisans, foodie scene, antique shopping and authentic steam train to Maldon.
Another former gold-ming town, any visit to Maryborough should take in its magnificently sprawling red-brick and stucco Railway Station, historical streetscapes, farmers markets and treks in its surrounding bushland. Not far from here, you’ll find the mining towns of Dunolly – where one of the largest natural gold nuggets ever was found – as well as Avoca and Talbot.
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Watch actors play out scenes from the gold rush in an immersive 1850s setting at Ballarat’s Sovereign Hill’s Outdoor Museum on a former gold mining site. At night, it’s time for Aura – a light and sound show that tells the story of the gold rush, the creation story of the Wadawurrung people and the Eureka Stockade Rebellion (you can find out more on this at The Eureka Centre).
Take the historic Bendigo Tramways into town for an afternoon at Bendigo Art Gallery or the Chinese heritage Golden Dragon Museum. Then don a hard hat and mining scrubs to head underground at the Central Deborah Gold Mine. Once you’ve descended, you’ll be given a tour below ground, checking out cold dripping tunnels, fascinating mining equipment and deep shafts into the dark, while finding out just how miners got the 929 kilos of gold found here back to the surface.
At Castlemaine, take a Victorian-era steam train out to Maldon for lunch with the Victorian Goldfields Railway. At Maldon, explore Carman’s Tunnel, a fascinating example of mining techniques.
Stop by to try the wine at the cellar door of Balgownie Estate in Bendigo, or extend the experience by booking a table at its restaurant, before retiring to one of its glamping tents in the vines.
Mitchell Harris Wines has an industrial-style wine bar in the centre of Ballarat, serving their own wines, as well as Pyrenees reds and cool climate drops from the area.
Forty kilometres from Bendigo, are the wineries of Heathcote – try the boutique, family-run Sanguine Estate or the Heathcote Winery and Cellar Door on the main street of town. The Heathcote Wine and Food Festival is also on during early October.
Line your esky with produce at the Ballarat Farmers Market, held on the second and fourth Sunday of each month. Show some love to your vintage collection as well, at the daily Ballarat Mill Markets.
Drive the 40 minutes to Talbot, for its monthly farmers’ markets, with stalls of fresh seasonal vegetables, local cheeses, fresh flowers and more.
At Castlemaine, you’ll find a wealth of antiques, independent stores and vintage shops. Don’t miss The Mill Castlemaine with its huge Vintage Bazaar, or its monthly Castlemaine Farmers Markets.
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Copy the original miners, and camp out on your visit to the Goldfields. At Sovereign Hill, BIG4 NRMA Ballarat Holiday Park has camping and caravan sites, studios and cottages, a swimming pool, spa, tennis courts and jumping pillow.
At Bendigo, the pup-friendly Big4 Bendigo Ascot Holiday Park is close to the CBD and has similar accommodation offerings, with mini-golf, a swimming pool, basketball court and more. There is also the Gold Nugget Tourist Park, or amp up the glamour at Balgownie Estate in Bendigo, which has luxurious glamping tents on its winery property.
Big4 Castlemaine Gardens Holiday Park has safari tents, cabins, villas and powered and unpowered spots for caravans and tents.
At Maryborough, there is free camping among the Box-Ironbark bushland of Craigie State Forest.
The century-old establishment of Hotel Shamrock in Bendigo is a centrally located four-star hotel that has rooms and suites, with a beer garden, indoor pool and gym.
In Maryborough, the freshly restored Bull & Mouth Hotel isn’t just a hit with the lunchtime crowd, but for those seeking overnight stays in the Edwardian building’s 12 rooms.
At Ballarat, the historic Craig’s Royal Hotel offers a charismatic boutique stay, with 41 guest rooms with four-poster beds, high ceilings, and rich historical details like grand chandeliers and lavish fabrics.
Stay in a Federation-era house on the Langley Estate, sleeping in the splendid old building that is Langley Hall, just five minutes out of Bendigo. At this adults-only bed and breakfast, tuck into a breakfast of bacon and eggs in its Breakfast Dining Room, under the original 1904 stained glass window.
The Provincial Ballarat is a National Trust-listed heritage building in Ballarat, with a gorgeous Art Nouveau facade and stylish contemporary touches.
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Eat the breakfast worthy of a hungry miner at the Hydrant Food Hall in Ballarat. Located in a large heritage warehouse, its enormous all-day menu options include a sinful-sounding banh mi board with pork belly and pickled cabbage, as well as delectable hotcakes with pistachio ice cream and citrus compote. You can also find plenty more top places to eat and drink in Ballarat here.
At Bendigo, the uber-cute Sim’R cafe uses local produce to craft meals like pancakes with shiraz-infused jam. Grab a coffee here, or try out a shot at the trendy Get Naked Espresso Bar.
Book lunch ahead of time at the hatted Masons of Bendigo. Run by owners with a deep-running connection with local producers, it’s an effort that has clearly paid off from the moment you take the first bite and sip from the matching wines.
Having a road trip with plenty of country pub stops isn’t a hard task in the Goldfields. The Avoca Hotel dates back to the 1860s and has an award-winning drinks list that showcases labels from the local Pyrenees wine region, with the gastropub also holding TripAdvisors People’s Choice Award.
The family-friendly Beaufort Hotel, as well as the live music of Bridge Hotel at Castlemaine and the historical Kangaroo Hotel of Maldon, are also country pubs definitely worth jumping in the car for.
On the bar scene, spot the Ballarat laneway lined with bright umbrellas and street art, and you’ve found Hop Temple. Set in former stables, it serves up the best from breweries, as well as wine, spirits and bar meals like maple-glazed cauliflower and Korean fried chicken.
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To get to Ballarat, it’s around an hour’s drive west from Melbourne via the Western Highway (M8). Alternatively, the V/Line runs from Southern Cross to Ballarat. There are daily services with Ballarat Airport Shuttle Bus if you arrive at Tullamarine Airport.
An hour and 45 minutes drive northwest of Melbourne on the Calder Highway (M79), Bendigo is an easy trip from the city. You can also take the express 90-minute V/Line train from Southern Cross Station, in Melbourne. There is also a Bendigo shuttle bus to Melbourne (Tullamarine) Airport. From Sydney, Qantas has flights into Bendigo Airport.
The Victorian Goldfields has hot dry summers and cold winters where temperatures drop to below 10C. Spring (when the Ballarat Begonia Festival and the Bendigo Easter Fair is on) and autumn offer the best in-between options to escape the heat – though arguably, with plenty of indoor activities to do, winter has its charms too, with the Ballarat Winter Festival.
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