"Ballarat is probably the most popular "stop-off" along the way and there's plenty to see and do here."
Perhaps the best way to explore the Goldfields Region from Melbourne is to take the Goldfields Tourist Route. It takes in many of the all important ''gold rush'' attractions along the way and the route is really easy to follow - just follow the golden "G".
"G" is the official symbol of the Goldfields Region. Signs bearing the golden "G" highlight the most important heritage areas, towns, villages and wine regions and won't see you wrong.
The most important stops along the route include Ballarat, one of Australia's largest inland cities, Creswick, Castlemaine, Maldon, Bendigo, Avoca, and Ararat.
Starting off in Melbourne, get on the Western Freeway and follow this route to the town of Ballarat. It's a distance of about 116km and it shouldn't take any longer than 1.5 hours.
Ballarat is probably the most popular "stop-off" along the way and there's plenty to see and do here. Believe it or not you can try your hand at finding gold at Sovereign Hill!
Sovereign Hill is a wonderful outdoor museum where you can enjoy an historical re-enaction of the discovery of gold in 1851. Costumed actors will re-enact scenes from a time when prospectors flooded the area in search of their fortune. You can also take a guided tour of the underground gold mines, or enjoy a horse drawn coach trip around the area.
Also don't miss 'Blood on the Southern Cross', a spectacular entertainment show which recreates the period of events running up to the 1854 Eureka Stockade .
The Ballarat Fine Art Gallery is also well worth checking out as are the public buildings of the town with their beautiful Victorian architecture. And if you have a few hours to spare you should include a visit to the 16 acre Ballarat Wildlife Park.
After Ballarat, take the route to nearby Creswick, a town noted for the reformation of the miners' rights and the development of a trade union. After 45km and a driving time of about 40 minutes you'll come to Daylesford. There's plenty to see and do here, or you could chill out and treat yourself to a relaxing spa treatment at the Daylesford Spa Villas.
From here, make your way to Castlemaine, famous for its picturesque shop facades and cottages that were once inhabited by the miners. Castlemaine is located 120km from Melbourne and grew as a town during the Mount Alexander gold rush in the early 1850's. It has city status nowadays, and one of the things you'll notice about Castlemaine is that the buildings are Georgian, not Victorian like the other towns and cities of the region.
After Castlemaine, you'll reach the town of Maldon, well known for its quaint antique shops that have plenty of bargains!
From here make your way to the town of Bendigo, a distance of 75km (just over an hour's driving time) from Daylesford. Victorian architecture is very much evident here and one place well worth stopping off at is Bendigo's Central Deborah Gold Mine.
Here you can relive life as a gold prospector! Put on that miner's hat and lamp and venture deep under the earth to an actual goldmine and explore the majestic beauty of the richest goldmine in Australia, by taking the "Miners Experience Tour". Also, you can visit the Bendigo Pottery Plant and enjoy a tour of the oldest Australian operating pottery plant within the pottery museum - in 2008 it celebrated 150 years.
Another way to spend a few hours is t take on the Vintage Talking Tram Tour. This will bring you through the streets of Bendigo, where you can learn about its gold rush history.
After Bendigo, head along the Calder Highway to Stawell, formerly known as Pleasant Creek. It's a distance of about 180km and it will take you around 2.5 hours. Attractions here include the miners' cottages and the nearby Grampians National Park.
The final stop off on our suggested driving tour is to Ararat, well known for its gold, wool farming and wine production. Ararat is the only town in Australia that was founded by Chinese emigrants, who struck for gold in the area in 1857. Gum San Chinese Heritage Center is a good spot to spend a few hours and no trip to the area would be complete without a visit to Pyrenees Vineyards.
To finish the tour, take the Calder Highway back to Ballarat from Stawell, a journey of about 125km (roughly a 2 hour drive), and then back to Melbourne on the Western Freeway.
What is notable about the area from an Irish perspective is the number of places that were named after places in Ireland. The village of Castlemaine in County Kerry has its namesake in the Goldfields area, and there are other place names such as Avoca, Beaufort and Tipperary Springs.
Reference: Mairead Foley writes for Novacarhire.com where you can book car hire at airports, ferry ports, rail stations, cities and towns all over the world.
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