I don’t know about you but I consider myself very lucky to have been born in Australia. There are probably more than a million reasons why I’m grateful for the quirk of fate that saw me delivered to parents from down under. But right now the one I’m really thinking about is how much it has to offer to those who enjoy the thrill of exploring new and fun places and spaces with their family.
Today, I’m taking part in a challenge, as part of Kidspots Voices of 2015, to share with you my own personal pocket of Australia in the hope that I can temp you to come and do some exploring here in Ballarat. Ballarat is a beautiful town. It has clear crisp air, fabulous distinctive seasons and a part in history that any living museum would be proud of. But why would you want to bring your family here to visit? Oh my friend the list of reasons is endless but today my job is to bring you three good ones and then let you discover the rest.
Spend some time at Lake Wendouree
The lake (as the locals call it) is a pretty big deal in Ballarat and an easy place to lose a good few hours of exploration time. If you’re feeling energetic you could walk the six kms of pathway that winds around the lake itself. (If you’re here on a Wednesday morning you might even see me slowly jogging my way around – so wave and please offer me a drink if I look ready to pass out.) There are playgrounds dotted regularly around the lake but make sure you stop at both the Adventure Playground (a massive wooden construction so huge you’ll be lucky not to lose your kids) and the Indigenous Playground (a beautiful area filled with lovely art and rhythmical playthings inspired by our indigenous history) as they are particularly beautiful and a real experience for the kids.
Once you’ve walked the lake and had a play you can head over the road to the Botanical Gardens. My own personal favorite things to do here are play spot the goldfish in the fishponds and walk down Prime Minister’s Avenue taking selfies with our Ex-Prime Minsters. But you might prefer to do some of the more traditional activities like checking out the begonias, enjoying the plant life or visiting Adam Lindsay Gordon’s Cottage. Each to their own as they say.
The lake also has an impressive wetlands areas open for exploration, the stirring Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial and a fabulous vintage tram you can ride on with the kids. Once little tummies start to rumble there are more perfect picnic spots than you can poke a proverbial stick at, along with electric barbecues, cafes and a regular ice-cream van. Lake Wendouree is a seriously great place to have a family adventure and you could easily spend the best part of a day exploring all it has to offer. (PS: I had just finished my run around the lake before taking these selfies – so I think both me, Bob, Jules and Kev are looking mighty fine!)
Visit Nimmons Bridge on the Railtrail
The next Ballarat based adventure I’ve chosen for you is a quick trip out to visit Nimmons Bridge. The bridge is part of the Ballarat Skipton Rail Trail and was built back in the 1850s as part of the local railway net work. The Rail-Trail winds its way from the Ballarat Station, meandering out through a host of local community towns, for 63 kilometers until it reaches Skipton. As you can see from the photos, Nimmons Bridge is a stunning old railway bridge that has been restored to provide a breathtaking glimpse into life in yesteryear.
The bridge is about a twenty minute drive from Ballarat by road or, if the family is up to it, a 30 kilometer bike ride from the Ballarat Station. (It’s on my own personal bucket list to do the bike ride – but I must confess it hasn’t happened yet!) The bridge’s under-structure is made from the most impressively huge logs, the sight of which leaves you wondering where they found trees big enough to make them from. The surrounding views of gorgeous local farmland are lovely and all of the locals will tell you to make sure you leave some time to simply stand on the bridge and gaze out – allowing the view to restore your soul. My trick is to let the kids go running ahead, following the pathway, while I wait on the bridge to watch them and enjoy my moments tranquility on my own.
There are two picnic tables ready and waiting at each end the bridge and a walking track which lets you see the bridge from underneath – which is honestly the best and most impressive way to see it. You’ll also find an information alcove in the parking area which provides all of the history and backstory that you need give your Nimmons Bridge adventure some historical perspective.
Do the Tourist Park thing
I’m sure you’ve all heard about the epic-ness of Sovereign Hill, undoubtedly Ballarat’s most famous attraction and something every family should do at least once. It is seriously worth it. We’re not talking about whiz-bang rides and fast food styled amusement parks here. Sovereign Hill is a living museum of life back in the 1850s where you’ll find yourself panning for gold (which you get to keep by the way – watch the kids eyes light up when you tell them that), conversing with beautifully dressed ladies and cheeky old fashioned policemen and taking rides in horse drawn vehicles. You can also create your own candle, watch old fashioned lollies being made and see the blacksmith at work – among other things. It’s a fabulous day (or two) out and has much much more to offer than I can express in this one paragraph. It’s literally a Ballarat must do – maybe even an Australian must do.
But Sovereign Hill is not the only tourist park Ballarat has to offer. You should also consider spending some time at Kryal Castle. It is an enchanting and magical place with its story woven around a mythic King, his lovely Queen and an un-seen She-Dragon who lives curled up in the Mountain behind the castle. Recently re-developed, the castle has been well thought out to appeal to everyone in the family and will keep you entertained and on the go for hours. There are puppet plays and the Tooth Fairies very own lolly shop, jousting knights and magical wizards blending mythical potions, playgrounds, magical mazes and even (if you are game and over 12) the gruesome Torture & Dungeon Museum. Yet another great adventure waiting to be had in Ballarat.
Have I impressed you with our tourist parks yet? Best wait to answer that one because there are still more. Ballarat is also home to a beautifully set out Wildlife Park which specialises in crocodiles (The Ballarat Wildlife Park) and a very cute and clever Tangled Maze – both of which you could easily lose two or three more hours to. Did I tell you we are spoiled for choice?
Are you tempted to come and explore Ballarat with your family? I have no doubt there are enough exciting escapades waiting for you here that you’ll need more than a day. If exploring really is your thing you might be interested in the Ballarat Bucket List which has another seventy-two family friendly things you can do in and around Ballarat. So, if you’re up for it I think we could probably keep you here for a week. Maybe I’ll see you out exploring my home town some day soon.