View From Car Window
Ballarat City Hall

Ballarat is synonymous with Australia’s gold rush of the 1850s. Just 1.5 hours north of Melbourne, Ballarat is a large modern city that has carefully preserved many of its gold rush buildings and landmarks. I was expecting to find a tacky gold rush town like those you would encounter in northern California (i.e., Nevada City, Folsom), but instead, Ballarat is a sophisticated city with fancy restaurants, wine bars, and cafes.

Lake Wendouree, Ballarat
Craig’s Royal Hotel. Mark Twain stayed here.

Unfortunately, the prices in Ballarat match or exceed the prices you will find in Melbourne. It’s like being in Norway! A small coffee will cost you $3.80 – $5.00, and a no-frills breakfast (for two) will run $35.00-$40.00. The cheapest dining option is Eureka Pizza (why gold rush towns find it necessary to have Eureka in their name has always been a mystery to me). Ballarat does have an interesting botanic garden and art gallery, but why people come to high priced Ballarat is perplexing.

House in Daylesford

Daylesford, a town northwest of Melbourne, is likewise uninspiring. Daylesford is part of “Spa Country.” This is the place where trendy Melbournians go for weekend getaways. You’ll find art galleries, foodie outlets, holistic spas, and stores selling the latest in “new age” paraphernalia. The town and beautiful countryside remind me of Marin County in California: a bit precious and a tad too self-conscious about “image.” Daylesford and Ballarat aren’t my thing, but then again, I’m difficult to please. 

Clunes (Sky Looks Almost Unreal)
The New and the Old

Clunes, on the other hand, is an authentic and unpretentious town of around 1,000 people. Just 40 minutes from Ballarat, Clunes is a place where time has stood still. Visiting Clunes is like traveling to the 1930s and 1940s. Its “downtown” has aging buildings with weathered facades and vintage signage. It’s like visiting Mayberry without the southern accent.