Going back in time at Sovereign Hill gold mining village, Ballarat

Sovereign Hill

We had a free day today in Ballarat and were invited to explore the Sovereign Hill outdoor museum!

Sovereign Hill is a really fun and educational (but don’t tell the kids that!) day out with the family.  We had seen the Sound and Light show there last night, and were keen to explore this historical tourist park in daylight.

Rest-assured, you are not going to run out of things to do at Sovereign Hill. We were pretty-much going full-speed ahead all day, right up until 5pm closing time, because there is just so much to see and do – and we still missed a couple of things!

Stepping back in time - an Apothecary's shop

Stepping back in time – an Apothecary’s (that’s a Chemist to you and me!) shop

Sovereign Hill is a gold-fields Outdoor Museum – an adventure theme park located in the historic gold mining city of Ballarat.

This gold-rush town that is so cleverly recreated that it really does capture the atmosphere of the mid-1800’s, and make you feel as though you have stepped back in time!

Sovereign Hill town main street

Sovereign Hill town main street

The shops that line the town streets are real shops selling old-fashioned wares and authentic souvenirs, such as metal worked in the workshop. There are real horses in the stables, turkeys in the yards and period-dressed folk strolling about interacting with the visitors – you’ll get many a “Good day Madam!”, with a tip of the top-hat!

Here’s a little video grab of what the bustling main street is like…

There is building after building of replica hotels, banks, a theatre, shops, foundry’s, bakeries (great for a quick, family-friendly snack!). Don’t worry about cash currency to buy souvenirs at the shops – all of them accept modern-day plastic (There’s something quite surreal about a lady with a bonnet and hoop-skirts accepting a credit card)!

Of course some of the main attractions at Sovereign Hill are the replica gold mines – 60 metres down, and accessible by a carriage-train that goes – well, straight down, really!

We slowly made our way up to the big wooden framework tower that stands over the gold mine entrance and went into the mining office to purchase tickets for a gold mine tour (Extra cost of $15 for one adult and two children). There are also free on-foot gold mine tours, but we didn’t have time to do one of these, so I can’t tell you what they are like.

Tip – You do need to book a gold mine tour like we did via train, and there are three to choose from that only run once a day, so go early to plan and book the one that interests you!

We chose the first gold tour for that day at 11 o’clock, “Gold Labyrinth”, but there was also “Trapped” and the “Chinese Brothers”. We planned on taking another gold mine tour later, but we simply ran out of time!

All aboard the underground train!

All aboard the underground train!

We were very excited when the time came for the underground gold mine tour and they boarded us on the small train to descend to 60 metres below the ground!

Down, down into the dark the train descended in pitch-black – we all chatted nervously, excitedly until a minute later we saw a tiny light ahead – a lantern! The train stopped and It was time to get out for our guided tour and walk the passageways of the recreated mine below the town, where we would learn all about miner’s conditions and gold digging.

Down the mines we go!

Down the mines we go!

45 minutes later, our train – this time in reverse – backed us up to the surface again, and we eagerly set off to look through some more town businesses and buildings.

At the candle shop, the kids got to make their very-own rainbow coloured candle (Extra cost activity – $3 per candle). The girls were carefully instructed on how to dip and mix their wax colours safely (parent assistance is needed for very small children), and they both ended up with very respectable-looking rainbow-candles!

Look what we made! Kids can make their very-own rainbow candles!

Look what we made! Kids can make their very-own rainbow candles!

We decided that we needed candle-holders for them too, so we trooped across the road to the metal foundry to watch them being made, before buying a smart little candle holder – complete with match box holder!

We then continued on to the top of the main street, and there we found a Bowling Saloon.

Bowling is a free activity which is great fun and very easy for the kids to pick up. Players bowl a wooden ball in a two-handed under-legs style down the wooden alley to hit the wooden pins. It’s not difficult to do, so even the littlest kid (perhaps with a little help from Mum or Dad!) can have the thrill of knocking over pins! This activity makes for a lot of old-fashioned family fun.

The bowling saloon was a source of great family fun for all ages!

The bowling saloon was a source of great family fun for all ages!

Although we could happily have kept bowling longer, we were all starting to get hungry, so we headed back down the main street in search of food and cool drinks – here in Ballarat the hot weather had finally caught up with us, and it was over 30 degrees.

We found a working bakery and bought some yummy pies to eat while we sat down on seats on the footpath to watch the gold-town world go by. In front of us was a horse trough, and the girls decided to help the horses out and top it up!

