I have fond memories of panning for gold as a 7 year-old kid at Sovereign Hill in Ballarat. My sister and I were both convinced we were going to find the next big nugget.
Fast forward 35 years and I felt like I’d gone full circle watching my two little men with high hopes panning for gold in the stream that run through the incredibly realistic town of Sovereign Hill.
Just a 90-minute drive from Melbourne, Sovereign Hill really whisks you away into the land of the Eureka Stockade, well before modern conveniences and technology.
To be completely honest I didn’t know what to expect. Was it going to be a half-arsed attempt to replicate a ‘vintage town’ (I was 7 after all!) or was it going to be something right out of the movies, making you think you were really living in the middle of the gold rush era.
Have to say … MIND. BLOWN!
From the moment we walked in the gates, we were swept up into what can only be described as an immersion back into the era of gold prospectors … big dreams, high hopes and the really dirty (and dangerous) gold mining game.
Sovereign Hill invited me to bring my family to come and visit during the school holidays and to be honest I was hesitant. I had these sweet childhood memories (but that was like 35 years ago … yep!) however I went with an open mind, who knows what adventures could be had! They gave us a Family VIP pass (RRP $240) which, for a whole day’s adventures including loads of extras, seemed like a great deal. So here we go…
We had some of the most incredible experiences, and of course I captured them on camera, because after all, a picture tells a thousand words!
From the moment you walk in you’re taken back into the steep, rich history of Victoria in the 1850s gold rush era. There’s no cars or buses, simply horse and carriage as the only form of transport. The architecture is typical for the era, and the kids quickly lit up with all the action, the sounds, and the smells (no not the horses, the Hope Bakery – fresh sausage rolls!)
We were immediately welcomed by the sounds of banjos and guitars and these three men singing along to set the mood. #toetapping
First up we took a Coach Ride which does a loop around the entire Sovereign Hill town. It gave us a great chance to get our bearings and see where everything was. These run every 15 minutes (VIP holders get express entry and unlimited rides)
Next up we headed to Red Hill Studios and had a blast getting all dressed up in the ‘olden days’ costumes for our very cool looking vintage photo. Look at those kids!! Fancy my bonnet?! #fashionista
TIP: It’s an additional charge to get the photo done (included in VIP package) but makes a great memento to take home and frame.
We headed to the Empire Bowling Saloon where the boys tried their hand at 1850s bowling. There’s no automation or graphite bowling ball in sight … the wooden bowling ball, sloped lanes and wooden pins really made it fun and a great experience. The boys didn’t want to leave this one!
We loved that all of the buildings really captured the essence of the era, and the small details had even been thought of as far as bins and water fountains etc all being brought into line with the look of the era. Really so cleverly done.
Sovereign Hill naturally had its own Fire Station which really captivated the boys. They couldn’t believe that once upon a time Fireman Sam would have had to resort to these methods! Pontypandy eat your hearts out!
Next up we joined in on one of their Gold Mine Tours – a fully guided underground tour. After boarding the mine car, it took us about a minute to get deep down into the mines in the pitch darkness. We then had a really fun and educational tour of the real goings on in the underground mines. (Note: This tour is an extra cost although included in VIP Pass)
One of the things that really stood out from the get go was the standard and detail in the costumes. Oh my, they were amazing! From big petticoats, to Redcoat Soldiers, every staff member was dressed in full costume, and were totally in character! It made for such great theatre in the streets (and of course great photo opportunities). They loved it just as much as we did! Note Master 4 so intent on banging that drum – give him a drumstick … #noisyone
Suddenly out of nowhere a bunch of Redcoat Soldiers started marching up the street, muskets and all, and assembled out front of the United States Hotel. Everyone starts to gather and suddenly they’re up on the balcony … and what they did next was pretty spectacular!
This drunk policeman was a real character … harassing the people on the street looking for trouble! We loved him.
By now we were pretty hungry so we headed for the New York Bakery for our complimentary Devonshire Tea (part of our VIP Package or $11.90 inc tea/coffee). We were warned when we were coming through the gate to build up an appetite and so grateful we were warned! The scones were AH-MAZING and HUGE and DELICIOUS! We were so full after downing a couple of these babies with a coffee (and hot chocolate for the kids) so this kept us pretty full until late afternoon.
All the way through you’re constantly reminded of how things were back in the 1850s. From the working pumps on the street with troughs for horses…
… to the stations they’d use to tie their horses complete with realistic noticeboards and posters. So cool.
