The town was named Ararat back in 1840. Ararat was once a bustling town full of miners during the Victorian Gold Rush era in 1857. 700 Chinese miners discovered the alluvial gold in a stream as they were heading to Clunes. It is said that within 2 weeks of the alluvial gold being found the Ararat District population grew to 20,000, however this is not known for sure as others say 50,000, either way that’s a huge increase!! In 1911 the population of Ararat peaked at 6335 due to the gold rush.
Today many tourists drive through Ararat on their way to their destination with the Grampians being a major draw card. (To see how we have previously spent 3 days at Halls Gap, Grampians click on the link). Many stop in Ararat to learn about the history of the gold rush era. There is so much to do in this Victorian Country Town and we certainly didn’t scratch the surface of what Ararat District has to offer.
With so much history in this town as you drive down the main street you see wonderful ornate old buildings. If you detour from the main street you see the lovely historical country weatherboard homes. Again we find ourselves imagining what this town would’ve been like in 1857 with horse and carts and full of gold miners. Imagine the vibe this town must have held, the excitement of the highs and the lows of not finding gold. The hardship some of the miners faced and the crime that would’ve taken place.
Why should I explore Ararat?
Do you love history dating back to the Victorian Gold Rush days, interested in who discovered alluvial gold in Ararat, exploring old Gaols or simply enjoy scenic surroundings? These are just a couple of reasons to explore Ararat.
Our experience in Ararat
We stayed just outside of the town in a free camping area, Green Hill Lake Reserve home to approximately 70 bird species throughout its 325 hectare parkland. The reserve is a place for day trippers and campers alike to explore. If you are a water sport enthusiast you can put your boat in or throw a fishing line in, maybe catch brown trout or redfin for a BBQ lunch or dinner. Somewhere you can take a swim to cool off in the hotter weather. A brilliant place to catch up with friends/families for picnics with under cover BBQ’s provided, fire pits and a playground for the kids.
After a relaxing time at Green Hill Lake Reserve where we strolled around the reserve, had an open fire and roasted marshmallows it was time to head into the historical town of Ararat.
J Ward Ayslum
We took the approximately 1hr tour of the J Ward Ayslum for the criminally insane which was extremely interesting and very moving. The tour guide explains the history of Ararat and many stories of the inmates that resided in the J Ward Ayslum. The tour ends with a video of Mike Willesee interviewing some of the inmates and workers….this was a really great way to end the tour as after walking through the old Gaol and imagining how the inmates life was like, seeing the video really put the jigsaw pieces together.
Alexandra Gardens Park
After being extremely moved by the tour of the J Ward Asylum we strolled down the main street of Ararat and got some take-away fish n chips to enjoy at the tranquil Alexandra Gardens Park.
The Alexandra Gardens Park was completed in 1907 and is situated right across from the Ayslum. To wander through the spacious gardens, explore the Rotary Orchid House admiring the gorgeous orchids on display, watch families/friends gather for picnics and BBQ’s and a game of cricket was a vast difference to our experience at the Ayslum across the road.
You certainly can’t visit Ararat without checking out the wonderful historical buildings. Suggest you take the time to stop and read the information which is available at many of the points of interest.
Ararat Town Hall
The Ararat Town Hall was built in 1898-1899. The building still stands proudly and has been well maintained. When we drive through Ararat its certainly a building we always admire.
The Mechanics Institute building dating back to 1908 was another historical building from the Federation era that stood out to us. Sitting amongst 2 more modern buildings now used as Real Estate Agents. The Mechanics Institute was a place for readers, with a library and reading room and a place for meetings upstairs.
We totally love all the different types of historical buildings, they tend to have so much more character than the modern buildings of today.
Vindel House Old Post Office
Looking at the architecture of Vindel House Old Post Office built out of bluestone in 1858, completed in 1862 and many other historical buildings leads to me to ask, “why did they put clocks on many of their buildings?” Often clocks etched into the brickwork unlike Vindel House Old Post Office where there are 3 functional gorgeous clocks. No matter what the reason was it certainly adds interest and a focal point.
