Near the remote centre of Victoria is a city that sprouted all of a sudden during the Victorian gold rush of the mid-19th century.
Bendigo is on one of the richest goldfields in the world, and its mines have produced more than 780,000kg of gold.
Among the tens of thousands of hopeful diggers that showed up 170 years ago was a large Chinese contingent.
To this day, Bendigo has a prominent Chinese community, documented at the Golden Dragon Museum and visible especially in the annual Easter Festival.
Bendigo’s Midas touch left the city with graceful 19th-century architecture and attractions that endure to this day.
1. Central Deborah Gold Mine
This mine near Bendigo’s city centre yielded almost a metric ton of gold between 1939 and 1954. The Central Deborah Gold Mine opened during a revival of the city’s gold industry, and work continued even during the Second World War.
Since 1986 this has been a tourist attraction, and the tight main shaft was widened to make things a bit more comfortable for visitors.
How much you see of the mine depends on how adventurous you’re feeling.
The basic Mine Experience for example takes you to a depth of 61 metres to get a sense of this warren of tunnels.
This tour takes just over an hour, but if you’re brave you can try the Underground Adventure at 85 metres, or even the Nine Levels of Darkness tour, which descends in the original miners’ cage to 225 metres below the earth’s surface.
This subterranean journey will take more than three hours, during which you’ll tuck into a miner’s lunch and clamber up and down ladders.
2. Bendigo Art Gallery
Inaugurated way back in 1887, the Bendigo Art Gallery grew out of the Volunteer Rifle’ room and has been extended over time.
The most recent addition was the arresting sculpture gallery added in 2001 and designed by Melbourne’s Fender Katsalidis Architects.
The Bendigo Art Gallery’s inventory spans 19th, 20th and 21st-century painting, sculpture, photography, works on paper and decorative arts.
The collection is particularly strong for its European and Australian painting from the 19th century, counting pieces by luminaries like Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Ernest Waterlow, Charles Conder and Arthur Streeton.
The museum has a programme of crowd-pleasing temporary shows, dealing with anything from 20th-century cultural icons to ancient artefacts loaned by the British Museum.
3. Bendigo Chinese Gardens Reserve and Golden Dragon Museum
Bendigo has had a Chinese community since the days of the gold rush, and the museum chronicling this Chinese heritage is actually on the site of one of early Bendigo’s Chinatowns.
This attraction opened in 1991 and looks at the lives of these citizens, and how Chinese culture has influenced the city from the 1850s to the present.
The Golden Dragon Museum has a national profile, as a hub of Chinese-related cultural activities in Australia.
At the core of the collection is a stunning array of processional regalia from the late-19th century, comprising theatrical costumes brocaded with gold thread.
The oldest artefacts here go back to the time of the (1600-1026 BCE). You can also see what are thought to be the world’s oldest and longest imperial dragons.
Sun Loong for instance is more than 100 metres long and has appeared at the Bendigo Easter Festival every year since 1901. We also have to mention the authentic gardens, designed like the Imperial Palace in Beijing and complete with the Buddhist Temple of the Goddess of Mercy (Guan Yin Miao).
4. Lake Weeroona
From the 1850s to the 1870s one of the loveliest spots in Bendigo was actually a mine.
Then in 1878 the art director of the Melbourne Botanic Gardens oversaw this site’s transformation into an 18-hectare body of water.
Lake Weeroona is within a reserve and has a path through relaxing wooded parkland encircling its banks.
On a leisurely walk it will take about 20 minutes to complete a circuit.
There’s a cafe on the east shore for light meals or a scoop or three of gelato, and children can run wild at the huge adventure playground.
An elegant way to get here from the CBD would be on the historic tramway, which we’ll talk about next.
5. Bendigo Tramways
The city has had a tram system since 1890 and this is still open to visitors as a tourist attraction.
