The goldfields are one of the state’s most interesting areas, with ever-present reminders of the gold-rush days. It’s a blend of quaint townships, impressive regional centres and rolling countryside. Dramatic landscapes contrast from the green forests of the Wombat Ranges to red earth, bush scrub and granite country up around Inglewood.
The Goldfields Tourist Route takes in all the major gold-rush centres, and is great for bike touring and horse riding. Or you could hire a gypsy caravan. Colonial Way (03-5438 8249; www.colonialway.com.au; 35 Taylors Rd, Rheola; caravans per week $770-990) rents caravans that are pulled by Clydesdale horses.
The old diggers dug up most of the gold, but there’s still gold around, and metal detectors and prospecting gear can be bought or hired in many towns.
Central Victoria is also a major wine-producing area. The main regions are the Pyrenees Ranges near Avoca, the Heathcote region and around Bendigo.
The area around Ballarat was known to the local Koories as ‘Ballaarat’, meaning ‘resting place’. Around 25 pre-European clans identify themselves collectively as Wathaurong people. European pastoralists arrived in 1837 and the discovery of gold at nearby Buninyong in 1851 saw thousands of diggers flock to the area. After alluvial goldfields were played out, deep shaft mines were sunk, striking incredibly rich quartz reefs that were worked until the end of WWI.
Ballarat’s former prosperity is reflected in the wealth of impressive Victorian-era buildings. Ballarat’s 100-year-old Begonia Festival, in early March, attracts thousands of visitors.