Spa Country and Goldfields
Melbourne and Victoria struck it rich in the 1850s with the discovery of gold at Bendigo and Ballarat. The fields around these historic towns were easily the richest in Australia, and made the state the most affluent in the country at the time.
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Ballarat is a fine city with beautifully restored and maintained buildings from its goldrush past. The Eureka Stockade Centre details the history of the uprising with multi-media and interactive displays.
Nearby Sovereign Hill is a re-creation of an old mining town and a living museum, which depicts life as it was more than 100 years ago. Locals dress in clothes of the period and run shops, businesses and a school. Visitors can take a tour down an old gold mine. Winner of many tourism awards, Sovereign Hill stages an evening sound and light show, 'Blood on the Southern Cross' which depicts the Eureka Rebellion.
Bendigo, one of Victoria's finest country cities continues to flourish after the goldrush era. Built in grand style, Bendigo boasts fine buildings such as the old post office, law courts and the elegant Shamrock Hotel built in Queen Victoria's time. The post office is now the grandest visitor information centre in Australia, and includes a hands-on interpretive centre. Many of the city's shops have kept their original facades and it has plenty of restaurants, cafes and nightclubs. There are vintage tram sightseeing tours and visitors can go 60 metres (200 feet) underground at the old Central Deborah Gold Mine. There was a strong Chinese presence in the town during the goldrush era, commemorated by the Classical Chinese Gardens and the Golden Dragon Museum. Bendigo is another major wine region with 20 vineyards in 3 areas. Tours are available.
Visitors should not miss the historic town of Maldon, south from Bendigo, which has been declared a major historic site in its entirety. Founded in 1853, it is the best preserved of all the goldfields towns. Many of the old shops have been converted into cafes and restaurants. The local visitor's centre suggests several walking tours, as well as guided tours of the nearby Carman's Tunnel mine.
Castlemaine is a major regional art centre and located on the Midland Highway between Ballarat and Bendigo. Settled in the 1830s, Castlemaine retains many fine heritage buildings such as the Court House, Town Hall, and the meticulously restored Market Building. Its art gallery has a major collection of Australian art. Castlemaine's The Dingo Farm offers visitors a rare chance to see Australia's native dog, the dingo.
Though very young in world terms, the history of the goldfields is important and interesting. The area abounds with festivals centred on its history, food and wine, horse racing, antiques and art. Cafes and restaurants are plentiful and there is a wide range of accommodation from quaint miners cottages to splendid historic mansions and hotels and modern motels.
Victoria's spa country lies north-west of Melbourne at Hepburn Springs, Kyneton and Blackwood. This area, particularly Hepburn Springs and Daylesford, has been famous for its spas for more than 100 years. The area is heavy with eucalypt (gum tree) forests, fern gullies and pretty farming country. Better yet, the loop tour takes visitors through the Sunbury and Macedon Ranges grape growing areas, which produce excellent regional wines.
The road runs north-west from Melbourne through Sunbury and Macedon to Daylesford, which prides itself for its fine cuisine. Sunbury was the birthplace of 'The Ashes' cricket trophy, which has been fought over by teams from England and Australia for more than 100 years. It was first presented to an amateur English team, which won a match against a local side in 1882. Sunbury is home to Emu Bottom, Victoria's oldest homestead built in 1837.
Macedon and nearby Mount Macedon have some fine homes and English-style gardens, some of which are open to the public at various times of the year. Mount Macedon, topped by a huge cross honouring Australian who died in World War I, offers sweeping views of the area and as far as Port Phillip Bay.
The Hepburn Spa Resort, where visitors can enjoy a scented spa bath, is just 4km from Daylesford. Daylesford is a popular retreat with plenty of restaurants and cottage and country house accommodation. Naturally, almost all places to stay have spas.
The tour route swings north and east through the pretty village of Kyneton to Hanging Rock, made famous by the film Picnic at Hanging Rock, directed by now internationally renowned Australian Peter Weir and based on a 1975 novel by Joan Lindsay. Weir has since made several award winning films including Dead Poet's Society with Robin Williams. The haunting story revolves around the mysterious disappearance of some of a group of schoolgirls from a picnic around the rock in 1900. Hanging Rock's picnic ground is a focal point for visitors during the traditional picnic races held on New Year's Day (January 1) and Australia Day (January 26) at Kyneton. Picnic horse races in the country are a great Australian institution. Very casual, they are great fun. The surrounding area comes alive with the Harvest Picnic Festival, which revolves around food and wine.
The entire spa area is dotted with antique shops, small art galleries and picturesque natural attractions. Easy to get to and explore, it is an ideal region for a short break away from Melbourne city for business travellers.