In their time the Bendigo Tramways have been powered by battery, then steam and then electricity since 1903. In the post-war years the network proved too expensive to run as a commuter service, and it finally closed down in 1972, to be reborn as a heritage line.
You can catch a tram through the city centre between North Bendigo and the Central Deborah Gold Mine.
Riding a heritage tram you can take a hop-on, hop-off tour and see almost all of the Bendigo’s main attractions.
The Dja Dja Wurrung Tram sets off from the Central Deborah Gold Mine at 10:00 every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and relates the 40,000-year story and traditions of Bendigo’s first people.
There’s also a monthly “Blues Tram” with live performances and “Yarn Bomb Tram” bedecked with crocheted seat covers, cushions, blanket and bunting.
Finally, the old tram depot off Hargreaves Street is open to the public for self-guided tours.
6. Rosalind Park
Bordering Bendigo’s CBD is more than 60 hectares of lawns and mature trees, all scattered with amenities and historic monuments.
The space that is now Rosalind Park is in a valley along Bendigo Creek and because of its permanent freshwater pools would have been vital to the area’s Dja Dja Wrung people way before the arrival of Europeans.
In the early 1850s the Government Camp was based right here and what is now a peaceful idyll was then a mass of shallow shafts, puddling mills and mullock heaps.
By 1855 there were proposals to turn this area into a park, and the surviving layout was decided upon by 1870. Walking the park’s stately avenues you’ll see lots of features that have been here since the late-19th century like fernery (1879), man-made cascades from the 1880s, a cast iron conservatory (1897) and theatrical Neoclassical statuary.
At the west end is the converted Poppet Head lookout tower, which once stood over the nearby Garden Gully United mine and was moved to this spot in 1931.
7. Bendigo Pottery
Australia’s oldest working pottery was established in Bendigo in 1858 and after a few ups and downs in the intervening years has experienced a revival since the 1970s.
In that time Bendigo Pottery has become a byword for quality and innovation.
At this historic site dominated by wood-fired kilns you can find out about the pottery’s past and learn all you need to know about production and the traditional skills still employed by Bendigo’s skilled potters.
You can watch live demonstrations and try your hand at a pottery wheel.
The sales gallery has a large selection of contemporary and traditional pottery, while there’s also an antiques and collectibles centre and a studios with resident artists producing jewellery, sculpture, painting, textiles and more.
8. Bendigo Botanic Gardens
The city’s first public garden was founded as long ago as 1857. The site, a few minutes northeast of the CBD, appears on maps from 1854, just three years after gold was discovered in Bendigo.
The lake at the centre of the park is a remnant of Bendigo Creek, and is wreathed in indigenous wetland species.
Elsewhere the park is divided into lots of lovely sub-gardens, like the Northern Victorian Garden, the Cottage Garden of the Victorian Goldfields, the Indigenous Garden, Habitat Garden and the National Canna and Lavender Collections.
There’s also an Arch of Triumph (1925), a picnic pavilion (1910), an aviary, and an award-winning playspace inspired by Alice in Wonderland.
9. Sacred Heart Cathedral
Bendigo’s gold explains how a relatively small provincial city like this could have a church of such incredible dimensions.
This stupendous Gothic Revival building was begun in 1897 and would be completed 70 years later, after work was interrupted by the two world wars.
Most of the funding was provided by the estate of German-born Henry Backaus (1811-1882), Bendigo’s first Catholic priest.
He amassed serious wealth in Bendigo’s early boom years and left it all for the construction of a cathedral.
Sacred Heart is one of the largest in the country, and the 87-metre spire is the second-tallest behind St Patrick’s in Melbourne.
Go in to appreciate the scale of the nave, which has a wooden ceiling rising to 24 metres.
Check out the carved stonework, the stained glass on the west window, the organ (1905), the blackwood pews and the fine timber panelling.
10. Discovery Science and Technology Centre
This science museum in Bendigo is all about interactivity and learning through play.
