We had a fantastic family weekend away – in Sovereign Hill.
Blessed with the sunniest weekend since winter began – the fact that spring came early was a definite bonus! Nevertheless, it would have been a wonderful adventure even if the weather hadn’t smiled on us.
I have to say that as a child I made many trips to Sovereign Hill: whenever an international visitor came to stay (which was about once a year). It was a trip always greeted with joy – what child wouldn’t be excited about boiled lollies, panning for gold and imagining themselves living in the 1850’s gold rush era? So as I approached this particular trip I admit I was a little nervous that my memories would be dashed by the reality of viewing it though the eyes of an adult.
Thankfully our trip lived up to the expectations of my childhood – it was still 1850 something and still as charming as ever. If you wanted tonit pick then maybe as an adult I am more aware that possibly the cornice in quite a few of the main street buildings wasn’t actually circa 1850 – but for all intensivepurposes it was authentic enough (and hey I’m no historian so what would I know!). I have to also say that the overall experience was definitely as fabulous as it was the first time I went. And the roads to Ballarat have improved – so now the trip takes an hour and 15 minutes!
1. As soon as you arrive make bookings!
1.a) You want to do the ‘Labyrinth of Gold’ Gold Mine Tour – it goes for about 40 minutes and for a family it’s $20. You are taken down into the mines via a cable car/tram and then walk through the old mines. Towards the end of the tour you board an underground train (picture the shopping centre Thomas the Tank Engine rides and it’s a faster adult sized version of that without the annoying soundtrack) which takes you back to the cable car. The tour is engaging for both adults and toddlers!
1.b) Purchase a ticket for the coach ride (family $17). This way you can keep an eye on the length of the que and join it when suits. The coach only fits a max of 6 passengers so the line can be quite long at times…
1.c) If you’ve always wanted one of those period costume souvenir photo’s then make sure you book early, in fact it worth booking in advance as they often have group bookings and so it’s hard to get in (call 5337 1128). Costs start at $70. And another tip – ignore the woman dressing you when she says ‘leave your clothes on’; a bulky jumper under a dress just makes you look ENORMOUS! I’d also (if I was doing it again) ask what other dresses I could choose from, and was there any other hat options other than a giant babies bonnet! My mum laughed so hard when she saw the picture I was thinking I might have to dial 000.
2. If you are doing it all in one day – get there at 10am.. there is so much to see so you need to pace yourself. And, if like me you have younger kids, an overnight stay is a really fantastic way of doing it. We broke our two days into an afternoon and a morning session (each about 3-4 hours) and everyone had the perfect amount of fun.
3. Other than lollies, the food on offer onsite isn’t that great (possibly the worst scones I’ve ever had). The pasty at the bakery was okay. You would have a better meals in Ballarat (3 minute drive down the road) and if making a two day visit to Sovereign Hill it is more economical to purchase an annual membership ($194.50 for a family) which comes with extra discounts.
4. Don’t worry if you haven’t got cash – pretty much everywhere takes cards and the Post Office on the Main Street can provide cash out.
We all had a fantastic time and I highly recommend this as a fun family day-trip or weekend.
Some notes about the accommodation package deal:
We signed up for the weekend package at the Sovereign Hill Lodge (aka Comfort Inn). The package was overall quite an easy way to go – I thought.. although you could get better meals elsewhere. If however you were travelling with a group I would suggest it’s a very easy option.
The advantage of staying at the Comfort Inn ($510 for a family) was that everything was included and so it was pretty good value – a two day family pass into Sovereign Hill (family entry $107/day), dinner (family $110) and breakfast included, our motel room (a queen sized bed and two sets of bunks) and tickets to the evening sound and light spectacular “The Blood on the Southern Cross” (for a family $140).
We also had the advantage of having a gate into Sovereign Hill – so we could come and go as we wished using our room key, and it was a 3 minute walk to our room (our room happened to be the furthest building from the gate, so that was worst case scenario!).
Our breakfast consisted serve yourself cornflakes, toasted tip-top bread, orange juice and tea/coffee. Dinner was choice of roast lamb or chicken (kids had chicken schnitzel) and then there was a desert buffet – which was completely cleaned out before we got to it, although they did find us some extra fruit salads. Even though we ate in Sovereign Hill itself, the venue we ate in lacked much atmosphere.. some background music could have been nice to drown out the sound of everyone munching, slurping and scraping their plates…
And we had the best intentions of experiencing the “Blood on the Southern Cross” sound and light spectacular (the brochures words, not mine) but unfortunately about 20 minutes into it both our kids were fading and asking to go and the slightly spooky setting and story made it an easy decision to bail. Maybe when they are a bit older than five and three it would be a more realistic experience.