May 27, 2019 / By Rebecca Crisp
The winter months are the perfect time to escape grey and rainy Melbourne to explore Victoria’s Goldfields region. Charming Castlemaine sits in Dja Dja Wurrung country between Bendigo and Ballarat at the intersection of three creeks that teemed with gold in the 1850s. While the gold has run out, the town has evolved into a cultural hub that punches well above its weight. Though it might be tempting to just hole up in some of the area’s cosy accommodation and snuggle by an open fire, there’s plenty going on in town to tempt you out. Here are my tips on the top events.
Make the most of the Queen’s Birthday long weekend with a visit to the sixth annual Castlemaine Jazz Festival. The festival kicks off on 7 June with four days of entertainment across five fantastic venues. Enjoy emerging artists and old hands, including special guests the Seven Ups. The festival is run entirely by volunteers, all for the love of jazz. Grab a day pass from $40 (concession pricing available) or a full festival pass for $115 (even cheaper if you score an early-bird ticket). Get your tickets online or at the festival box office located at the Visitor Information Centre.
Live bands at the Bridge Hotel (image above)
This local institution received a much-needed refresh in 2016 under the auspices of the former owners of Collingwood classic the Grace Darling Hotel. The sleepy pub was reborn as a live music venue, attracting great local talent and some stalwarts of the Melbourne music scene. Throw in a menu that offers a modern twist on traditional pub fare and a resident rescue cat, and you’ve got the makings of a great night out.
Singer-songwriter Jen Cloher hits the stage on 7 & 8 June ($30 + booking fee), and Rob Snarski of iconic Perth band the Blackeyed Susans holds court on 14 June (from $33.70). And if being a know-it-all is more your thing, every Wednesday throughout June and July is trivia night.
New York's Metropolitan Opera at the Theatre Royal (image above)
The oldest continuously operating theatre in mainland Australia shows a great mix of mainstream and arthouse movies, as well as hosting live music. As if that wasn’t enough, throughout winter this art deco gem is bringing opera to Castlemaine by screening performances from New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The 2018/2019 Met Opera Live Season wraps up with La Fille du Regiment, Die Walkure and Dialogues des Carmelites. Opera lovers can choose from a range of passes or grab a single ticket ($28, concession pricing available).
After bushfires damaged a number of bridges on the line in 1969, the Castlemaine to Maldon train route was officially closed. But thanks to the hard work of volunteer network the Castlemaine and Maldon Railway Preservation Society, the line is now a unique attraction that hosts wide range of events. Sip your way to Maldon in a gorgeous 1920s carriage for Ales on Rails on 15 June. Enjoy a selection of craft beers before lunching at the Kangaroo Hotel and hitting the rails again to return to Castlemaine ($125 including lunch). If classic movies are more your style, get on board later the same day for a special screening of Murder on the Orient Express. Watch Poirot exercise his little grey cells to the sounds of an authentic steam train, while the car attendants offer drinks and snacks ($90). Prizes for the best-dressed guests!
But the jewel in the railway’s crown this winter is a chance to ride the Royal Train to Bendigo for the Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits exhibition at the Bendigo Art Gallery. For the first time ever, you can climb aboard the very train Queen Elizabeth II called home as she toured the Victorian countryside in 1954. Tickets start at $55 one way in Champagne Class, or you can travel like a queen in Royal Class from $90 including high tea in the dining car (15/22 June, 6/13 July).
In 1860, the Castlemaine Borough Council dedicated 25 hectares to create the Castlemaine Botanical Gardens, making it one of Victoria’s oldest public gardens. Plants were sourced from the Melbourne, Sydney and Geelong Botanic Gardens, and many of the park’s trees are now on the National Trust’s Register of Significant Trees. These days the gardens feature an award-winning children’s playground, including an area where kids can use logs and branches to construct treehouses. On 22 June, if the kids haven’t worn themselves out on the play equipment, they can join the annual Lantern Walk and sing songs around pretty Lake Johanna.
If your Queen’s Birthday weekend isn’t too jam-packed with jazz, squeeze in a visit to the Castlemaine Rotary Art Show. Enjoy a different side of Castlemaine culture and take in an impressive collection of art by local and interstate artists. Get your boho chic on at opening night with canapes, music and a chance to meet the artists.
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