Monday, January 07, 2013

Ballarat Summer Fling – Great Melbourne Weekend Getaway

Summer, that glorious time of year when the weather is fine and the spirits are high. There’s something about long sunlit nights that make humans feel good. And when you feel good, you want to go and do things. It’s during this period that people, including myself, go on road trips and weekend getaways to seaside and country towns for some relaxation and recuperation. One getaway destination that you may consider is Ballarat, which is only about 75 minutes drive from Melbourne.

Like most people, the association of Ballarat that comes to my mind is Sovereign Hill. Yes, Ballarat was built on the glory of gold, but it also has lots of other fun things and Ballarat Tourism is helping to promote them in their Ballarat Summer Fling campaign. I was fortunate enough to be invited to try out some of the frivolous fun of their Ballarat Summer Fling campaign recently. This campaign continues all through Summer and events include Organs of the Ballarat Goldfield Music Festival, Ballarat Beer Festival, Ballarat Beat Rockabilly Festival where Miss Burlesque Australia 2013 will be crowned and many other events.

My trip consisted of three days and included a number of events. I’ve separated them into rough categories but really many places overlap into numerous categories so check them out separately to find out about everything on offer.

Tangled Maze and Mini Golf
Tangled Maze is actually located in Creswick, a short drive out of Ballarat. As the name suggests, it’s a big maze all built from trees. It’s really pretty and a great place to “get lost” in exploring all the nooks and crannies. There’s also mini golf if you like to have a hit and giggle.
The maze sits next to a fully functioning reception area. As owner Judy told me, they can cater for any type of functions, including many wedding that they’ve had through the year. The reception is only open for pre-bookings for groups, so check out their website for all the details. If you want some food while at the maze, the casual dining area serves delicious homemade pies and scones and cakes. I recommend you try the Bolognaise and Cheese pie, something I’ve never heard of before but works a treat in the flaky pastry.

Tuki Trout Farm
Tuki Trout Farm, as the descriptive name suggests, is a trout farm where you can throw a line into one of the many ponds and catch a trout or two. What you do with that trout is up to you obviously, but I’d highly suggest you allow owners Jan and Robert to cook it for you and eat it in the restaurant. They’ll bake the whole trout and Robert will expertly remove the flesh from the bones and serve them to you. You’ll also get to sample some of their amazing lamb sausages, smoke trout pate and smoked trout. While trout is what the farm is known for (best smoked trout I’ve tasted anywhere), don’t miss out on trying the lamb and beef that they also raise. Son Alistair happily talked to me about his theory for raising good produce and I believe him as the lamb and beef were both so tender and flavoursome. They also age the meat themselves and that really helps to further enhance the produce.

Tuki Trout Farm also has some accommodation that overlooks the beautiful scenery. It’s a great place to stay for the weekend or any functions you may want to organise there. You can then eat all the delicious food non-stop and just rest in between. Doesn’t that sound like a perfect getaway trip? It does to me.

Ballarat Art Gallery
Ballarat Art Gallery sits on one of the main streets in Ballarat. The gallery is completely free and split over two levels with many rotating displays on. While I was there, there was a modern art display looking at surgery, life sized paper mache sculptures of automobiles, a photographic contest of the winners photos, works of Ballarat town and classical works from many eras. It’s a great art gallery and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. I also learned a lot about the Eureka Stockade, with the original Eureka flag being an impressive display.

Food and Drink
Ballarat Farmer’s Market and Botanical Gardens
The Ballarat Farmer’s Market occurs on the second and fourth Saturday of each month. It is held next to the beautiful Lake Wendouree. There are a variety of different stalls, including lots of food and arts and craft. The second photo is actually of candles, not little cakes. Doesn't it look so real?

While you’re already there, why not walk across the road to the beautiful Botanical Gardens for a relaxing stroll. As you stroll, you may notice some familiar faces, as the gardens are lined with busts of past Prime Ministers of Australia. The likeness is really good. The garden also has this amazing greenhouse, which acts as the souvenir shop, café and greenhouse for flowers. It was so relaxing in there and I loved the seating scattered amongst the flowers where you can enjoy a coffee.

