Luxury Escapes Guide to the Goldfields

Unearth riches of another kind in the Goldfields, where a diverse cultural scene, outstanding food and wine experiences and centuries of history await.

It may be named for the precious metal that saw its establishment in the 1850s, but the Goldfields region is filled with a wealth of experiences and thousands of hidden gems to discover among its thriving towns.

The historical heart of the Gold Rush period, the region is now bursting with Victorian architecture, amazing art galleries, a flourishing food and wine scene and pristine natural landscapes, all just 90 minutes from Melbourne.

With cool-climate drops in Ballarat and invigorating Italian varieties in Bendigo and Heathcote, you could spend weeks winding your way through the region’s wineries, pausing for produce from fantastic farm gates along the way. With the title of City of Gastronomy to its name, remarkable restaurants won’t be hard to find in Bendigo, but Castlemaine’s hidden haunts are equally worth a visit. A burgeoning collection of breweries and cideries make for a trifecta of fabulous food experiences, with pots of gold sprinkled through Harcourt and Ballarat.

After filling your belly and your esky, feast on excellent exhibitions at some of the state’s finest regional galleries and museums, or explore nature’s best exhibits with adventures around the many picturesque lakes nearby or through awe-inspiring state and national parks.

Learn about the legacy of the Gold Rush period and fossick for a nugget of your own, or watch history unfold as the dramatic Eureka Stockade comes to life right before your eyes.

Whether you stay for a few days or take a week, you’re sure to uncover a gem or two among the tree-lined boulevards of the Goldfields.

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Things to see and do

Explore major exhibitions at Bendigo Art Gallery

As one of the oldest and largest regional art galleries in the country, Bendigo Art Gallery is guaranteed to hold a visual treat or two. With a long history of hosting outstanding national and international exhibitions, it’s seen the likes of Grace Kelly: Icon from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, and Frida Kahlo, her photos pass through its doors.

Its permanent collection features 19th-century Australian and European art, as well as pieces from Bendigo Goldfields and more contemporary works from the likes of Dale Frank, Fiona Hall and Emily Kame Kngwarreye.

Go back in time at Sovereign Hill

Immerse yourself in the heart of the Gold Rush at Sovereign Hill, a living museum that takes you back in time to Ballarat’s time as a booming hub throughout this historic chapter. Complete with costumed characters and re-created shops, workshops, schools and buildings, the living township captures the essence of the Gold Rush experience. Learn traditional hands-on skills with ropemaking and candle-dipping workshops, or watch the experts take on blacksmithing, printing, gold-pouring and candy-making. Venture into underground mines to learn about the dangers and discoveries of the time, or if you’re there in the afternoon, stick around to catch AURA, an immersive sound and light show.

See a show at the Theatre Royal

Catch up on your culture with a film or gig at the Theatre Royal, the oldest continually operating theatre on Australia’s mainland. Constructed during the Gold Rush to entertain diggers, the Art Deco building was one of the first ‘picture palaces’ in the country and by the 1950s was playing movies to nearly 5000 people a week. It re-introduced live music in the 1980s and has now become a leading regional music venue, with the likes of Paul Kelly, Cat Power, Courtney Barnett and Archie Roach playing here over the years.

Catch an indie film, check out who’s playing or stop by the onsite bar and pizzeria, Lola, to devour a pizza or Italian plate, perfectly paired with a spritz or two.

Visit Harcourt’s cideries

Nine kilometres north of Castlemaine and about 20 minutes from Bendigo sits a haven for cider drinkers – Harcourt. Over 40 traditional cider apple varieties are grown in orchards here, ready to be converted into deliciously crisp drops by a number of local producers. Visit Henry’s of Harcourt to find out exactly how they do it and more importantly, sample their efforts, with an informal tasting of their full collection.

Carry onto the nearby The Little Red Apple to try their wares, or if you prefer grapes to apples, pop into Bress to taste locally produced shiraz, pinot noir, chardonnay and Chablis.

Join the locals at Lake Wendouree

Follow in the footsteps of champions with a lap around Ballarat’s Lake Wendouree. Join the locals as they walk, jog or cycle around the six-kilometre trail, named after local legend Steve Moneghetti, an Olympian marathon runner. Keen fishing enthusiasts can cast a line from purpose-built platforms, or if you prefer to be on the water, hire a kayak or canoe to follow in the strokes of the 1956 Olympics rowers and kayakers, who competed on the lake. After all that activity, it’s time for a feed – BYO BBQ provisions for a grilled feast using the provided facilities, or turn to one of the many lakeside cafes and restaurants.