To imagine back in the gold rush era, gold being prepared here in preparation to be transported to Melbourne under the watchful eye of guards.
Court House Hotel
Whilst the Court House Hotel is not the original one as it was sadly burnt down in 1877 and was rebuilt. The hotel is definitely a typical country pub with locals and tourists alike gathering to have a traditional Chicken Parmigiana and a pint & playing billiards. Whilst we didn’t stop for a meal we had to stop and check out the hotel with its tiled frontage.
With limited time we window shopped as we strolled along the main street. In Ararat you find an assortment of shops, fashion, camping, many with treasures. We loved this shop window full of teddies!!
The Common School
As we drove around the town we came across The Common School which we found to be another historical building of interest. To learn that the school was built in 1867 and later in 1875 converted into public swimming baths is not something you learn if you just speed on past. For us, we think it’s worth stopping and reading up on the history of this gorgeous country Victorian town.
Ararat Train Station
Even if you are not catching a train, do what we did and step onto the platform, check out the old weighing station and again think back to what this station would’ve once been like back in 1875. The dress code of the passengers and the stories they could tell us if they were still here today.
Ararat Railway Museum
At the Ararat Train Station you will also find a museum, we didn’t get the opportunity to explore as it was closed. If you are heading to Ararat for the museum ensure you check when its open to avoid disappointment.
There are so many aspects and areas of Ararat which offer beauty. Being spring we were honored to witness the brightly coloured canola fields which went for miles. The wind farm making a fantastic back drop.
Ararat Visitor Information
If you are unsure what to explore in and around this historical, scenic area ensure you stop at the visitor information centre. Here you will be advised of nearby wineries and many other wonderful places to explore. We walked out with a bag full of books of nearby places of Interest….so much to explore!! With our bag full of adventure ideas we headed of to Avoca, the heart of the Pyrenees.
The Visitor Information centre is next to the Ararat Train Station.
Head straight to the Visitor Information centre and work out exactly what areas are of interest to you… there are so many different things to do here. If not in Ararat in the surrounding areas…..from fishing, hiking, wineries, zoos to name a few. If you are interested in exploring the J Ward Asylum or a ghost tour at nearby Aradale Lunatic Asylum ensure you check the days/times its open to avoid disappointment. We are still to explore the Aradale Lunatic Aslyum as it was not open on our visit.
- Approximately 205km, 2hrs 15mins west of Melbourne
- Approximately 49km, 40mins from Halls Gap, Grampians
- Approximately 63km, 44mins from Avoca, Heart of the Pyrenees
- 322m above sea level
Our 3 day escape
Ararat was part of a weekend road trip for us. Leaving the hustle and bustle of Melbourne behind we spent a night at Greenhill Lake Reserve, the day exploring Ararat before heading to Avoca then back to Melbourne via Maryborough. If you would like to read up more on our weekend trip and places we explored click on the below links.
- Alexandra Gardens Park
- J Ward Asylum
- Valley Walk, Percydale
- Governors Rock Lookout Tower
- Avoca Chinese Gardens
Nearby free campgrounds
You can also follow our 3 day itinerary Melbourne – Ararat – Avoca – Melbourne by clicking on the link.
Another great place and what we consider a must go to place to explore is Halls Gap, Grampians. Check out our following link to see how we have spent 3 nights at Halls Gap, Grampians which is approximately 49km, 40mins from Ararat
We also enjoyed our 3 day escape at Mt Franklin reserve which is a free campground situated on an extinct volcanic crater and is within an easy drive to the popular tourist destination, Daylesford. This would be a great place to stop on your way back from Avoca to Melbourne if you have more than 3 days.
With so much on offer in the Ararat District and so much for us to still explore, we would love to hear of your adventures to this historical gold mining area.