So, almost without realising, kids can get acquainted with scientific ideas at more than 100 whimsical exhibits.
There’s an echo tube, almost as long as the centre itself, or an air cannon that can spell out a message, or a device that shoots ping-pong balls amazing distances using only the air around them.
Kids will also be wowed by the planetarium where they can learn about the stars, planets and solar system while sitting back on a beanbag.
But if there’s a headline attraction it’s the tallest vertical slide in the Southern Hemisphere, with a sheer drop of seven metres.
11. Great Stupa of Universal Compassion
With the same size and design as Tibet’s Great Stupa of Gyantse, Bendigo’s Great Stupa of Universal Compassion is the largest stupa in the Western World.
This startling monument is designed to last for a millennium, and rises 48 metres over Bendigo’s bushland, with a width of 50 metres at its base.
Among the many venerated objects within is the Jade Buddha for Universal Peace, the largest Buddha to be fashioned from gemstone-quality jade in the world.
The massive boulder from which it was carved was brought to light in Canada in 2000. You can see this and many more artefacts on a tour, setting off from the stupa’s visitor centre and shedding light on Asian culture, Buddhism and art.
There’s artisan coffee at the StupaView Café and a shop selling handmade gifts.
12. The Soldiers Memorial Institute Military Museum
The solemn Returned Soldiers’ Memorial Hall was erected in the Second Empire style in 1921 as a memorial to those who served in the First World War.
After a two-year redevelopment and extension, the museum inside reopened in 2018 and holds a sizeable collection of military artefacts and memorabilia charting every conflict from the Boer War to Iraq.
This is large enough that it needs to rotate the temporary exhibitions and includes diaries, photographs, documents, books, medals, weapons, uniforms, identity tags, side packs, medical packs and poignant pieces of “trench art” handmade on the battlefield.
13. Alexandra Fountain
The intersection of View Street and Pall Mall is Charing Cross, pretty much at the very centre of Bendigo.
Standing here is a fountain built in 1880 and named for the then Princess of Wales, Alexandra of Denmark.
This monument, testifying to the affluence created by the goldfields, was the work of W.C. Vahland, an architect who designed much of Bendigo’s public architecture from that time.
Impeccably maintained, it’s the second-largest municipal fountain in Victoria, standing 8.5 metres tall and set in a circular pool 15 metres in diameter.
It’s composed of a mix of Harcourt granite, iron and painted stone, and has a group of four allegorical women above spouted mer-horses and dolphins.
14. Bendigo Easter Festival
If you want to see Bendigo’s imperial dragon, Sun Loong in action, then you need to be in town for the Bendigo Easter Festival, which has been celebrated since 1871. The first festival took place to raise funds for a hospital and soon became an institution.
Sun Loong shows up for the signature event, the Easter Procession, held on Easter Sunday and has more than 100 float and over 1,000 participants each year.
Among the other long-running traditions are a carnival in the CBD, the Torchlight Procession and the Awakening of the Dragon ceremony to stir old Sun Loong from his year-long slumber.
In Yi Yuan Gardens meanwhile you can catch the Chinese Spring Festival, with martial arts, lion dancing and traditional Chinese drum, ribbon and fan dances.
15. Bendigo Wine Region
Grape vines were planted in the bushland around Bendigo even when the gold rush was in full swing.
The climate is dry and temperate, similar to what you get in the south of France, with warm summers and mild-to-cool winters when much of the rainfall happens.
Red grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz do especially well around Bendigo, and the main white is Chardonnay.
A typical bottle of Bendigo Cabernet Sauvignon will have trademark blackberry and blackcurrant flavours, with a hint of eucalypt-peppermint.
There are more than 60 wineries and cellar doors, draped over the hills and valleys around Bendigo and into the Heathcote Region to the east.
Killiecrankie, Sandhurst Ridge, Sutton Grange, Chateau Dore, Mandurang Valley are a few names to get you started.