Indulge in a Gourmet Getaway to the Victorian Goldfields
Posted by Stephanie Mikkelsen on Sunday, October 1, 2017
Eureka! The Victorian Goldfields is the getaway destination you've been digging for.
This region of Victoria really is worth its weight in gold. Main streets are lined with heritage buildings and façades; impressive galleries and museums rival those in state capitals; and local restaurants are becoming big-name players in the regional dining scene. There are small country towns between Ballarat and Bendigo, the regional cities that double as a handy base when exploring the wider area.
So no matter if you are keen to discover which town’s vanilla slice really is ‘the best’, or if you're simply wanting to eat your way through all the golden treats, the Victorian Goldfields are a region you need on your escape wish list.
How To Get There
The good news? It isn’t hard to strike it rich by reaching the Goldfields from Melbourne. It all depends where you want to start. A 90-minute drive along the Western Freeway is all you need to arrive in Ballarat. From there, explore Creswick and Clunes; up to Avoca and the Pyrnees wine region. To see Bendigo – and perhaps Castlemaine and Maldon along the way – head up the Calder Freeway for about two hours, once you leave Melbourne. The V/Line train network also connects Melbourne with Ballarat and Bendigo; all services leave from Southern Cross Station.
When To Go
Image: Lydiard Street, Ballarat. Credit: Robert Blackburn; Visit Victoria.
Much like other popular regions across Victoria, the Goldfields peak season falls during the warmer months. Throughout spring, summer and early autumn, the historic streets of Bendigo and Ballarat – plus the smaller towns in between – fill up with visitors, wandering between antique shops, relaxed cafes and verdant parks. Ballarat tends to be the cooler of the cities, with the average summer temperature hovering around 25 degrees Celsius. Bendigo’s summer temperatures inch closer to the 30-degree mark. Pack your thermals, woolly socks and beanies if you’re visiting in winter. Temperatures can plummet once the sun sets, and water pipes have been known to freeze overnight. While it is decidedly chillier during winter however, some travellers may think that is the perfect excuse for curling up by a wood-burning fire. Just an idea…
Unsurprisingly for a region so rich in history, food and wine, the events and festival calendar for the Goldfields is jam-packed. Go retro with the Ballarat Beat Rockabilly Festival, or rock out with the Bendigo Blues & Roots Music Festival. Bendigo Uncorked Week takes place in October, or stop by one of the weekly markets in Clunes, Castlemaine, Maldon, Avoca and Talbot.
Eat and Drink
Image: The Good Loaf, Bendigo, Supplied.
First things first, fuel up with a visit to The Good Loaf in Bendigo. All sourdough loaves are proved for up to three days before being baked, and these buns, baguettes and cobs are at the heart of the all-day breakfasts and lunch menu. Make sure to take a sweet something for the road later on. Those starting their Goldfields exploration in Ballarat can head to Eclectic Tastes Café and Pantry for breakfast or lunch. Eat in for a leisurely start to your day, or choose a cake from their tempting cabinet display and order a top-tier takeaway coffee for a stroll around Lake Wendouree – only a one-minute walk away.
Image: Eclectic Tastes, Ballarat. Credit: Jo O'Kelly.
If you're starting your day in the charming surrounds of Castlemaine, get your coffee fix at the much loved local; Das Kaffeehaus by Coffee Basics. Modelled after an Austrian coffee house, settle in for a big breakfast or a more refined slice of Kugelhupf (bundt cake) and a top notch brew. Located in The Mill, a dining and social precinct of Castlemaine, thanks to the red brick spire you won't miss this spot even from a distance - not that you'd want to.
Image: Das Kaffeehaus, Castlemaine.
In order to collect the best selection of pastries, visit Johnny Baker early in the morning and pack your bags and stomachs with golden flakiness galore. From danishes to cakes, pies to croissants, it's all good at Johnny Baker. And if you're in a rush, you can even make the most of their convenient drive-through access!
