Go west, young family

Just when you thought I was a jetsetter who spends my holidays checking out European art and culture – back to reality with our recent family getaway to Ballarat and Horsham.

My son’s class studied the gold rush last term, but he was sick on the day they went to Sovereign Hill, so we made a special trip there. Sovereign Hill is a large-scale recreation of an 1850s gold-mining town, complete with houses, shops, working craftspeople and factories, animals, and “townspeople” dressed in period costume.

Best bits according to the kids: making their own dipped candles, the lolly shop, writing with a nib and ink at the school, the brief slightly scary bits on the underground mine tour, and FINDING GOLD. Yes, we panned for gold and actually found a few specks (the staff put it in the creek each morning. Pro tip – start panning early).

Worst bit: losing the gold. Our little bottle of gold specks fell out of an open jacket pocket. Somehow I felt this made our boom-and-bust gold rush experience all the more authentic.

Candle dipping

Sovereign Hill towerSovereign Hill viewPanning for goldWeirdest bit – a special appearance by St Nicholas and the fake snow machine. Ballarat is in Australia. Christmas is in summer. Why is Sovereign Hill doing Christmas in July? I don’t get it.

My favourite other bits: exploring the tiny houses and gardens, and the tents in the Chinese camp. Not a huge stretch to imagine the living conditions on the goldfields. It reminded me of one of my favourite books – The Colour by Rose Tremain.

After a couple of days in Sovereign Hill it was off to Horsham, a regional centre in the wide open spaces of western Victoria. Our friends were kind enough to let us stay in their house while they were overseas, so we had the run of a lovely farmhouse 11 km out of town. BONUS: they said we could burn off the pile of branches in their western paddock, so we had the mother of all campfires with some serious marshmallow action.

Sunset in Horsham


Just 15 minutes down the road is Mt Arapiles, a world-renowned rock climbing area. Following on from our excellent bouldering adventure at Hanging Rock, we did lots of bushwalking, scrambling up boulders, admiring the courage/lunacy and apparent lack of vertigo of real rock climbers, and enjoying the amazing views from the summit of various piles of rock.


Mt Arapiles


On the way home, my city slicker husband and children were VERY EXCITED to find the road blocked by sheep being herded by a guy on a motorbike. Quick, get the camera!!!

SheepAnd finally, it wouldn’t be an Australian family roadtrip without a Big Something. The beady look in the eyes of the Giant Koala Tourist Complex makes me a little nervous.

Giant Koala

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