The final stop on our two-week campervan tour took us back towards Melbourne, to the historic Goldfields region of Victoria. Here, a massive gold rush kicked off in the 1850s, only a couple of years after the California Gold Rush. It was responsible for populating the state with a whole slew of new immigrants, building Melbourne into a boomtown and one of the great cities of the world. And, of course, it brought untold riches to a few lucky prospectors, the colony, and the crown.
We based ourselves in Ballarat, located only 110 km (65 miles) northwest of Melbourne. Since this area is quite touristy, with a lot of attractions, we started at the Visitor Information Centre to get some more information. They tried to steer us towards the nearby Sovereign Hill replica gold mining town, but we wanted a more authentic experience. We had heard there was an excellent mine tour in Bendigo, an hour and a half drive away, and decided to give the “Disneyland” Sovreign Hill park a miss. Instead, we picked up a free map from the Visitor Centre, which offered a walking tour of Ballarat.
While a relatively small town, Ballarat grew quickly during the Gold Rush and is home to a number of impressive gothic buildings.
In a short span of time, hotels, banks, pubs, and all sorts of buildings were built for the rapidly growing population. Luckily, the city planners were smart enough to build all this around some nice avenues and parks.
Having gotten a taste for Ballarat, we jumped in the camper and headed for Bendigo. Here, we stopped by the Central Deborah Gold Mine, right in the center of town.
For more than 50 years, Bendigo produced more gold than anywhere else in the world. To this day, it remains one of the top 10 global gold regions.
The Central Deborah Gold Mine is one of the only tourist experiences that takes you underground, into a real mine. While this was well-regulated and safety-conscious Australia, we knew it would be nothing like the experience we had at the Cerro Rico silver mine in Potosi, Bolivia. Still, we were excited about heading 61m (200 ft) underground to learn more about gold mining!
We had some time to kill before the start of the tour, which we used to explore some of the buildings and machinery on the surface.
Finally, it was time for the tour! Our very entertaining tour guide kept us captivated by his stories and laughing at his antics as we geared up with helmets and lamps, filed into the cage, and dropped down into the deep, dark mine.
Down in the mine, we learned about the quartz veins which carry the gold.
Drills and dynamite extend the tunnels and shafts, allowing the gold-bearing rock to be extracted and sent to the surface, where the gold is extracted.
We also got to learn about the lives of the miners and even got to meet an old timer!
He had a lot of stories, including some interesting ones detailing how miners would try and steal gold and sneak it out undetected.
After an hour and a half underground, it was time once again to climb into the basket and ascend to the surface. It was nice to see the sun and feel the warm air above once again.
We climbed back into our trusty campervan for one final night’s sleep on the road, picking a location close to Melbourne’s airport to spend the night.
It was time to say goodbye to Australia and hello once again to Southeast Asia!