Captain’s Creek Organic Winery
Organic food is very popular but I can’t say I’ve seen many organic wines. So it was with much interest when I talked to Doug and Carolyn from Captain’s Creek Organic Winery. I learned that there’s an official accreditation body, NASAA, and that they do yearly checks to ensure you still meet the required standards to be able to claim organic. At Captain’s Creek, they grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and blend a variety of wines. They all tasted really good and the Chardonnays were all really refreshing. The winery also sells food and the quiche, made with farm eggs, was one of the best I’ve tasted. The egg component just tasted so eggy, if you know what I mean. Like an amped up version of the eggs I usually eat. There’s also a number of cakes baked fresh each day and they all look fantastic. Of course I had to try one. You know I’m a huge fan of cake.

Captains Creek Winery on Urbanspoon

John Harbour Butchers
John Harbour Butchers source lots of local meats and also make their own smallgoods. Well worth a stop by if you are planning on cooking your own food.

Campana’s Fine Wine and Deli
Campana’s Fine Wine and Deli is run by Tony and Leanne and they sell a huge range of wines, many local ones as well as a variety of delicatessen. They also have some tables where you can grab a copy and a few items to eat. Twins Lou and Serge will look after you and are happy to explain about the shops history. You can tell the twins apart by looking for the one who’s posing for the camera. That will be Lou haha. I’m just kidding Lou, you were a good sport to pose for the photo.

Le Peche Gourmand
If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’ll know I’m a massive Francophile. I’m such a French wannabe that I’ve always said I should have been born in Paris. Imagine my utter delight when I found out that there’s a fantastic French pastry shop in the form of Le Peche Gourmand in Creswick. This shop is a must visit if you’re in Ballarat. The shop sign is hard to see so the address is 69A Albert Street.

At the cute French style shop, you will find Paul and Marie making many classic French pastries. There’s Salted Caramel Chocolate Tarts, Opera Gateaux, Fruit Tarts, Lemon Tarts, Millefeuille, Eclairs, Religieuse, Paris Brest etc. It was pastry heaven for me. I got to try and the Coffee Religieuse and Paris Brest. And boy, how good were they. The choux were perfect and the fillings just the right amount of sweetness. The café also does coffees and really awesome lunch rolls. Simple ingredients are sandwiched in perfect French loaves. The Lamb and Chicken rolls I had were simply divine and reminded me of the simplistic goodness I sampled on holiday in Paris.

The Lane Restaurant
The Lane Restaurant is located on the bottom level of the George Hotel. I believe the restaurant also does dinner but I went for breakfast. The space and is nice and bright with floor to ceiling glass walls. It made for a great atmosphere to have breakfast. I tried the Big Breakfast and the Buttermilk Pancakes. The pancakes were good although I felt cream would have worked better on it than the ricotta which was slightly grainy. The big breakfast was excellent, with the eggs perfectly cooked and excellent sausages and beans. A highlight was the bacon. Ballarat seems to do excellent bacon for some reason. Maybe I’ve just had bad bacon in Melbourne. Anyway, the meal was great and so was the service. The best service of the whole trip, so a special shoutout to my waitress Sophie.

The Turret Café
If you want to sip your coffee and imagine yourself as a Lord or Lady of the manor, Turret Cafe is the place for you. The heritage building is stunning, with ornate architraves outlining the high ceiling space. I tried the Eggs Hollandaise with Smoke Salmon and French Toast. The eggs were cooked perfectly but I found the smoked salmon a bit disappointing. It wasn’t bad, just not good. The hollandaise was also rather weak in flavour and texture. The French toast was really good and the balance between sweet and salty with the bacon was balanced perfectly. Again, really good bacon.

