The Ballarat Winter Festival is transforming the city into a magical winter wonderland

The Ballarat Winter Festival is transforming the city into a magical winter wonderland

There’s something a bit magical about this historic regional town in the dark, cold months, and this is exactly what the Ballarat Winter Festival seeks to capture. Running from June 29 through to July 21, Ballarat will once again be transformed into a magical winter wonderland, with a unique array of events and activities to beat the winter blues, warm the soul and satisfy the belly.

And when we say a winter wonderland, we mean that quite literally with a highlight of the festival being the Winter Wonderlights: Christmas in July event at Sovereign Hill. Set to be brighter than ever before, visitors will be swept up in the excitement of a special European-style Christmas as the entire township comes alive in Australia’s largest ever light projection spectacle staged at one site. During the day, there will be festive decorations, kid’s activities, a full theatre program, faux snowfalls, Christmas carols, and Christmas trees lining the street, and then at night you’ll be spellbound as Main Street is transformed into a sparkling Winter Wonderland with the multi-award-winning, grand-scale light projections on the historic building facades. Truly embracing the Christmas theme, you can even enjoy traditional treats such as mulled wine or toffee apples, and we hear you may even catch a glimpse of the legendary St Nicholas! You’ll want to book for this one as it’s sure to sell out. It’s basically a mini-festival within a festival so head to winterwonderlights.com.au/experience/ to see the entire program and book your tickets.

Ballarat and ice-skating aren’t generally associated with one another, but the Ballarat Winter Festival defies expectation with their popular pop-up ice skating rink. Located in the heart of Ballarat’s CBD, the skating rink is back and is guaranteed fun for the whole family. There’s really nothing like gliding elegantly over a brightly-lit smooth ice rink (when you’re able to finally let go of the side barrier, of course!), and watching kids navigate their way around is classic entertainment. In a special twist this year, there will also be Neon Disco-themed evening sessions so dig out your brightest and warmest outfit, lace up your skates and take to the ice to practice your twirls and triples this winter.

Along with these wintery favourites, this year the regional event is tapping into the world of emerging technologies, and giving visitors a new reason to check out the festival and explore the city as a living canvas with two new technology-based experiences.

First up is the Activated ArtWalk which encourages visitors to look at the stories beneath the surface of the city and of the people that once lived there. This immersive activity uses augmented reality to add moving images, text and sound to six hidden artworks around the city’s laneways and streets, which are brought to life through your smartphone and the EyeJack app. Heads up, we recommend downloading the app on your home Wi-Fi prior to embarking on the experience!

With the world of art and digital coming together to encourage new ways of exploring the city at the crux of the event this year, warm up your frosty fingers and your mind at the new Winteractive Arcade in the Ballarat Mining Exchange. Set to be a gamer’s paradise across the two weekends, Winteractive will trace the evolution of arcade games from retro gaming to new technologies using augmented and virtual reality. Whether you try out the virtual reality drone racing game Drone Legion or the massive multiplayer game of Snake, immerse yourself in an AR (augmented reality) exhibition, get creative with Tilt Brush (where visitors can book time to create virtual reality art), or even if you just want to check out what’s cool right now in tech and fashion, there’s something for every tech lover.

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If you love the idea of celebrating winter but prefer doing it inside and being able to feel your toes, get warm at the Design Exchange during Ballarat’s Winter Festival. Australia is bursting at the seams with amazing independent designers, artists and creators, and The Design Exchange will provide an opportunity to celebrate and support these small businesses, handmade products, ethical trading and creativeness in an atmosphere that is inclusive and inviting. Think creative makers and designers, wine, a whisky bar, heated floors, artesian foods and a cosy atmosphere in one of Ballarat’s beautiful heritage buildings – The Mining Exchange. Sounds like the perfect winter day to me!

If you’re digging the idea of exploring Ballarat from the inside, there’s also the Becoming Modern: Australian Women Artists 1920 – 1950 exhibition which will be on show at the Art Gallery of Ballarat. Becoming Modern is a celebration of the tenacity and innovation of Australian women artists, featuring works of more than forty artists, including Margaret Preston, Grace Crowley, Thea Proctor, and Grace Cossington Smith. This stunning exhibition is an opportunity to view rarely-seen works from the Art Gallery of Ballarat’s collection, including paintings, prints, drawings, and ceramics.

The Ballarat Winter Festival is all about new experiences, and there are two more activities that really will beat those winter blues.

One is to get up close and personal with the newest additions to the Ballarat Wildlife Park, Maneki and Satu the Sumatran tigers. Arriving just in time for the Ballarat Winter Festival, the duo is part of a global species management plan and are ambassadors for helping their cousins survive in the wild. While at the park, you can also feed kangaroos and admire koalas, meerkats, little penguins, and other Australian native animals.

Finally, finish your winter getaway with one last adventure — Knights of Fire at Kryal Castle. Everyone will love the daily highlight of the spectacular flaming joust on the main arena as Sir Hector meets the Black Knight in a fiery class, and the knights battle to cure the icy heart of the Snow Queen.

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Between the cascading snowflakes, soul-warming red wine, and hearty fare, whimsical winter adventures await at this year’s Ballarat Winter Festival. So, grab your coats, gloves, scarves and beanies and join in the winter fun, whether that be school holiday fun or a romantic rendezvous that you’re seeking, there’s a day out to enthral every visitor.

The Ballarat Winter Festival runs from June 29 to July 21. Visit ballaratwinterfestival.com.au for more information. Some experiences may require bookings.

The Ballarat Winter Festival is an initiative of the City of Ballarat.