Sovereign Hill – Journey Back in Time

23 Jun

If you’re someone who enjoys watching movies with a setting in the late 1800s or early 1900s, or that go back in time, or someone who is enthused about the concept of gold, Sovereign Hill is a definite must-see for you in Victoria. This outdoor museum spanning 25 hectares of land takes you back to the 1850s, the advent of Australia’s goldrush decade.

Taking a break from our usual nature sightseeing and countryside touring, we went during Good Friday to Sovereign Hill in Ballarat, which is on the western side of Victoria.

It was about 1 1/2 hours of drive from our place. We arrived at around 11 AM (ok ok, I’m late as usual, hence the late arrival :P).  We realized later into the day that it was a mistake coming late, since we weren’t able to complete our Ballarat experience and had to skip some of the activities in this outdoor park (like the theatre events 😦 !)

The museum is open from 10 AM til 5 PM. The queue is not that bad so you will be able to get in fairly quickly, but I would really advise you to come early so that you can make the most out of the hefty $47 admission fee. (Word of advise: you can make use of various coupons to get a bit of a discount on the entrance cost :))

The rather grim-looking dull-colored scenery that welcomes you once you enter the park is a bit misleading of the rather unique experience you will have during your day in the site.

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We wasted no time and went on to trying out what I believe is the most important to-do item when visiting Sovereign Hill – panning out gold nuggets (or at least, trying to :-P)

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A Sovereign Hill “local” demonstrated how gold-panning is done –

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It is definitely not an easy task to do! But well-worth it if the effort actually pays off, don’t you think? 🙂 Anyway, there’s little chance of being able to find gold nuggets at this time. (Although there were rumors just recently that some lucky bloke was able to find a big chunk of gold here, not sure how true that was, though :-P) The guy above was able to show us one gold ‘crumb’ he was able to get in his pan. But then, these tiny bits of gold aren’t worth anything, really. And you can buy tiny flakes of gold collected in a small vial in the park’s stores.

Most of the attractions in this outdoor museum are free, but some entail an additional fee.

We checked out the free Red Hill mine tour which takes 12 minutes. It was quite a thrilling experience, being completely underground and subjected to pitch black darkness. The mine tour was well laid out, and the audio and lights were very well coordinated. Too bad photography/videography inside the mine is not allowed.

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We then went on to check-out the Chinese Camp, showing the stores and tents of the Chinese dwellers. We learned that the Chinese settlers at that time had special techniques in digging out for gold and were very much successful in doing so that they attracted envy and conflicts with their local counterparts. I’m not surprised, as even back home, it is the Chinese who are very successful with all sorts of trade.

Got to see models of Chinese shops –

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Was able to have a glimpse of what it looks like inside the tents which served as their houses back then –

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There’s a lot to do for the day. You can walk around and look at mining sites, ride coaches, see where these coaches were being built, hang out with ‘locals’ in historical costumes, and many more.

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There are theatre events –

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And you can even go bowling, the old fix-the-bowling-pins-yourself-after-hitting-em way 😉

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Most activities and attractions have several ‘show times’ throughout the day. There’s one attraction, though, that has only one schedule daily – the Redcoat Soldiers – where a group of soldiers do a short parade and demonstration of musket firing.

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There are several places where you can have lunch. If you just want to grab a quick bite, there’s the Hope Bakery and the Cafe. The Cafe offers hot meals as well, as does the New York Bakery (whose name is quite misleading, I’d refer to it as a restaurant, really). New York Bakery offers a more relaxed ambiance and provides table service, unlike the others. We settled on eating here because of its proximity to the Redcoat Soldiers location and because, well, we were really hungry and wanted to get served a hot meal already 😛

Ordered fish and chips and seafood risotto. Both taste good, but we enjoyed the seafood risotto the most 🙂
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There were a few attractions that really captured my interest. Probably because I’ve never cared to think how certain things were made before.

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Above is the Gold Pour – where a supposedly $160,000 gold ingot is poured in a gold-smelting house. Here you’ll be able to witness how a bar of gold is made, old-school style. Lawrence and I were wondering if somehow part of the gold is being nicked without no-one noticing?? Kidding 🙂

Then you have Mr. William Hewett’s candle shop, where they demonstrate how candles are made and colored. There’s a section where you can dip your own candles into the prepared dyes to achieve the color combinations you like. It’s a big hit among kids and families.

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We weren’t able to check out the metal spinning and sweet making demo. We didn’t have time to do the Gold Mine Tour (which takes 40 -60 minutes) and watch any of the theatre events. There were really a lot to do in a day. So our advice would really be to come early and plan out your day properly, prioritizing events you think you’ll like better.

We left Sovereign Hill at a little past 4 PM and was able to drop by the gold museum next door. Here we got to see a few collections of gold nuggets with historical value, and got to learn more about the history of Ballarat and Bendigo during the gold rush decades.

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Our tour of Sovereign Hill was really a pleasant and unconventionally educational one. There are a few attractions that we weren’t able to cover during our one-day visit, and there’s still the ‘Blood of the Southern Cross’ sound-and-light display that we have yet to see, so we think we will be paying this place a visit again 😉

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