Two of Victoria’s inland gems are the destinations of Daylesford and Ballarat. The distance between them is 46 km and it takes only 40 minutes to go from one to the other by car. Both places have widely differing characteristics. Located a short distance from Melbourne, these are great excursion destinations for a relaxing weekend. Daylesford is the northernmost town of the two. Here, health is the focus and there is a mix of shops selling herbal remedies, bright yoga studios and modern spa facilities. The town’s buildings are decorated in a Victorian and Edwardian style. Daylesford is beautifully situated by Lake Daylesford. Take a walk with a view of the water and sit down on a bench to have a picnic or a cup of coffee. There is an extensive selection of cafés, restaurants and historic pubs to try. Daylesford is a cosy spa town that over the years have attracted alternative people who has created a lovely, yet a little wacky feeling.
Leave Daylesford and set the GPS on the coordinates for Ballarat. After a winding trip on forty-five minutes you have reached your destination in the southwest. The city has largely been built on the find of precious metal. In 1851, gold was found and soon the town of Ballarat begun to take shape. The name is derived from the indigenous language and means resting place. The discovery of gold was followed by a gold rush that lasted for a few decades. Those being lucky making great their finds lived well. Ballarat flourished and evolved into one of the state’s largest inland cities. Today, one can still see clear evidence from the city’s former prosperous times. The buildings are extravagant with beautifully ornate balconies, making Ballarat famous for its admirable architecture. Many historic houses are located at the centre of Lydiard Street, a place well worth a visit. This street runs from the city centre to the train station. Here are blocks of several-storey houses with wide verandas, most of which have been preserved in a good condition. Since the Federation University (federation.edu.au) have two campuses in the city, there is a constant stream of young people moving to Ballarat. These students add some young blood and new energy to the city. In addition, the students do their very best to keep the nightlife alive. After all, Ballarat is an old mining town, a remnant of its former glory days. And a lot of old pubs certainly have the students to thank for their continued existence.
Sights and experiences
Sovereign Hill (sovereignhill.com.au) is a type of interactive outdoor museum, built like a mining town as it looked like during the glory days of the gold rush. It’s a fun way for both kids and adults to learn about how life might have looked like in the middle of the 1850s in Ballarat. A visit here is like travelling back in time, where the staff walks around dressed up in period-correct clothes. For example, you can go on a guided tour and try your luck finding gold (wotif.com/things-to-do/sovereign-hill-gold-rush-town-tour-from-melbourne.a228743.activity-details). In the evenings, the show Blood on the Southern Cross re-enact what happened during the Eureka Rebellion, when the miners rebelled against the expensive licence fees in the mines, which has been called the birth of the labour movement in Australia. If you can’t get enough of history, The Gold Museum (goldmuseum.com.au) is a part of Sovereign Hill, giving you in-depth knowledge of the area and its background. Another tip is to simply wander along the streets of Ballarat. Don’t miss to have a look around at Lydiard Street. Pop into the Art Gallery of Ballarat (artgalleryofballarat.com.au) at 40 Lydiard Street. It is airy, modern and free. The exhibitions being displayed are constantly changing.
Take a long stroll around Lake Wendouree and walk towards the botanical garden. To satisfy your growing hunger, dine at the Spanish-influenced Café Meigas (facebook.com/meigascafe), at 33 Armstrong Street in the northern part of the city. They serve, among other things, mouth-watering tapas, order in as much as you can eat. Or go to The Forge Pizzeria (theforgepizzeria.com.au) at 14 Armstrong Street. They make appetizers, gourmet pizzas and desserts.
A visit to Daylesford is not complete without having tried the town’s trademark, spa treatments. There is a whole bunch of them to choose between. If you can’t decide which one, try Daylesford Day Spa (daylesforddayspa.com.au) at 25 Albert Street. Treatments include body massages, facial treatments or a bath in rose oil or milk. Or, let the masseurs at Renewal Massage (renewal-massage.com) at 39 Albert Street knead your body warm, getting your blood circulation going for sure. To maximize your experience, choose a package offer.
