Tour the region around Ballarat and you'll be taking a compelling journey into the history of Victoria, discovering the towns
and villages that sprang up across Victoria's western region after the discovery of gold in 1851.
and villages that sprang up across Victoria's western region after the discovery of gold in 1851.
To the South and South West
Amazing as it seems, Buninyong was settled long before Ballarat was even thought of. In 1838, the Learmonth brothers established a sheep station nearby. Its first huts were built in 1841 by sawyers and wood splitters and an eating-house established the same year. The Crown Hotel's licence was granted in 1842.
Today's Buninyong, an easy 15 minute drive, 13 kilometres south of Ballarat, retains splendid colonial architecture, including: the Italianate town hall; the 1857 library; the former court house; Eagle Store; and former National Bank.
Buninyong's Old Cemetery - Stop just off the main road in central Buninyong and look for a white picket fence. Here is Buninyong's Old Cemetery, the oldest in the Goldfields region. But you'd never know it was there unless you knew where to look. While the first burial took place in this cemetery around 1837, the site was abandoned in the 1850s and no record of who is buried here has survived. Who knows what history, what stories, what past tragedies, what long and short lives lay below this small parcel of land?
Smythesdale and Scarsdale
Gold was discovered at Smythesdale, 19 kms south west of Ballarat, in 1853. Today you can go back in time to the Police Camp historic precinct and visit the old bluestone police station lock-up and historic court house. Relics of Smythesdale's gold-mining history can be found in one of Victoria's best preserved gold mining sites, the Jubilee Mine Historic Reserve, 11 kms south of town on Jubilee Road. Relics include old cyanide vats, mullock heaps, brick walls, and water races rusting in the silence of the bush. Nearby Scarsdale, four kilometres away, features a circa 1861 hotel and historic town hall.
Ballarat-Skipton Rail Trail - Take a bicycle ride along the 53 kilometre-long Ballarat-Skipton Rail Trail and you can just about hear the steam engines puffing and hissing, as they once did when hauling their freight between these two towns. You'll pass open paddocks and eucalypt forests, native grasslands and bush alive with birds and wildflowers. You'll pedal past the former Chinese settlement site at Nintingbool, numerous railway remains, an impressive trestle bridge near Newtown and historic towns including Smythesdale, Scarsdale and Linton.
The trail starts in Ballarat on the corner of Gillies Street and Gregory Street West, adjacent to Lake Wendouree. A self-guided tour brochure 'Ballarat Scenic Bikes Rides' is available by calling Ballarat Visitor Information on 1800 44 66 33.
To the West
The township of Beaufort is located on the Western Highway about 30 minutes west of Ballarat. Anyone heading to the Grampians will drive through it, however we suggest stopping!
The name of this little township reflects the attachment the region has to its European namesake. The main street is dotted with small cafes and trattorias offering local produce along with some of the wonderful wines for which the extended region is so well known.
Micheal Unwin Wines, recently opened at the entrance to the township, will provide you with a winery experience you won't forget — especially if you leave with a bottle or two in hand.
Many visitors are drawn to the region to walk and climb through the stunning natural forest of Mount Cole. The mountain, scattered with fire places and huts for shelter, offers the perfect camping environment and walks ranging from 20 minutes to two days. Many overnight hikers choose to leave their car at Cave Hill Creek, just past Raglan and head off for a two day adventure.
To the NORTH West
Learmonth is located 21 kilometres north-west of Ballarat on Wautharong country. This small hamlet on the shores of Lake Learmonth, which is currently enjoying something of a renaissance, supports the surrounding farming population and has prospered primarily due to Lake Learmonth which, when full, offers a pleasant environment for campers, fishermen and boating enthusiasts.
Learmonth was founded by Thomas Livingstone Learmonth in August 1837. One feature which brought Learmonth to prominence was it's location on the most easily accessible gap over the Great Dividing Range between Melbourne and the grazing lands of the Avoca and Wimmera Rivers.
You'd never believe the sleepy hamlet of Talbot, 40 minutes drive north west of Ballarat, was once a chaos of gold diggers, dozens of stores and businesses and 100 pubs and grog shanties.
Talbot came into being as a township after Victoria's first unofficial gold was discovered here in 1848. There were waves of development in the 1850s (population 15,000) and late 1860s when the population stabilised at about 3,400. Talbot suffered population drift due to mines closing in late 1880s, return of soldiers from war, the depression, the decline in the town's businesses and services throughout the 1970s and '80s and the devastating effect of both the bushfires of 1985 and the drought since the late 1990s.
