Rachel Grunwell

Fitness writer.

Victoria: Midas touch

Sovereign Hill outdoor museum, at Ballarat, Victoria, allows visitors to experience what life was like in an 1850s gold mining town. Photo / Supplied
Sovereign Hill outdoor museum, at Ballarat, Victoria, allows visitors to experience what life was like in an 1850s gold mining town. Photo / Supplied

Ever wondered what it's like to be treated like a lady? Well, wonder no more as the experience is there for anyone to relish.

Hop on a plane to Melbourne, then jump in a car for 90 minutes to Sovereign Hill, a 12ha outdoor museum in Ballarat, the heart of Victoria's golden age.

One of the key attractions here is A Night in the Museum, which is pretty much what it says on the tin: an overnight stay in a new accommodation complex within the outdoor museum.

Here, you can really get into the nitty gritty of what life was like for folks living here in the gold rush age of the 1850s, starting with the outfits. Visitors slip into bloomers, hooped skirts and full-on frocks or, for the men, a civilised suit.

Hosted by a gentleman in a top hat and tails, the overnight package includes Victorian high tea of melt-in-the-mouth scones with jam and fresh whipped cream along with other sugary delights and, of course, a good old cup of tea or bubbles, or both.

Then work it all off with lessons in how to do a jig - all accompanied by live music.

Breathless from gettin' all jiggy with it, the group is chauffeured to a Clydesdale-drawn carriage for a tour of historic Sovereign Hill township, with stops to pan for gold.

Other highlights include watching gold melting and venturing underground on a tram to see the "secret chamber", rumoured to be haunted by the ghost of a miner trapped in an underground collapse after a massive gold find. Not all visitors to the museum dress in period costume so those on the increasingly popular Night at the Museum visits tend to find themselves part of the attraction, adding historical context to other people's photographs.

Later, over a Victorian banquet, our host and guide regales us with etiquette lessons and parlour games as we scoff a feast of oxtail soup, fowl croquettes, two whole roast chickens, a hog, veal and apple charlotte and mince pies with, ahem, more fresh whipped cream.

The after-dinner entertainment consists of the Blood on the Southern Cross show. It's a multi-million-dollar light-and-sound spectacular based on the story of the Eureka Rebellion, a conflict between miners and government forces in Ballarat in 1854.

We sit wrapped up against the chill as the buildings around us appear to burst into flame and voice-overs help us relive the important, sometimes bloody history.

Time then for a post-show trip to the lounge bar, to ruminate on the show and warm up by the open fire.

From there it's a short stroll to bed at Sovereign Hill Lodge, where the accommodation ranges from exquisite heritage rooms to those more spacious and suited to families and affordable dormitory rooms.

Then you wake to breakfast at The Hotham Room in the Governor's Camp, followed by more behind-the-scenes highlights such as meeting the Clydesdales and exploring the rest of Sovereign Hill. This can take all day if you want - there are stores galore such as a sweet shop, jeweller, grocer, bakery, tinsmith and even a theatre.

All-in-all, a golden experience.


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