It is, without question, Australia’s best outdoor museum and, without need of any incarnation of the venerable Dr Who or his Tardis, a visit to Sovereign Hill with kids is like travelling through time to Ballarat’s gold rush era.
Spread over 25 hectares of the original alluvial goldfields, the recreation gold rush town brings the decade after the discovery of gold in Ballarat in 1851 back to life. Best of all it is the kind of living museum that kids will never tire of exploring, because it provides visitors with not only a day of education but of adventure and solid gold family fun.
Here are our top 15 reasons to (gold)rush to Sovereign Hill with kids.
1. Ride a horse drawn coach
Tour the town, mines and diggings form the comfort of a coach, pulled by the handsome Sovereign Hill Draft Horses. It’s a great way to get your bearings and find out where all the best things to do in Sovereign Hill with kids are located.
2. Take the kids to school at Sovereign Hill
OK, while that may not be high on many kids’ weekend or school holiday to do list, once they realise it is school 1850’s style, curiosity is sure to get the better of them. They can enjoy a lesson in cursive handwriting with quill and ink, and gain an insight into schooling in the 1850’s and how learning was a privilege for kids of the goldfields.
3. Play dress ups at Sovereign Hill with kids
One of the first things you’ll notice when you step into Sovereign Hill is the incredible costumes. They’re on everyone from store keepers and families to miners and troopers, and their authenticity really sets the scene for life on the goldfields. So of course, your kids are going to want to join in on the fun. Just head to Sovereign HIll’s Photography Rooms to don Victorian gold rush gear for a family snap to remember.
4. Strike it rich(ish) at Red Hill Gully Diggings
One of the best things to do in Sovereign Hill with kids is to grab a shovel and a pan to get down and dirty in search of real gold at the Red Hill Gully Diggings. There are miners on hand to show them how it is done and it is ‘finders keepers’. It’s worth noting though that the exercise is addictive and, if your kids are anything like mine, you’ll struggle to wrench your gold fever infected little ones away for the next adventure.
5. Go underground on a Sovereign Hill Gold Mine Tour
Take a self-guided underground tour or board a mine car for a fully guided Sovereign Hill Gold Mine Tour through the darkness and down deep into the mines. Note: Claustrophobic mamas might like to give this one a miss.
Which may also be why there are no pics because I may have stayed at the top twiddling my thumbs while our fab guide Andre, pictured here, took Raffles and Sugarpuff on the allegedly “awesome” tour.
6. See what $160,000 looks like
The kids can watch $160,000 worth of boiling, liquid gold being turned into a gold ingot by the blacksmith at Sovereign HIll’s Gold Smelting Works. Forget trying to pilfer the riches as said ingot weighs an absolute ton, and will be quickly locked away in a bullet proof case.
7. Marvel at Sovereign Hill’s antique machinery
With Sovereign Hill’s emphasis on working machinery, kids who like to see how things work can watch steam-driven devices in action and chat with skilful tradesmen as they build and create wheels, metal spinning or observe quartz mine surface operations.
There is more basic horse and man power driven machinery around the diggings, where the kids can get hands on and use a little muscle of their own.
8. Get crafty at Sovereign Hill with kids
Families will enjoy Sovereign Hill’s cool Candle Works where the kids can witness 19th century candle making machines hard at work.
Or, if they’re anything like mine, they might prefer to buy and dip their very own rainbow-hued candles to take home.
9. Meet Sovereign HIll’s cool characters
You’ll find musicians belting out ye olde ditties (and the odd Green Day tune if Raff gets involved) on street corners. There are miners at the digging. Ladies and gentlemen roaming the streets. And even Red Coat Troopers who march into main street to fire their muskets.
Around every corner and down every alleyway, opportunities abound to meet, interact and share a laugh with Sovereign HiIl’s many characters.
10. Go bowling at Empire Bowling Saloon
Head to Sovereign Hill’s Empire Bowling Saloon for the kids to test their skills at 9-pin bowling. A traditional German game, there are three skinny timber lanes from which the kids can hurl a heavy timber ball to knock over the pins.
11. Fill your bellies with traditional treats
There are several spots to eat at Sovereign Hill for families, but the kids’ favourite was The Hope Bakery where we filled up on amazing pasties and sausage rolls straight from a traditional wood-fired oven. The Lamb and rosemary daily special was particularly good, and Sugarpuff declared her traditional Sausage roll a winner too. We may or may not have gone back later to stock up on gingerbread. Oh, ok, and a couple of homemade wagon wheels and meringues.
12. Satisfy your sweet tooth
At Sovereign Hill’s resident candy maker, Brown’s confectionary, the kids can watch boiled candy being created from scratch through a set of big glass windows. Be sure to wait until the end to try one of the still warm lollies and to grab a bag of the irresistible raspberry drops, lollipops or a fresh made toffee apple.
13. Experience the Eureka Uprising at Sovereign Hill
The Story lives on at Sovereign Hill with Blood on the Southern Cross transforming the entire park into an explosive and immersive sound-and-light show. The night time spectacular shares the story of the people of the of the Eureka Uprising, a dramatic battle between gold miners and Government forces at Ballarat, with participants ferried through the night in custom-designed transporters to enjoy the spectacular show. Blood on the Southern Cross is one of the most breathtaking and educational experiences at Sovereign Hill with kids and not to be missed.
14. Stay the night at Sovereign Hill
The Sovereign Hill Hotel is just a 30 second walk from all the 1850’s action. Not only do the comfy family rooms sleep up to six, they dish up a splendid breakfast, so you’ll be ready to start your day of gold rush adventures right. I’d highly recommend packaging it up for any family planning to stay late for Blood on the Southern Cross. Not only will you enjoy a two-course dinner at the Charlie Napier Hotel or the New York Bakery in Sovereign Hill’s Main Street, but the hotel’s close proximity means you can have the kids in bed as soon as the show finishes. Even better if you have to lug them, like I did a snoozy Sugarpuff.
15. Get Appy at Sovereign Hill
One of the best things to do in Sovereign Hill is to venture into the goldfields with the Sovereign Hill Gold Seekers app. Download the app from the Apple or Android App Stores to go on a journey down one of three Sovereign Hill trails (including one for visitors with limited mobility) with access to stories, facts, images and film along the way. Speaking of film, make sure you introduce your kids to what life would have been for them in 1850s Ballarat by watching short film, The Bounty, here or you can watch the short film of our own Sovereign Hill story, below.
Disclosure: Our experience of Sovereign Hill with kids was hosted, but as always, all opinions, movie making, gold digging and ye olde world antics are our own.