If you love Australian history and have ever wondered what life was like 150 or so years ago, Natalie Gruzlewski will show you just where it can all become real.
Sovereign Hill is a recreated goldfields township happily stuck in the past. Its 25 hectares are on a site which formed part of the richest alluvial goldfields the world has ever seen. Gold fever gripped Ballarat in the 1850s and '60s some struck it rich, some just kept digging.
The largest nugget was found at Mt Alexander in 1855 by inexperienced miners on their second day of digging. The damper-shaped nugget weighed a massive 28.6kg. It would be reasonable to imagine that news of its find sent many hopefuls scurrying to the area.
Today there is still gold to be found in Sovereign Hill's Red Hill Gully Creek. Gold pans are provided and you can see $50,000 worth of molten gold poured into a gleaming bar for incentive.
Even if you've visited Sovereign Hill before, there is a fantastic new attraction. They've taken the lead from the movie Night at the Museum with their "A Night in the Museum" package, and that's exactly what you can do. Experience everything just as residents in the 1800s did.
You are hosted by a costumed character and you will really feel the part also dressed in clothing of the time which is part of the package. Get ready for corsets and hoop petticoats ladies! Of course, photographs of you in the garb are also included.
At the smelting works you will see and touch a 3kg piece of gold. It's 99.99 percent pure and worth around $112,000!
Guests are treated to a guided horse and coach tour of the township and diggings. There will be time for gold panning, a tour of a mine and a proper Victorian afternoon tea, including old-fashioned tea dancing.
You will sip pre-dinner drinks 30m underground in the quartz mine, followed by a "Taste of Empire Dinner", a hosted 1850s banquet with an introduction to Victorian food and etiquette, spiritualism and parlour games. What fun.
The 90-minute "Blood on the Southern Cross" sound and light spectacular shows the story of the Eureka Rebellion, the dramatic battle between miners and government forces. It took place in 1854 and the multimillion-dollar recreation is spectacular and has more than 3000 lights.
For the first time in its history, visitors have the opportunity to stay on-site at a new accommodation complex. The Steinfeld Building, once a furniture warehouse, has been beautifully transformed and extended. Upstairs rooms were designed as a special weekend retreat. There is a large guest lounge with views down Main Street with its shops, theatre and hotels across to East Ballarat.
Rooms have queen beds and elegant bathrooms. Heritage furnishings have been used and there is a television, refrigerator, plunger tea and coffee makers and continental breakfast provisions. After breakfast, most people enjoy a stroll around the town as it is being prepared for day visitors, and a visit to the Clydesdale stables is a special thing to do.
Natalie said it's so easy to slip into character, though the corset can be a bit of a worry after the huge Empire Dinner.
Ballarat, 90 minutes from Melbourne
Entry to Sovereign Hill is $39.50 for adults and $18 for children. Families of two adults and up to four children pay $100. It's open between 10am and 5pm every day except December 25. The Gold Museum is open between 9.30am and 5.20pm. Sovereign Hill's "A Night in the Museum" package starts at $322 per person twin share. It includes accommodation, meals, costume hire, underground mine tour and sound and light show. It suits those over years of age.
Virgin Blue has flights to Melbourne.
One-way fares from:
- Hobart $64
- Adelaide $69
- Canberra $85
- Sydney $89
- Brisbane $139
- Darwin $169
- Perth $213
There are limited seats which may not be available at peak times or on all flights. Fares quoted are one-way booked on the Internet. An extra $15 will be charged for phone bookings. A credit card surcharge of an additional $2 per person per one-way flight is applicable. Fares are subject to change.
Prices correct at September 17, 2009.
For further information
Ph: 136 789
Ph: (03) 5337 1100
Fax: (03) 5331 1528