Before I left Canada the only thing I knew about Castlemaine was that a longtime friend from my hometown lived there with her husband. Now I know that it is a small city, in a lovely part of the country, where the gold rush happened, and amongst other little towns that all offer wonderfully friendly people, antiques, artists & markets. To name a few things. It is only a short 1 ½ hour train ride from Melbourne or an hour shuttle bus ride from Melbourne’s airport, but once you arrive you feel as though you are further out in the country.
I’m a big city person but Castlemaine has so much to offer, even I was thoroughly impressed. Check out the Castlemaine Maldon area website here. I arrived on Friday afternoon easily via the Bendigo Airport Service bus from the Melbourne airport for $45.00 and was dropped off right in front of the Information Centre on Mostyn Street in Castlemaine. On Saturday morning we went to the local outdoor market where there was a wonderful selection of fruits, vegetables, meats, foods, antiques and other locally made products, music and art. The city of Castlemaine is quite small but there are lovely shops that carry everything from necessities to antiques to hand crafted products to quirky items. It was lovely to walk around and check out the shops and there is also a large community of artists living in this area so chances are you will find something wonderful to purchase.
We had lunch outside at the Governor’s Café at the Old Castlemaine Gaol. The café is located in the former Governor’s residence which was built on the side of the Gaol. The food was delicious plus you have an amazing view of the city from up there on the hill. Until 1990 the Gaol was still being used but it is now a museum that you can tour around. The Gaols in Australia were built using a design originating in England, and while they tend to have a very disturbing past, Castlemaine turned theirs around and uses it as a museum, an upmarket café, an event venue plus they have concerts there. It is a really nice, positive way to keep the building in use.
After shopping and lunch we drove up the hill on the other side of town, to the Burke & Wills Monument. It provided a great view that was on the opposite side of the Gaol but it also taught me a bit of history about these two gentlemen. I can’t even begin to image what the early explorers dealt with when they headed into the outback. The temperatures, the lack of water, the fact that everything tries to kill you. No wonder so many people died.
Later in the afternoon we went for a bit of culture and visited the Castlemaine Art Museum located in this beautiful art deco building. I was more than impressed by this gallery as well as the local history museum located downstairs. I am an avid museum and gallery visitor and most small cities and towns end up having quite a varied collection for both. Castlemaine’s Art Gallery had an assortment of contemporary, and more traditional works by Australian artists. They even had paintings of more amateur artists who were participating in a competition. The gift shop has an assortment of works you can purchase, including some sculptures, by some very talented artists. Everything was so wonderful and even the historical building was a great showcase for all the talent. When you head downstairs to the museum you might mistakenly assuming it won’t be overly interesting or contain a lot of items, like I did. You will be humbled though by the assortment as well as information that is on display in this basement. I have to say that Castlemaine’s Museum completely surprised me and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
The next morning was a Sunday so we headed over to Maldon to check out this historic town that has maintained so many of their original buildings, you almost believe you are lost in time. It was a lovely place with B&B’s, plenty of shops, pubs, and cafes. It was the second Sunday of the month so the Maldon Market was on that day, where there were all types of vendors selling food to eat or take away, products, clothes, art, etc. When we arrived there was also a choir singing Christmas carols in the gazebo. I left the market that day with a beautiful summer hat handmade using vintage fabric.
It was a really warm day so after our little trip to Maldon and before I had to pack and catch the train to Melbourne, we visited the Ice Cream Social at The Mill Castlemaine. This little shop offers ice cream, gelato and sorbet made in small batches, from scratch and using local ingredients so the artisan flavours are changed daily. It was awesome ice cream. The day we were there, one flavour was olive oil and basil, which was surprisingly delicious. The only downside is they run out of a popular flavour quickly. The Mill also has a café, a coffee roaster, a brewery, a winery, markets for vintage items as well as an artist’s studio space. The Mill Castlemaine is across the street from the Botanical Gardens, which looked stunning from the road but I unfortunately had run out of time in this lovely city.
These are only the things I could get to but there is more to see and do in Castlemaine. There is no public transportation other than the train in and out of town, but I did see a taxi cab while I was there and it is possible to walk to most, if not all, of the sights in the city. It was a great relaxing weekend and so close to Melbourne that it makes going there for the weekend, or a few days, incredible easy. You could even time your visit with one of their festivals.
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