Talbot's colonial treasures include Victoria's oldest functioning post office, the Talbot Museum in the former Primitive Methodist Church, a public library, the town hall, magnificent early bank buildings and the historic former court house. Not forgetting the 1859 Courthouse Hotel.
Many visitors to the Pyrenees Wine Region are familiar with the small township of Avoca and the wonderful country race meetings held there.
The gorgeous main street has maintained an historic facade that harkens back to Avoca's goldrush days and the cafes, specialty shops and galleries that now border the main street create an excellent stopping point before heading out to the local wineries that stretch out from the township and further on to Moonambel.
Avoca boasts a well utilised petanque piste in the centre of the main street, which plays host to the two-day Pyrenees Petanque Championship, drawing players from across the globe.
The township and the surrounding mountain ranges offer the perfect environment for bike riding and bushwalking so you can either come prepared with bikes on racks on the back of the car or pop into the Avoca Information Centre and hire yourselves a couple of excellent bikes for the day.
At the centre of one of Victoria's most prestigious wine regions, Moonambel lies in a gorgeous Pyrenees valley surrounded by 15 wineries, including the top-rated Dalwhinnie, Taltarni and Summerfield labels.
The township was developed in the 1850s after gold was discovered and up to 30,000 people were attracted to the area. Orchards and vineyards were established in the 1860s, and, although wine-making went into abeyance from 1948 to 1969, it has re-emerged with Shiraz considered the icon wine of the region.
Following the stampede of gold seekers in 1851, Clunes once became the fifth largest town in Victoria, and its broad main street and many substantial buildings vividly recall its prosperous beginnings. Little seems to have changed on Fraser Street, where the wide road could easily fit a few horses and carts across it, shops still have their shady verandahs and faded signs promote businesses from bygone eras.
Today, Clunes is also an attractive centre for artists, authors, historians and photographers. It's known for an intriguing range of accommodation, cafes, shops, galleries, wineries and old stores offering antiques and collectables.
Each May in Clunes you'll find the biggest collection of rare, out-of-print and second hand books in Australia at the annual Back to Booktown. Over 60 booksellers from around the country gather in this historic village turning it into a European style Booktown. Discover antique books, nostalgia and treasures dotted across the historic township.
Recommended Accommodation: Poplars B&B Accommodation
To the NORTH
Located on the Midlands Highway, a scenic fifteen minutes drive north from Ballarat, is the picturesque and historic township of Creswick.
Explore Creswick, with its wide main street and historic buildings including the old Masonic Lodge, State Savings Bank (now an antique and gift shop), Creswick Library, Post Office and Creswick Historical Museum. The town has distinct character and charm, and was the location for the American mini-series Salom's Lot. To add to its fame, the renowned Lindsay family of artists lived here, and the museum has a permanent exhibition of Norman Lindsay paintings.
The town was a big centre for goldmining, and much of the forest was cleared by the mining industry. Enter John La Gerche, a preservationist who replanted the hills with thousands of seedlings. La Gerche's forests are now more than 100 years old, and are protected as part of the park which also includes many goldmining relics. There are some appealing picnic grounds too, including Slatey Creek, St Georges Lake and Koala Park.
Daylesford / Hepburn Springs
Fine cuisine, cellar doors, day spas, spectacular scenery, natural mineral springs, romantic accommodation, country resorts, art and craft, all in a historic streetscape Daylesford and
Hepburn Springs offer a great getaway location for all ages.
Just 90 minutes from Melbourne, the Shire boasts the highest concentration of mineral springs in
the country together with an equally large array of therapists. Holistic health services, provided in conjunction with the mineral springs and spas, continue the region’s long tradition as a place of healing.
The towns of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs reflect the character of their earliest heritage when Swiss-Italian miners and other immigrants settled here and people travelled from afar to “take the waters”.
Smeaton is an easy 25 minute drive, 31 kilometres north of Ballarat. Located 25 minutes north of Ballarat and 15 minutes west of the Daylesford/Hepburn Springs townships the region hosts some unique attractions, antique shops and "country pub" dining experiences.
The little township of Smeaton just north of Creswick was once the granary of Victoria. Tucked away on the Birch Creek is the Anderson Mill complex built in 1862. The beautiful setting is something you would expect to see in Tasmania or Southern England. Smeaton was such a boom town in the 1860s: it ran eight hotels; a four-storey bluestone flour mill; a butter factory; and, several banks.
Today, it offers tantalising hints of its thriving past and surrounding the town, huge mullock heaps are all that remain of a once flourishing mining industry. But some things never change; the town's social nucleus is still the Cumberland Hotel, established in 1860.