The Lake View Hotel
The Lake View Hotel is both a hotel and restaurant. It’s a casual style restaurant, sitting beside Lake Wendouree so the view is really good. It looked to be a very popular place for families and young adults. With the food, the entrees I tried of Oysters Kilpatrick and Fried Calamari were quite disappointing. The oysters were not that fresh, but the bacon was excellent so I kept nibbling on that. The calamari was really tender but had no flavour at all. I was about to write the restaurant off but thankfully the mains were really good. The Lamb Rump was tender and went well with a vinegared vegetable salsa and parsnip chips. The Pork Rib Eye was excellent with the apple flavoured cabbage. The Eton Mess dessert was as an Eton Mess should be, a mess of meringue, berries and cream. You can’t go too wrong with an Eton Mess and this one was good. The ambiance here is good with the lake side view but service was a bit lacking. There were lots of wait staff but they all loitered around the bar and it was really hard to get anyone’s attention.
Lake View Hotel on Urbanspoon

The Forge Pizzeria
The Forge Pizzeria is definitely the hottest place in Ballarat. The huge expansive shed style room was completely packed on a Sunday night and there was a constant queue waiting for a table. The restaurant serves just pizzas and a few entrees. The pizzas are all wood-fired, with a number of chefs cooking the pizza all night. I tried the Charcuterie Platter and Buffalo Mozarella for entrees. The charcuterie platter of prosciutto, capocollo and salami was good. The buffalo mozzarella by itself was nice, but completely ruined by the burnt hazelnut and sesame seeds over the top of it. I don’t think all that was needed for such a perfect thing already, but that’s just my view. The Pork Belly and Peach pizza was a revelation. I didn’t think such a combination would work, but combined with some gorgonzola, chilli and rocket and it was a great pizza. The pizza base itself was good, half way between thin and thick crust. It was a bit like naan in texture. Desserts of Tiramisu was excellent but the Cannoli wasn’t that good. Service was a real mixture. While all the wait staff were friendly, it was rather disorganised and really really hard to grab anyone’s attention. Once I did get their attention and made a request, they were good at following through.
The Forge Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

The Ansonia on Lydiard
My accommodation was the really beautiful The Ansonia on Lydiard. The hotel sits one street outside of the main Ballarat centre so provided easy access while maintaining peace and quiet. The heritage building houses a number of rooms and apartments around a central corridor. I stayed in the downstairs room, which was quite large and had an extremely high ceiling. A double bed, lounge and desk occupied my room, with a large bathroom container a bath/shower. The bed was really comfortable but the best asset of the room was the high ceilings. It made the room feel so large and spacious, which made me really relaxed. The brick building also stayed so cool, such that when it was 30+ degrees outside, I didn’t even have to turn on the air conditioning and the ceiling fan was sufficient.

So that wraps up the various things I did, what I ate and where I stayed. Just generally, I liked Ballarat as a town. It was peaceful and relaxing. Everything happened at a slower pace, which is good for a getaway when you want to unwind. The town centre was a good mixture of old buildings and new shops. Obviously, Sovereign Hill is a big attraction in Ballarat and I would recommend you go there. It’s very close to the town centre, as I was able to walk there one night for some exercise. However, there are a lot of other attractions worth exploring inside the town itself. I didn’t even get round to visit other markets, shops and many other dining options. Ballart is also surrounded by many small towns worth a drive to. Each place is less than 30 minutes drive so you can easily visit them during the day and get back to Ballarat at night. I’d highly recommend you go to Ballarat for a day trip or weekend stay. The Summer period would be a great time to go with the numerous events happening at Ballarat.

My friend and I visited Ballarat courtesy of Ballarat Tourism and Media Moguls.


  1. love the look of those berry pancakes and big breakfast. two of my favourites breakfast orders when on holidays.

    1. Ah then we are on the same thinking path. They're so good options to see what the food is like at a cafe.

  2. Ballarat looks absolutely lovely through your lens - I obviously haven't been paying enough attention every time I've passed through there!

    1. Thanks Sophie. Haha you do have to look a bit to see some of the beauty.

  3. The last time I holidayed in Ballarat was many, many years ago as a teenager with my mother, sisters, aunt and cousin. You have certainly renewed my interest in this historical Victorian town!

    1. Excellent Jac. You'll find many interesting things there and lots of good food to eat.

  4. Awesome, Thanh. Can't wait to check out Ballarat.

  5. So much food! I'm going there in Feb for a friends wedding so will have to see if we can check anything out in between tasks :)

  6. Great symmetrical shots there! It seems Ballarat is actually a good place to visit, I just thought it was "gold rush" stuff!

    1. It's a really nice place to visit. Lots of things to eat and do.