By Chelsea Thomas Chief Bargain Hunter
Ballarat in Victoria is better than you remember it. I decided a few months back that on my birthday weekend I was taking my little family to see the Winter Wonderlights at Sovereign Hill. At the beginning of this year, I wanted to venture out more. And stop sitting in my little bubble. There’s far too many amazing places, waiting to be explored.
We’ve done Lorne and their gorges and the picturesque Erskine Falls, Bendigo and their overwhelming beautiful arts and restaurant precincts. It was Ballarat’s turn and I needed to focus on a kid-friendly weekend and boy did, Ballarat deliver.
To stay, we chose the Lakes Edge Apartments which were beautifully designed and snug. Just what our little family needed. Self serviced, 2 bedroom, modern space with super comfy, cosy beds too.
And a stone’s throw from Lake Wendouree (which is more divine in the flesh that it is on Google).
We discovered very quickly that the lake has attractions all the way around it. Just driving around in the cold was fun. There’s the old fashioned Ballarat Tramway Museum (you can take a ride), the massive wooden fortress park with BBQ facilities and our first eat spot, The Lake View Hotel. Dinner there was short and sweet because we arrived Friday arvo and the kids eat at 5.30pm (so do I 😊 now, when I have them in tow). The meals were hearty and the service was so fast. The guy who runs the front restaurant part (didn’t catch his name) was ever-so-understanding of the kids-eat-and-go sitch and he recommended the Mars Bar cheesecake for dessert, which I devoured back at the apartment.
We woke early for an action- packed day. It was minus 1 at 7am so we were wearing beanies, puffers, the lot. I looked like I was going to the snow and that’s what it felt like.
The Ballarat Wildlife Park did not disappoint.
The penguin enclosure had just opened and there was a real buzz amongst the staff.
My two kids took off in a zillion, different directions but we had to keep a close eye on Jude who became the kangaroo whisperer, the lama tamer and the dingo’s best buddy (behind the fence).
The fact that you can feed the emus and roaming kangas (with joeys in pouch) was so special and obviously draws a keen tourist crowd.
For the whole month of July, the kids get free marshmallows to toast by an open fire, on their way out. This was pretty special. It’s always the simplest of things that I love doing with my kids. Life’s so bloody fast these days. These kinds of activities are well….priceless…and slow me down for a moment.
A bite to eat at Racers Café (oh em gee, the chicken dumplings are perfection) and a few plates of the largest sausage rolls I’d ever laid eyes on, later and we were back in the car for a trip into the town’s centre where there was a full Winter Festival worth of attractions.
Cue …ice skating rink.
Giant inflatable slide.
And ‘Frozen-Elsa’ like tent full of fairy lights and magical characters. My 3 yos fave part.
Mums – a note for you. Parking was simple. Everything is easy.
Moving along to Sovereign Hill.
A short drive outta town (like 10 minutes) and you arrive at one of Ballarat’s main drawcards for kids, Sovereign Hill – set up like a fardinkum gold mining town, because that’s what it used to be back in the 1850s.
Now, it offers so much more than when I visited in my *cough* younger years. The reason I was so keen to visit on the 1 July was because it was the launch of the Winter Wonderlights Festival – where every night in July at 5.45pm the main street of Sovereign Hill lights up and it snows.
IT SNOWS and it feels like Christmas. It really did. The person in charge of fairy lights went helter skelter and covered pretty much the whole town. It’s pure magic.
So, on the eve of my b’day I actually felt a bit of Christmas cheer. The kids did all the usual Sov Hill activities, like candle making…
old fashioned horse ride…
And they visited the boiled lolly shop, did craft in the open house tented area, ate hot chips, and visited the old school for a lesson in ‘how it used to be’. There is easily a whole day of activity (or more) for them.
It really makes you feel like you’re in another world and Sovereign Hill has always had that effect on me. I could see how impressed the kids were too. They danced under that snow and their smiles were massive.
For over an hour we stood by an open fire pit and talked (yes, not on our phones) while the kids played with….wait for it….stacks of rocks. And Clementine cried because she wanted to take her boulder home and we made her put it back. It was bigger than her.
I walked to the car with the biggest smile on my face. Yes, I had sore feet. But we’d had the best day. We were tired but god, we had fun.
I woke to being a year older. A breakfast board at Eclectic Tastes (opposite the old Ballarat cemetery) was outstanding and a very fancy table set in the dining room, made for an extra special fam-bam breakie. I was so well looked after and the people who worked the Sunday shift when we were there, have good souls. The kids were able to draw on the tables (which means hubby and I could eat in peace) and their baby chinos came with m+ms and marshmallows. The little things.
I visited Mills Market on the way home. Girls did markets. Boys played mini – golf – both in the same spot and Jude (my hubby) won a drone that got flow up into a tree a few hours later. Fun while it lasted.
So fulfilling and so much adventure. And Ballarat is only an hour and a half from where we live.
All I could think on our return was, we need to do this more.