The biggest annual event in the area is undoubtedly the LGBTQ festival, called the ChillOut Festival (chilloutfestival.com.au). Victoria’s oldest and largest festival of its kind has been returning for more than 20 years and takes place between a Thursday to Sunday in March. It is packed with activities and the festival has a festive parade going through the city on its final day. You can never go on too many walks. Enjoy the weather and wander around Lake Daylesford. At Central Springs Road you can make real bargains at The Mill Markets (millmarkets.com.au/daylesford). Here are lots of vintage and second-hand goods. Open every day of the week from 10:00 to 18:00. A great place to look for interior details. Perfect for collectors.
If you have access to a car or a driver, it is an easy drive to get to Daylesford Cider Company at 155 Dairyflat Road (daylesfordcider.com.au). The brewery’s award-winning cider is made from their own organic apples grown just outside Daylesford. Come by and taste their seven varieties of draught. If you come during a weekend you can have dinner together with your preferred drink. A slightly more intimate alternative visited both by tourists and locals who want that little extra something is Perfect Drop Daylesford (theperfectdrop.com), a mix of wine bar and restaurant.. Alternatively, you can visit one of the city’s lively pubs for some hustle and bustle. The Farmers Arms Daylesford (thefarmersarms.com.au) serves beautifully presented dishes in a rustic pub local. Many meat and fish dishes, but there is also a good selection of vegetarian and gluten free options.
Good to know
Both cities are well-suited to visit all year round. Daylesford Regional Visitor Information Centre (visitdaylesford.com.au) is located in the city’s old fire station at 98 Vincent Street. If you or someone in your party have a wheelchair, it is free to hire a wheelchair that can cope with something of a tougher terrain. Contact the visitor centre and they will help you with reservations. The information centre Visit Ballarat is located in the city hall, close to the train station at 225 Sturt Street (visitballarat.com.au). Here you will find maps and lots of information and a small souvenir shop.
The journey from Melbourne to Ballarat takes an hour and a half by car (wotif.com/Car-Hire) via the National Highway M8. Trains and buses run from Southern Cross Station in Melbourne and the journey takes about the same amount of time (vline.com.au). There are many departures every day. CDC Victoria buses (cdcvictoria.com.au/visit-ballarat) serve the area in and around Ballarat. Just like in Melbourne, it is easiest to have an electronic bus card called Myki (ptv.vic.gov.au/tickets/myki) when travelling with public transport.
If you are going to Daylesford from Melbourne, take the National Highway M8, then the C141. The journey is about 110 km and it takes about an hour and a half. You can also take the train from Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station and hop off at Woodend Station. There you change to a bus towards Daylesford. In total, the trip takes up to two and a half hours including service changes.
BIG 4 Ballarat Goldfields Holiday Park (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/BIG4_Goldfields_Holiday_Park_Hotel_Ballarat.htm) is one of the closest campsites and is located on the corner of Clayton Street and Little Dods Street. They have the usual range of cabins to rent out, spots for camper vans and tents. If you are staying here during your visit to Ballarat, it works best if you have access to a car. Eureka Stockade Holiday Park (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Eureka_Stockade_Holiday_Park.htm) is another budget option with good activities for the family. The Eastern Hotel (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/The_Eastern_Hotel_Ballarat.htm) have cheaper dormitories and rooms for up to two people. If you want more out of your accommodation, Sovereign Park Motor Inn (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Sovereign_Park_Motor_Inn.htm) is a 4-star accommodation at 223 Main Road. They have spacious rooms that are great for larger families, a large indoor pool and its own bar with restaurant on site.
Finding affordable accommodation is a bit trickier in the spa-dense Daylesford. Beware that prices here rise considerably over the weekends. But you can rent a cottage, set up your motorhome or put up your own tent at Daylesford Holiday Park (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Daylesford_Holiday_Park.htm). The resort is located at the corner of Ballan Street and Burrall Street, and you will get access to kitchen and washing machines on the area. Pendower House (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Pendower_House.htm) is a popular B&B right in the centre of Daylesford with walking distance to most things. They serve good breakfasts. Prices over the weekend soars, so if you can, come mid-week and pay only half the price. Another nice (and luxurious) alternative is Lake House (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Lake_House.htm). As the name implies, you stay just off the lake. Fine dining is served in the restaurant.