There are a number of highways heading northwards out of Melbourne – the main one directly heading north being the Hume Highway (M31) that heads to Seymour and onwards to New South Wales all the way to Sydney. Heading slightly more North East is the Melba Highway (B300) that heads to Euroa.
The other two main highways, heading North East are the Western Freeway (M8) that heads to Ballarat and the Calder Highway (M79) to Castlemaine and Bendigo.
When you see in the centre of Melbourne some of the grand Victorian architecture, you might wonder about their origins and the source of the wealth that built them – and the answer is both wool and GOLD.
Gold was first discovered in the 1850’s around the towns of Ballarat and Clunes leading to a Gold Rush that saw tremendous wealth being generated, and a huge influx of population arriving in Melbourne and heading to the goldfields to seek their fortune.
Imagine finding a 26 kilogram nugget as happened at Golden Gully in 1855 or a 69 Kilogram gold nugget as happened in Bulldog Gully in 1869 (The Welcome Stranger)! This happened, and in 1852 over 8 tonnes of gold was sent to London in just one shipment. Today, gold is valued at around $1100 or more an ounce, so 8 tonnes of gold (242192 ounces) would be worth 266 million dollars!
It was this wealth that enabled a building boom too, as the wealth was poured into the building of banks, mansions, town halls and other buildings to show off the new wealth both in Melbourne, but also in towns in or near the gold fields – towns like Ballarat, Maldon, Castlemaine and Bendigo – which in the 1880’s was said to be the richest city in the world!
Today, it is still possible to find gold, and also possible to see the rich architectural heritage buildings that were built in the 1850 to 1890 period in towns like Ballarat and Bendigo and the towns surrounding them like Creswick, Clunes, Talbot, Learmount, Castlemaine and Maldon.
There are a number of tour companies that can take you to these towns, or you can drive to them also.
High on the list of places to see is Sovereign Hill in Ballarat (Tel: (03) 5537 1199) – where you can visit the reconstructed village from the gold rush days, ride on a horse drawn carriage, watch the re-enactment of the Eureka Stockade Rebellion in a 90 minute sound and light show spectacular, take an underground tour to see how gold is mined, and see blacksmiths, wheelwrights and coach builders at work.
Ballarat is an impressive city with magnificent buildings, with tours available to tell their stories. Look for the Gold Museum to learn and see more about Gold.
On the way to Ballarat, it is worth taking a short detour, time permitting, to visit Bacchus Marsh – turning off the Western Freeway (M8) onto Bacchus Marsh Rd (C802) also called ‘The Avenue of Honour’ – a 3.5km stretch of road with a canopy of elm leaves created by the large Elm trees planted on both sides of the road. This area is renowned for its horse studs, orchards and market gardens and roadside stalls selling seasonal fruits and vegetables, with the town centre also worth a stopover too. If you continue on through the town centre, the road leads back to the Western Freeway then on to Ballarat.
Also if you want to see an historic sheep property, look for ‘Narmbool’ at Elaine, first settled in 1839 and still running over 12,000 sheep. The property has guest accommodation, also for school groups – Tel: (03) 5332 91 68.
Travel to Castlemaine to ride a steam train from Castlemaine to Maldon on the Victorian Goldfields Railway which operates on Wednesdays and Sundays, and then head to Bendigo – where again the town’s rich history becomes apparent from the style of the main city buildings. In Bendigo, you can also travel on a historic tram around the city centre, and you will also find the Golden Dragon Museum and Bendigo Joss House – which detail the history of Chinese miners who came to the gold fields. Bendigo Pottery is also located in the town too – making Bendigo a must see destination in country Victoria.
THE GRAMPIONS NATIONAL PARK –
These are one of Victoria’s favourite National Parks – with waterfalls, lots of walking tracks, mountain bike areas, koalas, emus and kangaroos, birds and natural flora, scenic drives and lookouts – in and around the sandstone mountain gorges, cliffs and spectacular scenery, with camping facilities and bar-b-cue set ups in the Park, and other places to stay in nearby towns like Moyston, Halls Gap or Wartook or the bigger towns of Stawell, Ararat or Horsham.
To get to the Grampions National Park – first head to Ballarat on the Western Freeway (M8) and onto the Western Highway (A8) to Ararat, then west on the C222 to Moyston, OR from Stawell on the C216 to Halls Gap. You will find local maps and information about the National Park in all of these towns, and it is worth checking to see that roads are open and camping grounds available if intending to camp overnight. Also check to see if you are able to have a campfire – as open fire restrictions may apply.
In late winter/early spring there are many wildflowers, and if intending to do a long walk, make sure that you are prepared for it with lots of water and let people know where you are heading and when they can expect you back. Rock climbing can be dangerous, but there are some excellent locations in the Park for this sport – one of the main ones being Mount Arapiles near the town of Natimuk. The Giant Koala is located at Dadswell’s Bridge, and there are also places to stay here too.
Horsham to the north of the Grampions has a number of parks, a great golf club, The Horsham Regional Art Gallery, Horsham Botanic Gardens, cafes, restaurants and places to stay.
Melbourne is just 3 hours or so away from the Victorian Alps and some of the best snow fields in Australia – and depending on the season, it will be possible to ski, sled or snowboard from June to September. The areas in spring and summer also become a great place to experience alpine temperatures and walks in the mountains, with wild flowers in the spring and the melting snow making it a great place to drive or trek around.
There are three main resorts to travel to – Falls Creek, a very family friendly resort town, Mount Buller and Mount Hotham. There is a myriad of accommodation options, but it is important to both book a place to stay, and also be prepared with the right clothing, and equipment – either your own or hired from one of the many ski shops. Driving to the alpine villages also depends on the weather conditions, and chains may be needed for car tyres – so it is important to be prepared before you head to the snow. Even in summer, weather changes can happen quickly too – so you need to be prepared at all times.
There is also a smaller ski resort called Mount Baw Baw Alpine Resort, with a winding road to get there, but it is also well worth considering if you are looking to snowboard, downhill or do cross country skiing without some of the crowds that head to the other resort towns.
The seasons and the quality of snow changes from year to year, but generally the snow quality is excellent and there are lots of ski runs, cross country skiing options and of course bars and lodges with a great atmosphere. It is always best to check on weather forecasts, likely weather and ensure that your time in the snow will be fun, and not a whiteout or not enough snow!
DAYLESFORD and THE MACEDON RANGES -
Daylesford, and nearby Hepburn Spa in the Macedon Ranges are located roughly midway between Ballarat and Castlemaine, on the Midland Highway –and the area renowned for its Spa water and natural mineral spring, Bathhouse and wineries.
Here you will find a number of healing and relaxation retreats, gardens, a lake, great architecture, relaxing walks, good food, wine and local produce making Daylesford and Hepburn Spa two of Victoria’s most popular weekend and holiday destinations.
Also take a visit to Kyneton, where there are some beautiful bluestone houses, a Botanic gardens, restaurants, places to stay, antique shops and also mineral springs too.
We hope you have a great time seeing Melbourne and also the towns and cities in Victoria.