There's lots of hands-on things to try out at Sovereign Hill

Child labour – there’s lots of hands-on fun things to try out at Sovereign Hill

After lunch we resumed our exploring and went to inspect the library and beautiful theatre.

The nearby old-fashioned Tea Rooms tucked away in the back of one of the hotels looked so quaint, I would have loved to have grabbed a cuppa, but there was no time- there was still so much we wanted to see and do!

Do come in! The candy shop has lots of yummy old-fashioned toffees

Do come in! The candy shop has lots of yummy old-fashioned toffees

Next up was something we were all very keen to do – go on a Coach and Horses ride!

This was an extra cost activity, so I purchased tickets (Approximately $12 for 1 adult and 2 children) at the farrier shop and we lined up to wait.

Tip – Don’t leave your coach and horses ride for too long, as they cut off selling tickets earlier than their 4pm finish time if they have a line-up!

Two 7-minute coach rides later it was finally our turn.

It was utterly charming to be pulled along by these majestic big cart horses in a real enclosed coach with padded upholstery. The gentle clip-clop of the horses hooves and swaying of the coach, with a bustling gold mining town outside its little windows made this a really special must-do family experience.

The Red Coat soldiers appear at 1:30pm - don't miss this!

The Red Coat soldiers appear at 1:30pm – don’t miss this!

At 1:30pm, Redcoat soldiers marched about the town, and had a special musket-firing ceremony. Be sure to stick your fingers in your child’s ears if they can’t do it for themselves – it’s very, very loud! After that, it’s photo opportunity time with the Redcoats, so don’t miss that!

Dressing up for an old time photo was so much fun!

Dressing up for an old time photo was so much fun!

A little earlier in the day we had booked ourselves in for an old-time photo (A hefty $87).

Our old-time family photo - does my bustle look big in this?!

Our old-time family photo – does my bustle look big in this?!

I had never realised just how much fun this can be! We got all dressed up – The girls giggled when they saw my hoop skirt going on, and exclaimed, “You’re beautiful Mummy!” when I emerged from the change room, resplendent in an enormous blue satin dress – awww, my kids are so lovely (and blind!).

The girls were now in sweet gingham check dresses, and loving every second of dressing up as olden-time girls. They got to pose with beautiful dolls, and both girls looked so adorable in their long pantaloons and bonnets!

After the photo, we wandered over to Battery House for a bit more gold-education. This is a display building where we could learn about the process of extracting gold from rock.

In this area we also went to watch gold pouring – that is, gold being heated up and poured into a gold ingot – worth $160,000! Just watching the skill with which this was done was fascinating, and there was lots of ooohs and aaaahs from the audience!

This is what $160,000 worth of gold looks like!

Pouring gold into gold bars – This is what $160,000 worth of gold looks like!

We continued down this back road to the school building, but alas! Soon after we came out Samantha went for a big skid on the loose gravel and skinned both of her knees. She let out a scream that almost equalled the gold mine whistle (and take it from me – that’s loud!).

We comforted her and walked her up to the ladies to clean her grazes and – miracle of miracles – I found two Barbie Band-aids floating around in my handbag – all better! Nothing was going to hold Samantha back from her main objective today – finding a nugget of gold!

The Sovereign Hill gold diggings - here you can pan for real gold!

The Sovereign Hill gold diggings – here you can pan for real gold!

We walked down to the gold panning creek. All you needed to do was pick up a shovel or pan and have a go! A miner did a display on how to find gold. Samantha was on a mission now, and both she and Brooke took off their shoes and socks to wade into the river and dig out some gold!

Gold-diggers! Brooke and Samantha search for gold!

Gold-diggers! Brooke and Samantha search for gold!

We all took turns panning, and in the end both girls found minute specks of gold – just big enough to pick up and immediately lose – but we didn’t care – it had been a wonderful day at Sovereign Hill!

You can read all of our Victorian road trip blogs here

Sovereign Hill is located on Main Road, Ballarat, Victoria. For information and bookings you can go to the official Sovereign Hill website here

Admission prices (correct at February 2015)

Adult – $49.50
Concession – $39.60
Child (5-15) – $22.00
Family (2 adults & up to 4 children) – $122.00
Single Parent Family (1 adult & up to 3 children) – $88.00

Where is Sovereign Hill? How to get there…

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About LetsGoMum

Hi, I'm Barbara, mum of the Let's Go Mum blog. We'd love to hear from you! You can contact me anytime with ideas on where you think we should go or what you think we should try...just drop me a line at barbara@letsgomum.com.au!