Explore Chancery Lane, stopping at El Gordo and The Dispensary

Discover the latest in Bendigo’s thriving independent fashion and food scene with a wander down Chancery Lane. The eclectic laneway, found in the centre of Bendigo, is home to beautiful boutiques, remarkable restaurants and brilliant bars, each with their own treasures. In the morning, stop at El Gordo for a brew and breakfast burrito, or later in the day, find yourself feasting at The Dispensary, where the widest range of drink choices in Bendigo awaits. In between, while away the day admiring the ever-changing street art or browsing Australian labels at Robe. You could even book in for a massage at Jindaa Thai Massage, or for the more daring, a tattoo at Gallery Tattoo Studio.

Follow the rebellion at Eureka Stockade Memorial Park

Explore one of Australia’s most significant stories at the Eureka Stockade Memorial Park, thought to be the site of the 1854 Eureka Stockade. Learn more about the importance of the rebellion and the fight for miners’ rights at the Eureka Centre, where the original Eureka Flag is enshrined, before wandering around the grounds to admire the multiple monuments. Follow the Pathway of Remembrance from the Eureka Circle, past Pikeman’s Dog, around Lake Penhalluriak and onto the Eureka Stockade Monument and Eureka Hall.

Discover gold in another form at craft breweries

Heathcote may be known for its sensational shiraz, but a burgeoning beer scene is putting its amazing ales on the map. Pop by Palling Bros Brewery to check out their set up and spend a few hours in the beer garden, working your way through their selection and feasting on a menu of burgers, tacos and other pub classics, made with local ingredients. Down the road, you can tour through the brewery at the Tooborac Hotel and Brewery, before sitting down to sample their IPA, summer ale or porter. Nearby Cornella Brewery takes a grain to glass approach for their brews, best tasted at their cellar door and tap room.

Explore the Golden Dragon Museum

Uncover gems of Chinese history and culture at the Golden Dragon Museum, Victoria’s very first accredited museum. Push through the huge wooden door to find a chamber full of imperial dragons, including the oldest in the world, Old Loong, and the longest in the world, Dai Gum Loong. Other treasures include processional regalia, beautiful examples of traditional textiles, a jade dragon chariot and a dragon throne.

Continue the adventure outside in the Dai Gum San Chinese precinct. You’ll find the Imperial Palace-inspired Yi Yuan Gardens (Garden of Joy) and a Buddhist temple dedicated to the goddess of mercy, Guan Yin.

Top places to eat and drink

Masons of Bendigo, Bendigo

The awards shelf at Masons of Bendigo is no longer a shelf – the modern restaurant in the heart of Bendigo needs a whole display cabinet. It’s not hard to see why – owners Nick and Sonia have spent the better part of 20 years working with central Victorian producers to create a paddock-to-plate menu that lets the simplicity of the ingredients shine. Pop by at lunch to sample the six courses of the Lunch Roaming Menu, or book in for the full Masons experience with the Chef Roaming Menu for dinner. The wine list is equally locally focussed, with an emphasis on drops from the surrounding wine regions.

Hop Temple, Ballarat

Wander down a hidden laneway, under the hanging red and white umbrellas, to worship at the bar of Hop Temple, a craft beer bar celebrating the raft of brilliant brews coming out of Australian breweries. 17 taps and five fridge doors will greet pilgrims looking for their new favourite beer, with an ever-changing list meaning there’s always something new to try. Sip on an IPA or sour while devouring a pizza, burger or plate of fried chicken and listening to the live music. The entertainment options don’t end there: visit during the week for musical bingo or drag queen trivia.

Mitchell Harris Wine Bar, Ballarat

Taste your way through Western Victoria at Mitchell Harris Wine Bar, a culinary treasure chest in the heart of Ballarat. Housed in a building that has seen incarnations as a produce store, tentmakers and motor workshop, the wine bar and restaurant now celebrates artisanship of another kind, serving some of the region’s finest wines alongside a seasonal and locally driven menu that’s designed to be shared and paired. Sample wines from their own collection or spread your wings to try an interesting drop from the country’s up-and-coming producers. Graze on small bites as you sip and savour for the perfect introduction to the Goldfields gourmet scene.