Next up we went to the Gold Smelting Works where we watched a gold pouring demonstration. The goldsmith explained how they melt gold and then before our eyes poured glowing hot gold into a bullion mold and watched it harden right before our eyes! We then got a one on one Gold Handling Experience (VIP Holders only) where we got the hold the gold bullion. It’s worth about $150,000 (check out the grin on my face – a little excited much?)
All that holding gold is thirsty work so we headed to the United States Hotel for a cold one. They had a range of beers, wines, cocktails and softies for the kids – and check out the two posters I snapped that were up on display behind the bar! Seriously!! #thosewerethedays
You’re welcome to sit at the desks and try writing with the ink and quills. Such an old art now. Pass me the pen? Note the blackboard: Spare the rod and spoil the child!
A quick stop at the Candle Dipping and watched what would have been a tedious and time-consuming process to make candles. Kids can make their own candle to take home – super cool activity!
We then headed down the hill towards the Red Hill Mine Tour. This is a FREE voice guided tour underground and quite honestly was pretty impressive. Again another totally immersive experience as you’re guided by voices and a hologram show through the mine experience. Highly recommended.
By now it was about 4pm and the boys were getting pretty tired. It’s a big day with SO much to do. We were coming back for the Blood Under the Southern Cross show at 8pm so decided to head to the gold panning area and try our luck! Needless to say the kids had a blast!
The boys had an absolute blast panning for gold. They got a little too excited at one point (and got a little ‘too close’ to the river’) however that just met for a whole lot more fun!
It wasn’t just the kids who got into the gold panning action, I think the adults were having JUST as much fun!
TIP: Purchase a bottle for $2 to hold your gold, and is a really cool momento for the kids to take home.
Think the shovel’s a little bit bigger than he is, but that didn’t deter him! #determined
A quick stop for some souvenir sweets and treats on our way out and we were done!
Time to head home for a nap and prepare for the next instalment – Blood Under the Southern Cross. Sovereign Hill’s award winning and multi million dollar Light and Sound Show. This is an additional purchase to the day ticket and can either be purchased as dinner and a show or just the show itself. We really had no idea what it was going to be about but considering we’d had such an incredible day, we figured they don’t do things by halves and would check it out.
Dinner was pretty tasty – and the kids even got an ice cream treat complete with gold nugget topping! #socute
I can’t go into too much detail about the Light and Sound show as no cameras were allowed. I will say however, we actually thought it was one of the highlights of the day! It certainly brought the entire story of Sovereign Hill, the history, the battles and the challenges of everyday mining life to life. It was an adventure taking place in 3 separate locations, a feast for the senses and quite frankly, even my 4 year-old couldn’t believe his eyes and his ears.
There’s lights, sounds and loads of FIRE! The whole family will love it!!
TIP: Given we’d attended Sovereign Hill earlier in the day, we would recommend if time permits to do the Lights & Sounds Show the night before. That way you completely understand the history of the era and have no doubt you’ll certainly appreciate your visit SO much more! Bravo!
Sovereign Hill is a not-for-profit, community-based cultural tourism organisation. Prices are listed below. We had the VIP pass which gave us access to a few extra great value features. Refer below for full details.
Adults – $52.50
Concession – $42.00
Child (5-15) $23.80
Family – 2A & up to 4C) $132.00
Single Parent (1A and up to 3C) $95
Children under 5 free
Gold Mine Tours: $7.50 Adult, $4.00 Child (5-15), $20.00 Family (2A & 4C)
Coach Rides: $5.50 Adult, $4.00 Child (5-15), $17.00 Family (2A & 4C)
NOTE: Sovereign Hill offers so much fun and adventure that a 2-day visit can be a practical option. Now you can enjoy a second day at Sovereign Hill for the price of a single day’s entry. Simply validate your pass before you leave and get back in the next day for free!
Sovereign Hill VIP Gold Pass (what we did!)
Includes • Admission to Sovereign Hill and the Gold Museum • Unlimited coach rides • Labyrinth of Gold Mine Tour** • 1 x free return pass for day entry only (valid for 12 months from the date of original visit; not transferable) • Touch of Gold Experience • Express Costumed Photograph • Devonshire Tea.
1 Adult ticket = over $160 of value
Adult – $99
Concession – $87
Child (5-15) $45
Family (2A & up to 4C) $240
Single parent family (1A and up to 3C) $199
Congratulations you found it!
Today’s prize in our 12 Days of Christmas is 4 x Family Passes for 4 valued at $136 each so you can take the kids to Sovereign Hill and discover this magic all for yourself!
To enter, simply answer the question in the graphic above (the answers in this article) and click here to complete the entry form and you could be one of today’s 4 winners!