Image: Johnny Baker, Castlemaine.
Image: Chancery Lane, Bendigo.
Chancery Lane is one of Bendigo’s coolest spots and also happens to be home to The Dispensary. A cracking drinks stable – including a cocktail list of more than 386 tipples – is matched with palate-pleasing plates at this warm, unassuming watering-hole. The Dispensary welcomes all sorts through its doors. “You can come in and have fried chicken steam buns and a craft beer and walk out for $25,” explains Tim Ralph, part-owner of The Dispensary. “Or you can come in and have Aylesbury duck and a bottle of Peringa Estate Pinot 2003 and walk out for $200.”
Image: The Dispensary, Bendigo.
Committed-carnivores will salivate for the steak cuts available at The Woodhouse. The express lunch option is great value, and the dessert options phenomenal. Don't go past the bread and butter pudding with rhubarb and hibiscus (pictured below). and those keen to savour the wares of a local dining institution should book a table at Masons of Bendigo.
Image: The Woodhouse, Bendigo.
More casual dining can be had at Rocks on Rosalind, a chic diner that lives in the bones of the old gold bank. The menu features tastes from all corners of the globe, and those manning the bar serve up creative cocktails and even a wine on tap, made by the restaurant’s owners. Travelling groups keen on a memorable dining experience should request one of two tables in historic bank vault.
Image: Rocks on Rosalind, Bendigo.
Hop across the Goldfields border, temporarily landing in the Pyrenees region, to seek out the Taltarni cellar door in Moonambel. Choose a favourite from Taltarni’s range of award-winning drops to enjoy a glass by the wood-burning fireplace or outside on the brick verandah. Taltarni are known for their sparkling, and with a wide range of brut beauties to choose from, make sure you partake in a tasting to find your favourite.
Image: Taltarni Vineyard, Moonambel. Photo supplied.
Hungry for more? Other favourites scattered around the Goldfields are Margot Bar & Kitchen, Public INN, Catfish, Mr Beebe’s Eating House & Bar, Percy & Percy, Avoca Hotel, Le Sel and Miss Pritchard’s Pantry.
See and Do
Image: Bendigo Art Gallery. Credit: Robert Blackburn; Visit Victoria.
It would be an opportunity missed if, on your visit to the Victorian Goldfields, you did not see or do at least one thing that is connected to the region’s namesake element. Go underground at Central Deborah Gold Mine in Bendigo; discover the tunnels, scale ladders and try your hand at working a mine drill. Guided tours are available and you don’t even need to bring your own overalls or hardhat – both are provided. Another gold rush favourite is the perennially popular Sovereign Hill in Ballarat, or travel between Castlemaine and Maldon with a joy ride on the Victorian Goldfields Railway. Hop on an old school steam train and chug between destinations for a leisurely day trip experience.
Stop by Bendigo’s Art Gallery, one of the largest in regional Victoria, to check out current exhibitions. The gallery has previously hosted internationally recognised collections, including the recent blockbuster Marilyn Monroe exhibition. The Castlemaine Art Gallery & Historical Museum lives in a striking Art Deco building and houses works by names including Sir Sidney Nolan, Fred Williams and Frederick McCubbin. Join the guided tours, which happen every Saturday at 2pm, or head to the Old Castlemaine Gaol for a peek into the town’s judicial past. There are plenty of other historical sights throughout the Goldfields too, including the Eureka Trail in Ballarat, Maryborough’s old school house and Andersons Mill in Smeaton.
The Goldfields isn’t all history and museums; the gardens, parks and reserves are a haven for nature-lovers and outdoorsy travellers. Wander the Steve Moneghetti Track that circles around Lake Wendouree, or explore Ballarat’s Botanical Gardens. The Goldfields Track is a 210 kilometre-long route that links Ballarat up with Bendigo, winding through Castlemaine, Creswick and Harcourt along the way. Pick a section of the track for cycling or bushwalking.