Coffee Basics Das Kaffeehaus, Castlemaine

Australia meets Austria at Das Kaffeehaus, a Viennese coffee house and small-batch micro-roastery perched across the road from Castlemaine’s Botanical Gardens. Owners Edmund and Elna have been in the coffee business for decades and are now bringing a touch of European glamour to the industrial surrounds of the Mill complex. Stop by for a perfectly brewed flat white, using beans roasted under the Coffee Basics name, or sit down for a slice of sachertorte, just like the Austrians would! If you’re popping by later in the day, dig into a European lunch of sausages, sandwiches or strudel.

Yellow Espresso, Ballarat

No matter the weather, a visit to Yellow Espresso is bound to brighten your day. Nestled on Ballarat’s main strip, this slice of sunshine turns out speciality coffee from Melbourne outfit Axil Coffee Roasters, and a brunch menu that will delight even the fussiest of feasters. Stop by for a cappuccino, cold drip or super smoothie, or take it slow as you graze on acai berry bowls, chilli scrambled eggs, BLTs and matcha pancakes. With one sip or sample, you’ll see why it’s Tripadvisor’s top cafe in Ballarat.

Talbot Provedore and Eatery, Talbot

Only the strongest willed will be able to resist filling up at Talbot Provedore and Eatery – between the brilliant brunch menu and the shelves upon shelves of local produce, expect to walk out with a full belly and bulging shopping bag. Proximity is the main focus here – everything is sourced from within 100km of Talbot, meaning you can enjoy a real taste of the region while soaking up the sunshine in the alfresco area. Pop in for brunch over the weekend and load up your shopping bag with cheeses, meats, fresh vegetables, chutneys and oils, or book ahead for a Saturday night dinner, where the team of chefs convert these incredible ingredients into delicious dishes.

The Bridge Hotel  Castlemaine, Castlemaine

A little bit of inner-city Melbourne can be found in Castlemaine at The Bridge Hotel, a much-loved boozer that delivers pub classics well worth a detour. Make your way through the dim and intimate interior to find an often-busy beer garden, lined with shaded tables and a stage for local musicians to strut their stuff. Sip on a Stone and Wood or Shedshaker, or opt for something from the diverse spirits and wine list, including drops from the nearby Bress Winery and Sutton Grange Winery. Whatever you’re drinking, you’ll want to order some food – Head Chef Brunno Rocha works with local farmers to put a twist on pub favourites.

Wild Food and Wine, Castlemaine

With a menu full of lip-smackingly delicious dishes and a drinks list that reads like a map of the region, it’s hard to see how you could go wrong at Wild Food and Wine. The restaurant and wine bar celebrates the Goldfields’ bevy of brilliant ingredients from its former fire station location, delivering a menu that, if you order right, gives you a chance to sample every plate. Just as suited to a ‘passing through afternoon wine’, as it is a special Saturday night dinner, the intimate wine bar offers a taste of the region’s gourmet scene that’s sure to leave you wanting more.

The Good Loaf Bakery, Bendigo

A former Beaurepaire tyre building may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to sourdough, but once you’ve experienced Good Loaf Bakery, it should be. Bendigo’s first sourdough bakery calls the heritage-listed building home, dishing out sensational sourdough and semi-sourdough breads, cakes and muffins fresh from the oven to patient customers. The cafe menu is built around celebrating the humble slice of bread, with sandwiches and toasties served alongside spiced Mexican beans and avocado chickpea smash.

The Woodhouse , Bendigo

Follow the smells of burning redgum to find The Woodhouse, a local stalwart of Bendigo’s steak scene. Owner-chef Paul Pitcher works with local farmers to source the best cuts of beef, pork and lamb to cook on his red-gum wood-fired grill, with a particular emphasis on grass-fed O’Connor, Sher Wagyu and Black Angus grain-fed steaks. The result is impossibly tender cuts, served with decadent dauphinoise potato. However, it’s not just the meat that gets the woodfire treatment – fish, poultry and vegetables are all grilled or roasted to perfection and impeccably paired with the list of craft beers and local wines on offer.

Lux moments

Play, sip and stay at Balgownie Estate

Bendigo’s oldest winery is home to more than just vineyards – the 33-hectare property hosts a winery, peaceful retreat and award-winning restaurant all just 10 minutes from the centre of town.

Get away for a weekend to stay amongst grapevines, olive trees and native gums in glamping tents, homestead rooms or cottages. Spend afternoons tasting your way through Balgownie’s collection of exceptional shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and chardonnay, as well as some newer blends, such as pinot gris, rosé and sangiovese. When hunger strikes, turn to the restaurant, where the brilliant wines are served alongside a seasonal menu brimming with produce sourced from local suppliers.