Welcome, stranger. These words are more than just a simple greeting around here. Back in 1869, two gold diggers got lucky when they unearthed what was then the world’s largest nugget in Moliagul (around 200km northwest of Melbourne). It was dubbed Welcome Stranger and weighed in at around 70kg. Just a week before their dream discovery the diggers, John Deason and Richard Oates, couldn’t even afford to buy a bag of flour, having been refused credit. But their dig bagged them a lifetime supply, not to mention £10,000. The nugget was so hard that sledgehammers, picks and chisels all
buckled when they tried to divide it.
Today, remnants of the Gold Rush era are still evident in the area’s architecture, particularly in Ballarat – Victoria’s largest inland city. Scene of the battle of the Eureka Rebellion (Australia's only civil armed rebellion, led by Irishman Peter Lalor), Ballarat is a centre steeped in history. Explore Sovereign Hill (a Gold Rush–related theme park) and Lake Wendouree which hosted rowing events in the 1956 Olympics.
At the northeastern tip of the Goldfields is Bendigo. Between 1850 and 1900, more gold was found here than anywhere else in the world. And let’s not forget Castlemaine – not to be mistaken as the home of XXXX, although it is home to a thriving arts and cultural community.
Pete’s Primo Pastimes
Fancy a bit of deep shaft action? We’re not talking adult shop here, although the Central Deborah Gold Mine is straight from the top shelf. Descend and wander around ancient tunnels, from where almost a tonne of gold has been pulled out and turned into bling.
You can climb ladders and operate mining drills as you’re guided around. Just launched is the Nine Levels of Darkness experience where you’ll descend 228 metres underground for an authentic 1900s mining experience.
www.central-deborah.com; Ph (03) 5443 8255.
Feel the rush! Learn how to find gold with Golden Triangle Prospecting Tours. Operating from privately owned land and secluded sites where diggers tried their luck in the 1860s, these guys guarantee you’ll take home some gold. Tours vary between half-day and overnight options. www.goldentriangletours.com.au;
Ph:0429 024 834.
Alternatively, if you fancy your prospects alone, visit Castlemaine Information Centre, buy yourself a gold panning kit and head to Forest Creek.
email@example.com; Ph:03 5470 6200.
You can also get panning at Sovereign Hill, a tourist magnet in the shape of a
recreated 1850s township, complete with period dress, 19th century shops and an evening show called Blood on the Southern Cross, about the Eureka Rebellion. For $37, a ‘Gold Class’ ticket will get you entry to the Gold Museum across the road too. www.sovereignhill.com.au. Ph (03) 5337 1199.
Once you’ve stuffed your pockets with enough bling to keep Mr T happy, hop off the gold trail for an evening of eeriness. Eerie Tours of Ballarat offers
one-and-a-half-hour trips around Australia’s most haunted city.
www.eerietours.com.au; Ph 1300 856 668
‘This is not a simulator,’ may sound like a line from an Arnie film, but it’s actually the slogan for Australian Jet Adventures. Head to Ballarat airport for a
stomach churning adrenaline rush when strap yourself into a plane that can clock up speeds of 910km per hour. Trained pilots perform aerobatics and combat manoeuvres – all while you’re in the back seat.
www.fighterflights.com.au; 03 5339 2769.
Ever fancied driving a train? Then blow off steam and chug between Castlemaine and Maldon on the Victorian Goldfields Railway where they let you take the
controls. To live out that Thomas the Tank Engine fantasy log onto
www.vgr.com.au or call 03 5470 6658.
If you want somebody else to do all the organising, then you can discover the
goldfields with Golden Nugget Discovery Tours who offer a variety of tours around the region and will pick you up from Ballarat train station. It's an easy 1 hour and 10 minutes on the train to Ballarat and your train fare is included in price of the tour! www.goldennuggettours.com.au. Ph (03) 5332 9199
Where to crash
Sovereign Hill Lodge YHA – Magpie St, Ballarat; Ph 03 5337 1159
This hostel is located next to Sovereign Hill. www.yha.com.au
Bendigo YHA – 33 Creek St South, Bendigo; Ph 03 5443 7680
This is an art deco style hostel with landscaped gardens and an open fire place.
Which way, cobber?
Public transport - V/Line runs frequent train services from Southern Cross Station to Ballarat and Bendigo. Many other smaller towns in the region are accessible by V/Line train and bus services. Check out vline.com.au for more information.
By car - From Melbourne, the Calder Freeway (M79) runs all the way to Bendigo with a turn-off for Castlemaine en route. To get to Ballarat, take the Western Freeway (M8) from Melbourne.